Voice of the Customer

Voice of the Customer by Walter McIntyre

Typically, there is not a single voice of the customer.  They are fractioned into multiple groups, each with their own perspective.  Each group may also have different voices in different circumstances.

For the Six Sigma team, identifying the customer involves more than collecting information about who is purchasing the business’s products or services.  Those who purchase the products and services are just one of several customer groups.  Some other classifications are internal supplier/customer hand-offs, customers of competitors, former customers, and potential customers.

Internal customers are those who are involved with supplier/customer hand-offs within the process.  Even though these hand-offs are easy to see in a detailed process map, the process owner often overlooks them.  By taking a process point of view, we capture all of these hand-offs and are able to measure how they ultimately affect the end user (customer) of the process.  Six Sigma tools such as process mapping and SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customers) maps are tools designed to capture these hand-offs.  We will cover these tools later.

Your competitor’s customers are another important source of voice of the customer data.  Some automobile companies, for example, send surveys to their competitor’s customers to learn why they made their choice.  The surveyor can use this information to drive changes in products and services.  The ultimate objective is to gain market share.

This leads us to substitute customers.  These customers use substitute solutions to meet their needs.  They can affect your business in one of two ways.  They can use your products and services as a substitute for that provided by an indirect competitor.  Conversely, they can use an indirect competitor instead of you.  An example would be using a passenger train to travel instead of an airline or a rental car.  All three of these business segments compete indirectly to provide the same service to the customer, transportation. These potential customers can provide an increase in market share achieved through market development rather than direct competition.

In short, there are many ways to view the voice of the customer.  The process improvement team needs a high degree of thoroughness and creativity to collect pertinent and complete information about customer needs and wants.  You must view your business or organization from the perspective of the customer.  What do they see and feel?

Each group may also have different voices in different circumstances.

For the Six Sigma team, identifying the customer involves more than collecting information about who is purchasing the business’s products or services.  Those who purchase the products and services are just one of several customer groups.  Some other classifications are internal supplier/customer hand-offs, customers of competitors, former customers, and potential customers.

Internal customers are those who are involved with supplier/customer hand-offs within the process.  Even though these hand-offs are easy to see in a detailed process map, the process owner often overlooks them.  By taking a process point of view, we capture all of these hand-offs and are able to measure how they ultimately affect the end user (customer) of the process.  Six Sigma tools such as process mapping and SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customers) maps are tools designed to capture these hand-offs.  We will cover these tools later.

Your competitor’s customers are another important source of voice of the customer data.  Some automobile companies, for example, send surveys to their competitor’s customers to learn why they made their choice.  The surveyor can use this information to drive changes in products and services.  The ultimate objective is to gain market share.

This leads us to substitute customers.  These customers use substitute solutions to meet their needs.  They can affect your business in one of two ways.  They can use your products and services as a substitute for that provided by an indirect competitor.  Conversely, they can use an indirect competitor instead of you.  An example would be using a passenger train to travel instead of an airline or a rental car.  All three of these business segments compete indirectly to provide the same service to the customer, transportation. These potential customers can provide an increase in market share achieved through market development rather than direct competition.

In short, there are many ways to view the voice of the customer.  The process improvement team needs a high degree of thoroughness and creativity to collect pertinent and complete information about customer needs and wants.  You must view your business or organization from the perspective of the customer.  What do they see and feel?