Monthly Archives: April 2010

Voice of the Customer: Real or Artificial?

Thanks to Six Sigma, most companies, large and small, embrace the importance of the Voice of the Customer. As a right-brainer, most of Six Sigma just plain drives me crazy because it just seems so obvious. And the Voice of the Customer as a “break-through” concept really annoyed me. Learning insights from customers is what I (and every other decent marketer) have done throughout my career.

The silver lining was that when I worked with Six Sigma companies that adhered to the process, at least I could be assured of having SOME research instead of being told, “no need to do research–we won’t learn anything from it”. Or, “we’ll just focus-group it”. It turns out that in far too many cases, the Voice of the Customer efforts are perfunctory, watered-down, cheap, and follow the old way of companies having their own agenda and pressing it on their customers.

I have been working with a major technology company that is famous, admired and outstanding in many ways. The work focuses simplifying and improving the brand experience of a very specific group of customers who, in aggregate, generate large amounts of revenue. The company (like many other business-to-business marketers) has created an advisory board that consists of a cross-section of these customers, and they consult with them frequently and regularly. They used the advisory board to re-structure this particular business offering. ┬áThis counts as the “voice of the customer”, right?

Wrong. When we reached out to these customers on behalf of the client, the results were astonishing. Despite all the efforts of the company to elicit their opinions, it just is not the same as having a conversation with an independent third party. Sample comments:

“The fact that they have hired you to ask these questions gives me hope that they really will make changes…”

“[Company] does take feedback and act on it, but most of us are too shy to speak up…”

“You’re not from [Company] are you? Ok, now I can tell you what I think…”

Many people disagree, of course. Including past clients of mine. They want to do the interviews themselves. Or they want to listen in on the calls, and participate in asking the questions. At the end of the day, though, when they provide their notes and conclusions, real insights are often lacking.

My only regret is that we only had time and budget for a handful of interviews to speak for more than 100,000 customers.

Another client of mine who believes in the importance of classic marketing allowed me to interview prospects for their reactions to his business proposition. Every one of the prospects took the call. One called me from his vacation in Aspen. Another spent 90 minutes on the phone with us, detailing how my client could improve his presentation.

This just does not happen when the people inside do the asking. It’s an artificial Voice of the Customer. Hearing the real thing makes a big difference.

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