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VOC Training Options

A Guide To Choosing The Right Option for You

Our passion is to equip organizations and leaders like you with the system, skills, tools, and insights to understand and satisfy your customers’ priorities. If your strategic objectives include growth, exceptional product management, innovation, and high customer satisfaction, you’ve come to the right place.  If the answers were well known, there would be no customer complaints, product returns, warranty costs, rework, litigation, and general under-performance. 

We have the answers and are eager to share them with you.  There are two general ways to do that.  One is through customized consulting.  The other is through training, which is usually the most cost-effective and durable approach.  We offer both.  No matter the path, a key element of what you will learn is how to deploy new VOC practices from the outside in. That means we understand that satisfaction of the VOC is dependent on connecting insights to the practices of relevant departments and functional silos within the enterprise. This page addresses our VOC training approach.

VOC Training Options & Objectives

Your VOC training needs are unique and one size rarely fits all.  In fact, we have found that most of our clients start by telling us they want to achieve at least one of the following objectives:

  1. Learn a methodology for uncovering the VOC, applicable in contexts such as the following:
    • Commercial business, both B2B and B2C
    • Not-for-profit and government entities
    • Producers of physical products
    • Enterprises providing intangible and knowledge-intensive services
    • Holistic focus on external and related internal customers
    • Deployment across functional silos
  2. Apply and demonstrate the methodology to one or more real situations, generating data that is analyzed to reveal actionable patterns.
  3. Charter and guide two or more fast cycle VOC team projects that create unimpeachable objective and subjective data, a compelling action plan, and deployment results that produce visible results, including an average of better than 4:1 ROI in one year.
  4. Transform the culture of the enterprise so the VOC is linked to strategic objectives and embedded in all operations as the new normal.

Based on these objectives, our version of small, medium, large and extra large sizes for training can be summarized this way:

These programs are listed by scope, from the basic essentials to the most intensive and global.  Our guiding principle with every option is based on this observation:

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.    Albert Einstein

The good news is that we have discovered what the new VOC thinking is and, when you learn it, you’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t use it.  For example, if we know how to elicit priorities from customers but don’t realize there are three distinct kinds of customers for every product or service, we will likely get wonderful new insights…. from the wrong customers.  Satisfying them, to the disadvantage of the right customers, takes us in the wrong direction.  That is precisely what happened when Boeing lost a $400 billion contract to its main competitor, Lockheed.  The New Coke project was another such fiasco.   Using the customer-centered culture (C3) VOC system covered in our training could have prevented those problems.

Considerations

There is merit in first identifying common practices masquerading as effective ways to capture and understand the VOC, such as:

  • Satisfaction surveys and NPS
  • Call center complaint data
  • Product returns and warranty costs
  • Big data focused on market demographics
  • Training a few people in advanced VOC capture methods

In over 30 years of business, we have seen only rare instances where these approaches are effective.  And when that does happen, the potential is often frustrated by failure to understand what is necessary to deploy the VOC to achieve significant, durable results beyond a single application.  So we can say with certainty that traditional VOC training is often a waste of money and time. You deserve to know why that is so and what we have found to be the key elements of success. 

We will start with a summary of what we recommend and practice, offering examples of the kinds of results you can reasonably expect.  We’ll end with a discussion of why the traditional approaches above fall short and should be avoided.

Summary of VOC Training Options & Solutions

The key is to start with a new paradigm, providing the context for new VOC skills to flourish.  That new paradigm is described in depth with the book, Mastering Excellence, with several of the key elements outlined in the article, “Voice of the Customer in a Widget-free World”.  It is the foundation under all our workshops, with added tools specific to a particular workshop.  The following summarizes the main elements of each program.

Solution 1 – VOC 2-Day Workshop

Conduct a 2-day VOC workshop, usually for 20-40 participants.

Summary:  Participants are organized into teams, based on shared content knowledge.  They are introduced to, and apply to their actual work, the new customer-centered culture (C3) paradigm, system and VOC tools unavailable elsewhere.  They use the 8 Dimensions of Excellence framework and tools to:

  1. Separate enterprise and customer priorities
  2. Redefine all work as tangible products, enabling the characterization and measurement of work in ways previously deemed immeasurable
  3. Determine who “the customer” is in every context, eliminating ambiguity, confusion, conflict, and misdirection of the VOC effort
  4. Differentiate the three potential roles a customer can play with a product, eliminating the tendency to satisfy the wrong customers
  5. Use simple linguistics and “word formulas” to ask the critical few questions that always reveal customer priorities, otherwise hidden
  6. Contrast and evaluate the effectiveness of different VOC methods
  7. Apply focus group simulations to a real participant work situations participants
  8. Translate subjective perceptions into objective measures of success
  9. Understand the differences between convergent and divergent thinking, essential for driving improvement, new product design, and innovation
  10. Apply the new VOC paradigm to impact process excellence in terms of simplicity, speed, cost, capacity, and satisfaction
  11. Use VOC revelations to develop superior satisfaction surveys
  12. Understand how the VOC is deployed internally to reduce cross-silo dysfunction, defects, rework, and cost while improving employee engagement, collaboration, and innovation
  13. Outline an action plan

Solution 2 – VOC Workshop plus Focus Groups

Deliver Solution 1, plus a third day to conduct and debrief up to two focus groups so participants learn how to be self-sufficient with that method. 

Summary: Participants are provided and apply a special tool set that details everything involved to prepare, conduct focus groups, organize resulting data, and develop an action plan.  The focus group methodology is so powerful, robust, and easy to use that it can be applied to any kind of product and its customers.  It is also versatile, being highly useful for the design of satisfaction surveys and customer interviews.  That is true for products used both externally and internally.  From the third day of this session, participants will learn how to:

  1. Determine when a C3 focus group is the best of ten usual VOC approaches
  2. Use the preparation process to divide the work for seamless execution
  3. Avoid wandering off topic and deliver an experience that is both satisfying to focus group participants and revealing to those running it
  4. Use surprisingly simple questioning techniques to rapidly uncover what customers would not otherwise disclose
  5. Extract and prioritize VOC findings from the data collected
  6. Separate outcome, performance, and perception expectations
  7. Determine what objective data needs to be subsequently collected

See how others have presented VOC findings to achieve major change

Solution 3 – Strategic Project Management Workshop

Conduct a 4-day strategic project management workshop for teams and likely contributors.  Please see a more complete description at the link.

Summary:  This workshop’s overall objective is to equip and enable project participants to achieve eye-popping results for customers and the enterprise, assuring each project does at least the following:

  1. Selects the right thing to work on, of the many crying out for attention.
  2. Acknowledges that normal projects intended to execute on a remedy already decided upon is not the same as a VOC/solution-unknown case where the symptoms may be known but not the best solution(s)
  3. Links the project to one or more strategic priorities and related operational concerns
  4. Assures the project meets the tests for high potential, high readiness, and high visibility of results
  5. Develops a charter that goes beyond general problem description, prevents scope creep, and actively guides all team efforts
  6. Provides a clear roadmap, project decision tree, and tools to support effective and productive team function, data collection, and potential remedy evaluation
  7. Assures no more than five (5) standing members of the team are required, augmented by subject matter experts on a just-in-time basis.
  8. Creates a compelling action plan that receives enthusiastic approval from decision-makers who assure rapid execution

Three to four training modules generally follow this workshop during the course of the project to optimize full utilization of new skills. As-needed support is also provided via phone, Skype, webinar, or on-site.  Our emphasis is to work as intensively with project leaders as necessary to enable their mastery of the C3 principles and VOC methods so they become the trusted first line of support for their teams.

Solution 4 – Strategic Planning Workshop

Conduct a strategic planning workshop, generally 3 ½ days in length, plus consultation with leadership, to initiate or improve the organization’s strategic business plan and measures of success

related to customers.

Summary: Work with enterprise leadership to develop or sharpen their strategic direction and its alignment with customer priorities and operational excellence.  This often includes development or revision of the strategic business plan, key measures to address all 8 Dimensions of Excellence, integration of change initiatives, alignment with core values, policy deployment, and purposeful adoption of unambiguous communication and behavior.  One common finding early in our work is that the organization has many policies on what leadership says are priorities.  But customer satisfaction, stated as a top priority, is rarely supported with any customer satisfaction policy.  We help to quickly close that gap between intent and practice.

Strategic projects often flow from the strategic planning work as an important means for deployment and cultural transformation.  Results from this work have included many outstanding achievements for our clients, such as:

  • Winning Malcolm Baldrige Awards
  • Industry recognition as best-in-class
  • Increase in revenue by more than $45 million the first year
  • Thousands of customer kudos and testimonials
  • First year savings of $15 million by transforming supply management practice, with only nominal revision of automated systems
  • Creation of a new HR hiring system, without automation, that eliminated discrimination claims and cut placement time by over 70%
  • Repeated reductions of process time and complexity by 80%
  • Development of innovative new technology, products, and services
  • Savings of several million dollars within eighteen months of C3/VOC work

The change in thinking with the new paradigm, the adoption of a deployment roadmap and new tools, and state-of-the-art VOC skills are embedded in all our VOC training.

Common VOC Practice And Disappointment

Sadly, there are other approaches that miss the mark for observable reasons.  The following describes some of those practices and why they fail.

Surveys

Satisfaction surveys are convenient for gathering data that can be quantified and analyzed for patterns.  While a well-designed survey can be a good tool, most surveys ask the wrong questions the wrong way of the wrong people for the wrong reasons, do not focus remedies on customer priorities, and are not effective drivers of improved customer experience.  For example, business travelers have told us overwhelmingly that a good night sleep is their top desired outcome when staying overnight in a hotel.  As a traveler yourself, you are well aware that virtually no hotels have any question about good night sleep on their satisfaction survey. They have questions about the check-in/check-out process, room service, and other issues.  But nothing related to your number one priority.  Is it possible for the hotel to get a top score on the questions they ask but still not give you a good night sleep?  You bet. 

The problems with satisfaction surveys are many.  The following are a few of the most common:

  • Questions asked are not developed from known customer priorities, nor are they designed to determine what those priorities are.
  • Professional survey designers put far more emphasis on generating results that are statistically reliable than are valid. This means one may get similar patterns of responses when administering the survey to different random samples, suggesting the results can be relied upon as an accurate assessment of customer sentiment.  But if the questions asked have little or no relationship to what customers actually care about, the results are not a valid assessment at all.
  • We’ve all been exposed to surveys so everyone feels capable of writing down a few questions of their own, as if that is all there is to it.
  • Questions are asked in such a generic manner that the answers are of little value and do not assist in directing corrective action. For example, it is common to ask how satisfied the respondent is with timeliness.  No matter what the answer is, there is no way to know what to do with it if timeliness hasn’t been defined in relation to a specific product or process. How much time must something take to make it a satisfactory experience?  The construction of the survey should make this totally clear.  Our VOC methods enable that.

Untested assumptions constrain the range, depth, and timing of questions asked.  It is common to hear management say that recipients won’t answer more than x number of questions.  How do they know that?  We once designed a survey of eight pages.  We got a record-breaking response of over 50%.  Recipients answered because the questions asked were relevant to them and specific enough that they (and we) knew what they were referring to and what we were likely to be able to improve. Two of the questions asked provided critical information that resulted in a savings of over $1 million within a year.

 

Net Promoter Score

Now consider the popularity of the net promoter score (NPS).  This is generally a single number, usually from 1 to 5; derived by asking customers how likely it is that they would recommend a particular company or its products.  A score of 5 is the top score possible.  Sounds like a good idea until we think of the many hotels that ask this question without any tie to achieving a good night sleep or any other priority desired outcome.  Is it possible to give a high score, indicating a firm has a competitive advantage, but discover that firm is merely the best among those missing the target?  Absolutely.  In fact, quite a bit of research over the past couple decades has revealed there is little to no correlation between a high NPS and future business success or growth.

Summary: Participants are provided and apply a special tool set that details everything involved to prepare, conduct focus groups, organize resulting data, and develop an action plan.  The focus group methodology is so powerful, robust, and easy to use that it can be applied to any kind of product and its customers.  It is also versatile, being highly useful for the design of satisfaction surveys and customer interviews.  That is true for products used both externally and internally.  From the third day of this session, participants will learn how to:

  1. Determine when a C3 focus group is the best of ten usual VOC approaches
  2. Use the preparation process to divide the work for seamless execution
  3. Avoid wandering off topic and deliver an experience that is both satisfying to focus group participants and revealing to those running it
  4. Use surprisingly simple questioning techniques to rapidly uncover what customers would not otherwise disclose
  5. Extract and prioritize VOC findings from the data collected
  6. Separate outcome, performance, and perception expectations
  7. Determine what objective data needs to be subsequently collected

See how others have presented VOC findings to achieve major change

Negative Feedback

Complaints, product returns and warranty costs are good to know about.  But this data tells us something about what customers don’t want, not what they do want.  Healthcare organizations rightly work to reduce undesired outcomes such as morbidity and death.  Both are well defined and measured.  Actions are taken for improvement.  That is definitely good to do.  But is it possible to make such improvements without satisfying the most important desired outcome their customers have: good health?  Sadly, yes.  In fact, the vast majority of healthcare provider organizations have no written definition for good health, let alone measures of success or goals for improvement.  The reduction of an undesired outcome is not equivalent to achievement of a desired outcome.

One of the challenges a well-established enterprise faces is the tendency to seek improvement using convergent thinking.  That happens when we look at the current product or service for opportunities to reduce deficiencies.  We refer to those efforts as continuous improvement.  In a stable or slowly changing world, that can be an effective strategy for achieving or maintaining leadership.  The evidence is that we do not live in a static world.  One proof of that is the regularity with which established firms are displaced by disruptors.

The opposite of negative feedback is aspiration coupled with the courage to reject vital lies and use divergent thinking to create what has never been.  Innovators don’t call themselves disruptors; those who get dislodged from resting on their laurels call them that.  Where convergent thinkers focus on the current product or process, divergent thinkers focus on outcomes.  The questions asked are different:

  • How can we improve this product or process? (Convergent)
  • How can we better achieve this desired outcome? (Divergent)

History clearly reveals that customers are not loyal to products or, by extension, those who build them.  They are loyal to the best outcomes that are achievable within their means and suitable for their context. Building the better buggy whip is fruitless in a world where horses are no longer the principle means of conveyance.  Why is it that the dominant names in typewriters, slide rules, radios, recorded music, and publishing did not become the new masters of word processing software, calculators, TVs, iTunes, or Kindle and YouTube?  Perhaps they were fixated on trying to reduce defects without balancing their focus on innovation tied to customers’ desired outcomes.

One example of the current state of the art in the field of continuous improvement is Six Sigma.  That is a statistical term for the number of defects (3.4) per million products or observation points.  It is, literally, the definition of quality as things gone wrong.  What is their measure of things gone right? We will argue that is defined by a well-conceived approach to uncovering the voice of the customer.  One such approach is C3.

Big Data On Customer Demographics

Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix are frequently held up as models of the ability to slice and dice their customer segments, behaviors, and priorities. Understanding individuals’ priorities is absolutely the way to go. But exploration into priorities, based on aggregates (such as demographic groups) of customers follows this principle: The more data aggregation we do, the less information we have.

One very common problem is the tendency to confuse, obscure or blur the interests of end users, brokers, and fixers. When a product is purchased from a producer, it can often be a broker (distributor, retailer, or agent) that does the buying. But they are not the user and their interests are quite different. It is possible to satisfy brokers but cause end users to flee.

Don’t be fooled by traditional marketing ideas about how to define customer segments. An organization may be a master of insight on what customers wished they could have, if only it were offered. One need only look at a sophisticated company such as Ford Motor for revelations. Ford’s CEO ran this ad under his signature:

We know we don’t control the price of gas, but we can innovate to reduce the need.  That’s why we’re building cars that can go 500 miles on a single tank….  At Ford, innovation is the guiding compass of everything we do.

This was at the same time Toyota had been delivering the Prius worldwide for several years and Honda had several cars that significantly exceeded Ford cars’ gas mileage.  One of the Board members at Ford told me “customers didn’t tell us they wanted more MPGs, they said they wanted more range.”  That was the explanation for rushing out new cars with bigger gas tanks.  No kidding!  Do you think it was possible the VOC got misunderstood?  Their stock value around that time dropped 40% and the CEO was replaced.   Maybe that was just a fluke?  Yet with all that pain and customer dissatisfaction, leadership insisted their market data gave them the truth.  By the way, women make up half the potential world customers for cars.  Somehow, American car producers seem to have missed that little detail.  One of the top desires women drivers tell us they want is a place to put their purse.  Could details like this be missed in your own big data?  Not if you are using our system.

There is a second huge area of missed opportunity when relying on big data to understand and deliver on customer wants. That is when a product is not purchased but is still very important. There are three main examples:

  • iTunes
  • Funded, but not purchased, products
  • Products produced and used by employees within an organization

Web sites, social media platforms and iTunes are all products that are not offered for you to buy. They all have users who have knowable priorities we call the VOC. They not only care about those not-for-sale products but also the products made available by those vehicles. Any VOC inquiry intended to enhance user experience must segment the products first, then the users for each product. Defining all work as products is one of the first steps in the C3 VOC learning process. Big data does not yet get involved here. It fails to consider the three distinct roles a customer can play with a given product.

Government and education products are all funded, but not necessarily purchased by the users. The convoluted relationships between funders (often legislative bodies) of products and the users of those products is a classic case of the brokers having far more power over product design than the end users. Big data tends to have little or no role in effectively correcting this situation.

One can make a persuasive argument that every enterprise produces more kinds- and sometimes greater quantity- of products for internal use or consumption than for external use, whether those are purchased or not. When a strategic objective is to improve employee engagement, it is well known that listening and constructively responding to their needs goes a long way to achieving their satisfaction. Big data tied to surveys might uncover general areas of dissatisfaction. But the path to employee satisfaction runs through the VOC done at the product level. We train you in how to do that with simplicity and speed.

What we can say now is that the use of big data definitely has merits. But when the VOC must be discovered, another path should be pursued.   That is what we teach you to do exceptionally well.

Train A Few, Share The News

It is normal to think one or two talented contributors can be sent to training, learn all the secrets, then come back and tell others.  If the training is simply the explanation or even practice of new skills, it may be possible for that approach to do some good.  But when one is experientially exposed to a whole new way of looking at customers and their expectations, is challenged to apply critical thinking to develop insights, makes using new tools the source of unexpected revelations, then transferring new skills with the let-me-tell-you approach gets lost in translation.

Our observation over many years is that the transfer of VOC skills is not a simple matter of telling someone what the new behavior should be. A large enough group needs to share the experience so they form a buddy system as they subsequently pursue application in their real world. Just as reading a book is insufficient for learning how to fly an airplane. All the facts are there but the experience of doing it successfully must occur before proficiency can be attained.

A successful VOC training experience will leave participants confident and practiced in new behaviors. In addition, they will understand how to deploy the external customer’s VOC back through the relevant functional silos within the organization. That breaks down parochial practices that will otherwise defeat even the most enlightened student. We want your success to be a shared journey to the promised land, not the pursuit of a mirage. Your investment of time and money should be cause for celebration.

 

We look forward to hearing how we can help you creatively deliver on a new understanding of what your customers want!