VOC and Customer Centricity…really?

Many companies put a high priority on being “customer centric” and using techniques like “voice of the customer” to provide better solutions for their customers, but very few practice what they preach. Too often, product & service providers start with their offering and try to fit it into the customer’s world, instead of starting from the customer, their job, and their unmet needs and working toward the right offering. Very early in my career, I learned some important lessons from some untraditional sources that I’m sharing today through a few stories, with hopes they will light a few fires.

It’s about the job! – First, I learned that it’s most important to understand the customer’s job to a fine level of detail. This includes when, how often, under what conditions and to what degree of accuracy for each decision they make and each task they perform. One way to do this uses a technique to flowchart a person’s job and then analyzes the flowchart to anticipate performance problems. Too many steps in a sequence, too many factors in a decision or to much grey to discriminate will all result in performance problems. With this information, you’ll have the insight needed to design the right remedy, whether it’s a new product or feature, a redesign of an existing one, the right job aid, training, or even job redesign.

It’s NOT about the product!- Traditional product training often attempts to teach every feature of a product in some seemingly logical progression, while leaving the customer to figure out workflow and how it applies to their job… or not. You’ll know you missed the mark if the customer says, “I really liked the course, but I’ll have to go home & really dig in and spend some time with this product….” This means the instruction didn’t really teach the person how to do their job with the product. As a training designer, I was tasked with putting together customer training that simulated situations the customer will face in their job,  teaching them how to respond to each situation, then providing more situations to allow them to practice. Teach the job, not the product.

Watch and Listen! – While some product people were lucky enough to meet with a single customer in a conference room once a month to “talk”, I was blessed to meet 15-20 new customers each week and watch them attempt to do their “simulated” jobs with my company’s equipment. When they got stuck, I was careful enough to ask them what they were thinking/doing that led to this problem before helping them to get unstuck. This insight helped me fix problems with the training, and /or improve the design & function of my company’s products.

Questions Only! – Later, while in various commercial, product and sales roles, I survived tons of customer meetings where product people were so interested in describing their latest development, they ignored asking any questions of the customer. To contrast, I’ve hosted meetings where I intentionally shared no information, but instead asked questions and let the customer talk. At the end of those meetings, the customers commented that I knew them very well, and some even shared that I provided “great insight” and that they “got the most out of my presentation on the agenda”. On a side note, I’ve provided the same “questions only” advice to a few of my kids when they started dating and needed advice on how to talk to the opposite sex. Why not try it yourself?

Where’d it all come from? People I work with appreciate the creative and innovative things I come up with, often simplifying the complex and providing something not seen before. Truth be told, I owe this to my early boss-man, Tony Moore, and the B.F. Skinner followers that he enabled me to study under like Joe Harless, Robert Mager, Geary Rummer and others focused on applying behaviorist tactics to education and industry . Their untraditional, but simple techniques have worked equally well as a trainer, marketer and business leader. Thanks Tony!

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