Voice of the Customer (VoC) Guide for Product Managers [+Template]
What is Voice of the Customer?
Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a term used to describe the in-depth process of capturing customer’s expectations, preferences, and aversions. Therefore, VoC is one of the most fundamental responsibilities in Product Management. Yet, as I survey Product Managers that I work with, they consistently acknowledge that PMs don’t do enough VoC activities. Many companies say they want to be more customer-focused, but will bypass VoC programs because:
- Time pressures to get a product to market
- Too many other urgent issues are sapping their time
- They assume that they already know their customers
- They’re not sure how to effectively execute a VoC program
How Does Voice of the Customer Impact Product Management?
According to Nielsen, over half of innovations don’t deliver on a customer need and because of this, around 80 to 85% of new products in studied markets fail to achieve business expectations. To further support this point, according to the MIT Sloan Management Review, over 50% of products across industries fail and the major contributor is not understanding customer needs. Insights developed from Voice of the Customer activities are the most critical component to understand customer needs and validating that you are delivering a superior customer experience.
There are many approaches and techniques to getting VoC such as surveys, monitoring social media, participating in customer forums, focus groups, and conducting customer visits—just to name a few. Each type of VoC technique is valuable, but there is nothing more powerful for a Product Manager than to spend time interacting with the customers in our target market segments.
Interacting directly with the customer
It’s one thing to say you know something about your customers through reading reports and research. But it’s a whole new level of insight when you interact with your customers and really learn about them, their work, and the challenges they face. Through this direct interaction, we gain empathy for our customers which will lead us to create and deliver more meaningful products.
We commonly hear that PMs know they should hear from customers via direct interaction with but they don’t have a clear Voice of the Customer methodology in place on how to define and execute their strategy for these interactions. What I’ll focus on for the rest of this post is how to create your VoC strategy and provide guidance on how to execute it.
Be sure to download our Voice of the Customer: The Complete Guide to lead your efforts.
Building a VoC Based Strategy
The starting part for a successful Voice of the Customer program is a well-defined strategy. The following describes the key elements to include in your VoC strategy.
Main hypothesis to test
Describe the hypothesis you want to test.
Identify customer profiles or segments to interview
Based on your hypothesis, which of your market segments are the most important to meet with?
Questions that will help validate or reject your hypothesis
For any hypothesis statement, there are key areas of uncertainty that will have the biggest impact on validating or rejecting your hypothesis. Define those key questions that you need to answer.
Ensure a good representative sample across your markets
Ensure you get a good cross-sectional representation of customers with varying backgrounds and perspectives.
Define the roles/personas within to meet with or observe
Define those potential personas that use or buy your product and prioritize which ones are most important in answering the question you must answer.
Review with other stakeholders and ensure buy-in to your strategy
Make sure you get buy-in from key stakeholders on both the strategy and the resource commitments. We cannot overemphasize the importance of defining the time commitment required of each team participant to conduct all VoC phases.
Prepare for Your VoC
Now that you have your strategy in place, develop your full plan on how you will execute the VoC. The following steps will guide you in building out your plan.
Define your VoC Team
You should target having three members of each VoC team representing a cross-function of the organization. Each team will need one person to lead the interview and two as observers who take notes and bring a different perspective as you conduct the VoC.
Build your Discussion Guide
Build a discussion guide that outlines the general flow of the conversation based upon your hypothesis and the key questions you need to answer.
Key elements in your discussion guide include:
- Introductions and establish rapport
- Warm-up questions
- Topics to help validate or reject the hypothesis
Build an Observation Guide (if required):
Sometimes you can gain deeper insights by observing your interviewees in the context of their environment which will give you a better understanding of their situation and the challenges they face.
Discussion/Observation Guide review
Get feedback from others on your discussion guide. Send it for review to two or three other people in your organization.
Before getting in front of actual subjects, take some time to practice the VoC. This will help you and the observers become comfortable with the flow of the interview, practice follow-up questions, and prepare for unexpected situations.
Select your Target Customers
Using your criteria defined above, begin to select potential participants. Work with your marketing or sales team to search your client/prospect database using your prescribed criteria.
Execute the VoC
Learn about the Interviewees
Review background on each target customer (the company and interviewees) to become familiar with their situation.
Schedule time to debrief
Even after a small number of interviews, each one will become fuzzier in your mind, and facts about each one may begin to overlap. To avoid the possibility of missing key insights, make sure you schedule time after each interview or observation to debrief with the VoC team.
Invite the participants
If you can, have someone with an existing customer relationship (sales, professional services, channel, etc.) make an introduction for you.
Analyze Your VoC and Identify Insights
A well-executed VoC doesn’t end with the interviews. You need to analyze the results of the meetings, identify key insights, and take action on those findings.
Review notes in detail
With your VoC Team, review each interview in detail and highlight key statements made by the interviewee.
Find Key Insights
Review the key statements that you identified and organize them into themes that can lead you to identify key insights. Review your insights against your hypothesis statement and questions. What did you learn to either validate or reject your hypothesis statement?
Prioritize Insights and define an Action Plan
Hopefully, you have gained a good number of insights from your work. But you need to prioritize which insights are the most significant and create an action plan.
If you are truly vested in becoming more customer-oriented, you’ll want to develop a structured approach to how you gain customer insights. These customer insights, when properly gathered and analyzed, will enable you to develop products that deliver a stronger value proposition and increase your chances of their success.
Want even more help with defining and executing your VoC strategy? Download our Voice of the Customer: The Complete Guide that goes more in-depth about the activities above and provides a comprehensive workbook to create your own VoC program so you can truly understand your customers’ needs.
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About the Author
Tom Evans is a Principal Consultant and Trainer at 280 Group.
Tom Evans is a Senior Principal Consultant and Trainer at 280 Group and is an internationally recognized authority in product management, product marketing, international business, go-to-market strategies, business partnerships, and entrepreneurship. In his extensive experience, he has helped start-ups through Fortune 500 companies create and launch winning products and has led business development efforts in the US and global markets. Tom has been responsible for successfully developing and implementing Product Management & Product Marketing methodologies at multiple companies.