New Product Blueprinting
Front-end innovation for B2B organic growth

Why Advanced Voice of Customer Matters

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Voice-of-Ourselves

Picture two product development teams: Team A meets in its conference room to decide for its customers what the next new product will be. Team B does all it can to immerse itself in the customer experience, and then designs a product to improve that experience.

You might be shocked at how common Voice of Ourselves (VOO) actually is.

One of the delights of my job is working with teams in hundreds of industries around the world. I see a spectrum of behavior ranging from Team A (VOO) to Team B (VOC) but you might be shocked at how common Voice of Ourselves actually is. Before exploring VOC and VOO behaviors, let’s ask the question, “Why does VOC really matter?”

First, the data are in, the studies are done, and—put simply—customer-engaging VOC improves your bottom line. One massive study by Booz & Co. found that suppliers who directly engage their customers while innovating enjoyedthree times the profit growth of those that do not. Already have enough profits? Read no more.

Second, it’s especially helpful for B2B suppliers to explore customers’ worlds. B2B customers make economically rational decisions that can be predicted. If you’re designing a B2C product like a video game, you probably won’t know how customers will react until you show them a prototype. But if you’re designing a welding machine, you can have a great discussion about weld rate, metal prep, energy efficiency, and more.

Ten Ways to Move from VOO to Advanced VOC

Let’s get practical with ten ways to diagnose your company’s condition today. For each, you’ll see a) behavior characteristic of VOO, b) advanced VOC behavior, and c)why you should move toward the latter.

  1. Interview Scope

    VOO: Your team has a narrow, fixed, supplier-centric scope, e.g., “welding machines” or “energy-efficient welding machines.”

    VOC: Your interview scope is broad and customer-centric, e.g., “metal prep, bonding, and clean-up.”

    Why: The latter scope is all about the customers’ job, not the supplier’s product. It’s also broader, allowing the supplier to uncover unexplored areas to improve.

  2. Interview Objective

    VOO: If your objective is to “validate” your preexisting hypothesis or product concept, it’s a dead giveaway you’re living in “VOO world.”

    VOC: Here your objective is learning, not validation. Every aspect of VOC is tuned to discovering unspoken and unimagined customer needs.

    Why: In most areas of business, you don’t want surprises. But in VOC, you should seek surprises, because they provide the spark for true innovation.

  3. Types of Questions

    VOO: Do you have an interview guide or questionnaire in your hands when doing customer interviews? Not so good.

    VOC: In advanced VOC, the supplier asks for problems (or ideal state), probes, and then utters the magic words, “What else?”

    Why: When you ask, “What else?” you have no idea where the customer will take you. Customers correctly sense they are in charge and engage much more.

  4. Note-Taking

    VOO: Are you jotting your notes in a notepad? (Hopefully your customers aren’t on a couch as you ask, “How long have you had these feelings?”)

    VOC: If you’ve never tried it, use a digital projector and display your notes for all to see… and watch what happens.

    Why: Not only will customers correct your notes on a real-time basis, they’ll feel like they’re in an idea-generation session and give you many, many more ideas.

  5. Interview Skills

    VOO: Here the team asks pre-prepared questions and records answers. The customer struggles to appear interested between glances at his watch.

    VOC: You use advanced listening and probing skills for a lively conversation and employ “triggers” to help the customer think in fresh, exciting new ways.

    Why: Ever have someone hang on your every word and think you were fascinating? Okay, me neither… but that’s how customers can feel with advanced VOC.

  6. Observation Skills

    VOO: When the team takes a tour of the customer facility, they’re not prepared to do much more than casually look around and take in the sights.

    VOC: The team looks for ways to Accelerate each activity,Minimize input, Upgrade output, Simplify transitions, or Eliminate the activity. (See AMUSE newsletter.)

    Why: When you use AIM’s rigorous tour methodology, you’ll a) develop great context for your interview, and b) generate new ways to help the customer.

  7. Companies Interviewed

    VOO: The team goes back to the same “comfortable” list of existing customers to gain market insights.

    VOC: The team interviews down the value chain to customers’ customers… and a broader set of industry influencers outside this chain.

    Why: Teams often gain game-changing insights from unfamiliar companies. And in many cases, the real industry drivers are customers’ customers or beyond.

  8. Deliverables

    VOO: Think your VOC work is done if you can splash some nice customer quotes on a PowerPoint slide? You’re just getting started.

    VOC: Advanced VOC starts with qualitative, divergent Discovery interviews, and then moves to quantitative, convergent Preference interviews.

    Why: We tend to “hear what we want to hear”… so don’t stop until you have hard, unfiltered data that a customer need is important and unsatisfied.

  9. Engagement Timeframe

    VOO: If you treat this as just so many interview “events,” you’re taking a supplier-centric, not customer-centric, view.

    VOC: You know interviewees are giving up valuable time and will appreciate getting regular updates and seeing how their insights materialize.

    Why: By looking for every opportunity to continue engaging customers, you’ll prime them to buy your new product when you’re ready to sell it.

  10. Interviewing Staff

    VOO: A small internal staff of “VOC experts” (or external consultants) descends on customers, interviews them, and hands your business a report.

    VOC: Everyone who comes in contact with customers develops the skills needed to understand their world in great depth.

    Why: You’ve got thousands of customer interactions each year, so use them! Besides, customers want to talk to your businesspeople, not hired guns.

Learning More…

What do we see when companies move from VOO to VOC? Sure, more exciting product development. But we also see a new culture emerging within the company… an outside-in culture that invigorates employees and drives fresh, exciting innovation. Contact us if you’d like to discuss this further. For general information on Blueprinting, please visit newproductblueprinting.theaiminstitute.com.

Article excerpted from B2B Organic Growth Strategies Newsletter July-August 2013.