Voice of the Customer: Stretching the Boundaries Deep Dive Discovery Lab: PDMA PIM 2012
By Gerry Katz, executive vice president, Applied Marketing Science, Inc.
For some time now, the definition of Voice of the Customer (VoC) has been stretched, diluted and some would even say hijacked, in ways both good and bad. In this Discovery Lab, we dealt with both the old and the new, the traditional and the new wave.
In the morning, we covered the basics: where VoC came from, its critical role in new product development (NPD) and some of the tried-and-true ways that VOC has been gathered and used over the years. We began with my sobering talk entitled “The Chairman’s Annual Rant.” In it, I reviewed all of the misguided and misunderstood criticisms about VoC and then clarified exactly what it is, how it should be used and why it is even more critical today than in its infancy nearly 20 years ago.
Next was a keynote address by Professor Neeraj Bharadwaj of Temple University. Bharadwaj reviewed his forthcoming JPIM paper about VoC and the research behind it. Of particular interest was his model showing that “customer focus” alone does not have much impact on “customer loyalty” without real improvements to the products and services being offered. This confirmed the belief of many of the attendees that “flag waving” in support of making the company more customer-driven is no substitute for real innovation!
Next, the workshop engaged in hands-on group exercises about two of the thorniest problems in good VoC: “Who’s the customer?” and “What should we ask them?” While these things always sound simple on the surface, they rarely are—especially in B2B applications. Each table took on a hypothetical example: a product or service for B2B or B2C.
In the afternoon, we transitioned to the new and sometimes controversial topic of the Role of social media in VoC. We started with presentations by Mark Bergen and Ellie Hutton of Vision Critical and Sharon McIntyre and Randy Corke of Chaordix. Both companies are heavily engaged in the creation of social networks, not just for customer chit-chat, but for real market research such as VoC for NPD.
Finally, Brian Stokoe from Caterpillar talked about how his company has created its own social networks for all types of customers and for many different applications. This was followed by one more exercise in which each table had to design a social network strategy for its product.
We concluded by answering the question that had been posed at the beginning of the day: Can social media be used for VoC? The answer: Yes but with a few constraints.
First, the phenomenon of social networks has been far more prolific for consumer products than for B2B, meaning that there is not nearly as much naturally occurring content for B2B companies.
While the data is usually free, it is often overwhelming, and so it either needs good artificial intelligence tools or many hours of intelligent eyeballs to analyze it.
Good VoC requires the ability to ask follow-up probing questions, which is not a part of most social networks.
But the solution, as demonstrated in this Discovery Lab, was simply to create your own social network—one that may be temporary in nature and in which you may need to incent the participants. But if you do, you will probably be able to overcome the above constraints and add another powerful tool to your VoC data collection arsenal.