Many companies develop a product simply because they can. Such products are often designed by engineers who are enamored of technology. They develop products hoping customers too will fall in love, whether or not their impressive new technology meets a genuine need.
This approach fails to comprehend that successful products satisfy customer needs that are either unmet or barely met. Voice of the Customer (VOC) is a rigorous, repeatable process that ensures that product development organizations are creating customer-centric products that meet the most highly-valued market needs.
Product development professionals often claim that they talk to customers quite frequently -- but that’s the problem. They should not be talking to customers but rather listening to them. The aim of VOC is not to find out how customers would design your product. Rather, it is to understand how the customer does his or her business. If product developers understand how their customer does business, then they can innovate, and develop exciting solutions that go beyond what any customer can imagine.
The customer is not qualified to develop your product but they are qualified to tell you about their own experience around your products and the needs they are intended to address. For instance, in your VOC research you may learn from your customers:
The VOC process is a structured approach for listening to customers. Then, product developers apply the insights they have gleaned to projects that allow them to meet real market needs – even those needs that the customer has not articulated clearly. This process has four stages:
An important part of the VOC approach is the Kano Model developed by Professor Noriaki Kano in the 1980s. This model divides product attributes into three important categories called must-be qualities, one-dimensional qualities and delighters. The must-be features are those attributes of a product that the customer takes for granted will be a part of the product, but customers will become dissatisfied if this attribute is absent. For example, any car the customer buys is expected to have windshield wipers. They’re taken for granted, but the customer will be highly dissatisfied if she buys a car with no wipers or ones that do not work properly.
One-dimensional qualities are those that produce satisfaction when they are there and dissatisfaction when they are not. These are the attributes on which companies tend to compete with each other head-to-head. For example, a car that is advertised as having 20 percent better gas mileage than a competitor produces customer satisfaction if the car does indeed live up to this claim, but dissatisfaction if the car get only 10 or 15 percent better gas mileage than the competition. Delighters are those attributes that the customer does not expect to find and that produce customer delight and excitement.
The must-be's are in the realm of over-design. If developers do not understand that a given feature is a must-be, then they keep trying to design it better, but its value is neutral. The one-dimensionals are the area where there is the closest competition in the market; often markets devolve into price competition around the one-dimensionals. The most important of the three are the delighters because these are the exciting, unexpected features and benefits that are highly valued by customers. This is the domain that produces profits.
Voice of the Customer is a proven process that allows companies to leverage the delighters that drive revenues and margins. It allows developers to avoid over-designing the must-be's, to be better or equal to the competition on the one-dimensionals, and then to focus resources on the delighters.