Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hearing your Customer

The Most Important Person in Your Business
It is helpful, when thinking of your customers, to be guided by the following statement on the subject by Mahatma Gandhi,
"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so."

Peter Drucker's assertion that the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer, directly supports this view.

Key Questions
If these statements are true, then it makes sense to do all you can to gain a deep understanding of your customers.

What are their concerns and motivations?
What needs are they meeting by using your products and services?
Would they readily recommend you to others?
What problems do they face in acquiring and using your offerings?
Which of their needs and expectations are you currently not meeting?
Who else should be using your products and services and why are they not doing so yet?
What unspoken needs of the customer can we identify?

You must have a system in place for answering these questions on an on-going basis, and for incorporating the insights obtained into your product, service and process design.

Tools for Hearing the Customer's Voice
The Six sigma process improvement methodology employs a number of tools for "capturing the Voice of the Customer".

While methods like surveys, focus groups and interviews are useful, they must be augmented by more advanced methods like observational and experiential methods that help capture items that the customer may not be able to articulate. Even the usual surveys can be enhanced by properly choosing the various customer requirements we want the customers to rate. These requirements can be as concrete as the speed of service at a restaurant, or as intangible as the satisfying sound of the closing door of a luxury vehicle.

The data is then analysed to develop the critical-to-quality parameters. Quality in this case goes beyond the product to encompass all of the customers experience in interacting with your offering.

The insight gained into the customer' preferences in this manner will not only help improve current products and services, but can also be used to re-position existing offerings as well as developing new ones.

Thus any attempt to improve operations must be closely attuned to the voice of the customer, or else efforts and resources may be focused on items which are of no value. That truly would be a waste.

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