voice of the customer

Build a Voice of Customer Foundation by Watching Paint Dry

Most organizations have some form of capturing customer insights. Why is it that so many products fail even when our customers told us they wanted our solution?  What can we learn from car seats and watching paint dry? Watch the animation below  and continue reading if it sounds familiar.

Your Customers Don’t Care About Your Products

When I accepted that premise; the way I viewed the strategy development process fundamentally changed.  

Say it with me: “My customers don’t care about my products!”

Congratulations!  You are now past the 1st step of shifting your organization from a product centric mentality to customer centric.

I’m currently in my office looking around at all the products I don’t care about.  On top of my desk, is an AT&T router.  I don’t care about that ugly piece of hardware.  In fact, it makes me remember the time I had to get a new one and re-enter the password to all my devices.  I care that I can stream the next episode of Game of Thrones before I get a group text telling me “Von Stow” died! Down by my feet is a paper shredder.  You think I care about that?  The only thing I care about is that my information doesn’t end up being traded for a bit coin.  A box of diapers.  I may have cared about them with my 1st kid but now I just care that ‘presents’ don’t get on the floor.

Look around your room and see all the products you don’t care about.

Ok, so customers don’t care about products.  What do your customers care about?

Your Customers Care About the

Job Your Product Accomplishes   

Your customers care about the job your product accomplishes.  If you accept that premise; then it is now time to find out what pieces of the job the customer is willing to pay for.  The mistake most organizations make is they simply ask the customer what is important.  That is a sure fire way to develop a product or service that fails to launch.

I was recently speaking at a conference in Quebec City and asked the audience to raise their hands if they had kids.  Almost everyone raised their hands.  I then asked them to keep their hands raised if they agree that the single most important feature of a car seat is safety.  The audience kept their hands raised.  I finally asked, if they bought the car seat because, they knew for a fact, it was the safest.  All the hands went down except one (the engineer in the room).

Safety is the most important feature in a car seat, but it is typically a given.  If it were not safe, it would cause customers not to buy, but does not necessarily lead to a buying behavior; except for the 1 engineer in the room.

Most people bought their car seats because it was easy to get in and out, price, color, brand or in my case, what my wife said!  Your customers do the same thing.  They will tell you something is important until they are blue in the face, but in the end do not end up buying your solution. 

There is nothing wrong with asking your customers what is important.  Actually, that is a very good thing to do.  However, you should verify what they say is important, will actually lead to a customer buying behavior <insert shameless plug for The Coffee House Group here>.  Seriously, we can tell you what your customers will pay for.

There are many quantitative techniques you can use, but the one that is the most effective doesn’t include your customer’s voice.

“There is nothing more boring than watching paint dry”Everyone

I heard this example from Dr. Robert Cooper at a Stage-Gate conference and it has always resonated with me.

There is probably nothing more boring than watching paint dry, but this is exactly what a major paint company did.

They sent researchers out to watch professional painters.  Typically, you paint the walls of a room a different color, to give it a different feel.  However, most people always paint their ceilings white.  The result, is the painters paint white over white.

As the researchers watched the painters paint the ceilings they noticed something.  When the painters took a break; they had trouble seeing where they left off because it was white on white.  To the painters, this was normal, but to a good customer focused organization; this is an opportunity.

The paint company solved a problem the customer didn’t even know they had by creating a paint that went on purple when wet and dried white.  The ethnographic research gave the paint company a breakthrough solution which the customer was willing to pay a significant premium for!   Watching your customer is a great way to develop breakthroughs and solving problems your customer doesn’t know they even have.

Vision Without Action is a Day Dream – How to Create a Voice of Customer Cadence

I have had strategy in my title for many roles.  I am a bit ashamed to admit that I have no idea how to set a strategy without starting with the voice of the customer.  I’ve learned that organizations love to create products, but are neglectful in spending the time up front to truly understand their customer’s needs.  In order for your organization to develop the right products and service; you need a cadence to your voice of customer process.  Each bullet could be a standalone book, but is a good general guide.

  • Connector.

    Listen to your customers.

    Start by talking to your customers. Truly listen without trying to sell them anything. Develop an interview guide, but don’t follow it exactly. Make it a conversation. After you start seeing some common themes; begin to create ‘buckets.’ Make sure these buckets focus on the job the customer is trying to accomplish and not the features

  • Connector.

    Listen to employees

    Talk to people internally. Find out what your organization thinks the customer values. You might be surprised how different the views of your internal stakeholders and your customer really are.

  • Connector.


    Don’t simply rely on what your customer says is important. You will end up building products the customer does not want. Use sophisticated techniques to make sure the customer is willing to actually buy your product. Ethnography, key driver analysis, conjoint, house of quality are all valid techniques, but know when it is appropriate to use them. It’s worth the time up front to get it right; otherwise, you will keep creating car seats no one wants to buy.

  • Connector.

    Go beyond VOC.

    Talk to all stake holders. Don’t forget distributors, suppliers, third-parties, and all pieces of the supply-chain

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    Don’t simply listen to your customers and then not do anything. Create a systematic way to execute on the problems worth solving. Campaign for ideas. Get people fired up to solve something meaningful. Be a spark that lights a fire across your organization. Being part of an organization solving problems together is very exciting.

  • Connector.

    Build customer focus into the DNA of the organization

    Creating a customer focused organization is not done through one-off VOC initiatives. A good customer focused organization builds a cadenced way of constantly looking at customer pains. Initiatives provide incremental value; building a cadence into your organization’s DNA will truly change the perspective.

  • Connector.

    Steer the ship.

    Start at the very top of the organization. Find what is compelling to your customers at an organizational level. Align the business units, product lines, new developments, and acquisitions to the top using a cadenced approach. Your organization has many ores sticking out; make sure they are paddling in the same direction.

  • Connector.

    Listen to your gut.

    Don’t underestimate gut feel. If the data is pointing in a different direction than your gut; it is worth another look. If the 2nd look still points in a different direction than your gut; don’t be afraid to shift direction. You just saved the company a lot of money by doing so.

  • Connector.

    Have fun.

    For no other reason than life is too short not to.

The Coffee House Group

It is not easy to do all these things and very few companies get it right. Done correctly, you can create an internal competitive advantage that is very difficult to replicate.

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If you are interested in learning more, please contact The Coffee House Group here.

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