3 Tips for Developing Voice of Customer Programs

By Vidya Dinamani | April 15, 2013

There is a lot of buzz about Voice of Customer (VOC) programs these days. Many VOC programs focus around existing products and services and serve to drive higher customer satisfaction. The most popular VOC programs talk about capturing customer data/feedback to create closed loop systems where open issues/concerns are prioritized based on customer needs and expectations.

Putting the right internal processes in place is also important to ensure that teams learn from customer data and drive continual improvement. Robust and successful VOC programs steadily improve the quality of service that the customer receives. The same type of process is equally effective when developing new products and driving key new features into an existing product line. The more VOC is an ongoing part of product development, from the initial idea to requirements to testing and acceptance, the stronger the product will be, and the better it will resonate with customers, meet their needs and exceed expectations.

The best customer feedback is related to products in use today. However, it’s unfortunate that most users of the product don’t actually get to interact with the people and teams that design and build the products they use. Most often, defects, and maybe new ideas, get routed to the vendor/partner manager — the designated point of contact for the organization. Vendors often have an account manager whose job it is to keep customers happy. They are an interface to their client organizations. So you have a system that completely separates the users of the product from the teams that build the product.

Any VOC is an anonymous list of issues, not connected with a person. Any response to that VOC goes into a funnel without ever knowing what, if any, responses made it back to the end user. No wonder users get frustrated with products, and product teams blithely go on building new features, or spend their time working out defects. There is a better way to immediately connect end users with product teams.

Following are three ways to work with a vendor to incorporate your voice into their product.

On-site Visits: As users of the software, be open to asking your vendor to come on site and interact with end users. Don’t just invite the account manager, extend the invitation to actual product managers and product developers. This is the easiest way to get accurate feedback about the use of the product within your organization back to the vendor team. If onsite is problematic, consider remote viewing options that share your desktop. Developers who come back from customer visits talk about their experience for months to come.

Problem Not Solution: It’s easy to focus on the defects of the product and talk about what doesn’t work and provide ideas on how to solve or workaround the issue. Your product manager should be asking you what problems you’re trying to solve. Instead of waiting to be asked, tell your vendor what you’re trying to do — not just what’s wrong with their software. Tell them the broader business problem that you’re trying to solve. By focusing on core of what you’re trying to solve, the chances of finding an innovative solution together are so much higher.

Co-Development: Between giving requirements and acceptance testing, the usual touch points between users and vendors, there’s a world of possibility in interaction. Co-development means embedding one of your users into the vendor product team. It can be as small of an investment as less than 15 minutes a day, and can have a huge impact. There is no guessing what the customer wants, no surprises in testing, no misses in terms of workflow or usage, and the product does exactly what you want, when you get it.

Voice of customer is a powerful way to influence product direction, but insist on a partnership program that will truly drive customer satisfaction.

About Vidya Dinamani

Dinamani, vice president, product management and marketing for the Mitchell Solution's Auto Casualty division.

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