Why the voice of the Customer is not everything

Surely the most important aspect of successful businesses and organisations is providing the products or services that people want.

This seems pretty simple to understand, so why do some get it so tremendously wrong sometimes?

Logically there are only a couple of reasons for this:

  • The requirements are not understood
  • The requirements are not well delivered

I think it is fair and healthy to assume that everyone is trying to do a good job – If we find out differently, then we can deal with that appropriately as it happens.

So with everyone busying themselves doing a good job, and still missing the mark we must not have understood our Customer requirements well enough.

I was recently told of a large retail company that had spent much time (and so cost) on employing their Voice of the Customer process. Their process was sound, it was followed to the letter and both they and their Customers left the session feeling like time (and money) was well spent.

On delivery however, this Company was so far from the requirements of the Customer, it became a running joke – after the discontinuation of the contract I should add.

The company spent the time listening, so how did they get it wrong?

Well the Customer requirements were certainly understood – questions were asked and answered, detail agreed, contracts signed and handshakes, smiles and best wishes exchanged. All of this process was undertaken,

It was undertaken and then immediately ignored so they could get on with the job at hand…

They busily defined value, created plans, maps and visions, they were being creative and innovative, encouraged cross functional team collaboration, they came up with great ideas to deliver more value and had systems with visual management to support and encourage this. It was an exciting work place, that looked like it was doing everything as it should.

They were running before they even knew that walking existed, they’re pursuit of internal excellence prevented them delivering the most important requirement that of their Key Customers.

Every continuous improvement process you will have heard about and almost certainly all those that you have yet to hear about have chronological steps, the content and order of which should be trusted and followed. They are chronological because you cannot successfully do one without doing the one preceding it.

And this is the key. What I tend to find now-a-days is that Organisations are better informed on CI, that the concept is known and is followed. The importance of building the logic however is not. Too often I see each step done in beautiful isolation of those previous and post.

If we document our current state, we should use this to inform our future state, if we define a problem well, we should use this to inform our root cause analysis and if we collect a customer requirement we should use it to define what we do.

And so, we are actually much better at understanding our Customer requirements than we have ever been. It is a shame we often discard this in the excitement of busying ourselves with what we believe is right.