VOC: Differentiate "wants" from "hows"

Five-steps to understanding customer wantsand quickly translating them to product definition.

Based on our research work with best-practice teams we developed a 5-step voice-of-the-customer (VOC) process for aligning customer requirements (wants) with product requirements (hows) in order to determine what customers value most.

This process permits the development team to focus the creation of a new product on what customers actually want and deliver it when they want it. The prioritization of customer and product requirements focuses finite resources where they can add the greatest value, this focus causes accelerated development cycles.

"Solution First"

Typically, we see VOC (if done at all) starting with "Our Solution" since "we know better what customers really want, than they do of course.."The solution is presented to the customer to find out what they like and what they don't like. Or we compare our solution to our competitor's product to see where we are deficient, this helps us add the functionality that is needed to make it better than the competitor's product.

This "solution first" approach tends to result in analysis that mostly validates what we already know, but it usually fails to uncover the root-cause "needs" of the customer. Further, this approach does not get at the underlying problem the customer is trying to solve with the new product or service.

It causes the creation of me-too products or a perpetuation of what is already out there... like the endless mobile devices that were being produced before the iPhone, which when it was released, redefined the category because it started from a totally different reference point. A place that challenged all the assumptions about what people wanted to do and how they would use a mobile device. The result was a breakthrough product/concept.

Understanding the Customer's Problem... their true needs

We do VOC to understand what customers want without first "leading the witness" with what we intend to produce. Understanding what customer's intentions are (i.e. what they mean) and translating them into what this means to us is how we convert customer requirements into product requirements (or the "hows" that we will use to fulfill the wants).

After defining the product and prioritizing the most important product features against the prioritized customer requirements we define our solution to the customer problem. This is validated with the customer in the form of product specifications. The cycle repeats until the definition of the product is approved by the target customers.

This definition is refreshed continually through the new product development cycle since we know it will change. The key is to manage this change process and contain the degrees-of-freedom in order to maintain the schedule commitments. Right-time is also an important customer requirement.