Applying Six Sigma Principles to Operations: The Voice of the Customer
What is the “Voice of The Customer”? Is it only external customers? The end users? What about internal customers? Do they have a “voice” as well? Who are the “Customers” anyway?
These are all good questions. Ones that need to be definitively answered as early in a project as possible. The terms “Customer” and “Stakeholder” are synonymous in this respect. The “Voice of The Customer” is “… the term used to describe the stated and unstated needs or requirements of the customer.” 1 “Customers” are the people, organizations, or groups that are going to be affected by this product or process in some way. It can be either a positive or negative effect. Both are equally influential and equally critical to pay attention to.
A great deal of up-front planning is required to effectively execute a project from start to finish. All that planning can be in serious jeopardy if an influential “customer” is suddenly discovered late in the game and their voice hasn’t been heard. The best-case scenario is that they are in favor of this project and you can move forward (with their future participation and input of course!). Worst case, you start over, from the beginning.
The beginning is where the “voice of the customer” sets the stage for the entire project. The “customer” determines what is, and is not, important in the finished product. This is always the case. We do not determine those attributes. Our job is to provide advice and make recommendations based on our knowledge and experience, but we do not make the final decision. What is and isn’t important in the product affects the process. The process, therefore, must meet the customer’s needs as well.
So, who are the “Customers”? As mentioned previously, customers are any person, group, organization, either internal or external, that will be affected by this project or process in some way. Your client is a customer too, but for this exercise, we are looking at this from their perspective.
External – The external customers can include:
- The end user of the product (of course). End users are included in the “External Customer” category; however, they are given additional attention because they are the ultimate judge of a product’s success, and they determine what a company will need to respond to. They determine what is and is not important/acceptable in a finished product as far as usefulness, price, availability, and quality.
- The community where the business operates and where the process is going to be run. The opinions of the local community must be addressed for any new project/process that will change the look and feel of the neighboorhood. If a project will expand a company’s presence, what effect will additional parking have? What about security lighting at night? Will there be additional traffic issues? Noise? How about unwanted odors from the process emissions? Waste handling problems? Etc. This list can be quite large as you can imagine. All those questions need to be satisfactorily answered as early as possible.
- The organizations affiliated with the manufacturer (regulatory agencies, suppliers, shipping agents, advertising firms, etc.) How will they be affected, and how will they need to respond to increased demand, additional time constraints, new regulations, etc.? If one of the company’s suppliers simply cannot meet the increased need, alternatives must be found. The same situation applies to other partners as well.
Internal – This group can include:
- Since most products require some amount of work from several different groups, a company’s employees are internal customers. Will the employees need to be specially trained for this work? Will it require objectionable conditions to work in (confined spaces, hazardous atmospheres, working at heights)?
- Sales associates. Will sales outlets be able to place new products in stores? What additional training do sales teams need to effectively sell the product?
Listening to the “Voice of The Customer” entails much more than people may think. It is a simple phrase but a complicated subject. It is “… a process used to capture the requirements/feedback from the customer (internal or external) to provide the customers with the best in class service/product quality. This process is all about being proactive and constantly innovative to capture the changing requirements of the customers with time.” 1
The voice of the customer can be captured in a variety of ways: Direct discussion or interviews, surveys, focus groups, customer specifications, observation, warranty data, field reports, complaint logs, etc. All these things are tools to help us listen to what the customers are saying. Assembling that information in a coherent package and analyzing it as a whole will lead to simplified solutions and smoother project execution. Seeing the issues before they happen by listening to the customers, all of them, will greatly help in avoiding major headaches later.
If you have questions about anything in this series, please Contact Us.
1 Villanova University LSSBB training, Critical to Quality
Presented by: Karen Young