The Voice of the Customer in Lean Manufacturing

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A critical element of lean manufacturing is listening to, understanding, acting on, and aligning your actions with the voice of the customer.

This makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Remind yourself what lean manufacturing is all about–it’s about removing waste so you can create the most value as measured by what the customer is willing to pay for, right?

But you can’t create the most value for your customer if you’re not aware of the true voice of the customer, right?

Read on to learn more.

What Is the Voice of the Customer?

The voice of the customer is a process designed to help you learn the needs, desires, wants, preferences, expectations, dislikes, and opinions of your customers. And in particular, their opinions/etc. about your product type, your products(s), and your company.

Don’t Companies Already Know the Voice of the Customer?

If an organization isn’t actively seeking out the voice of the customer, it may know some of this but it’s likely the organization doesn’t know it all.

Not knowing the voice of the customer can lead your company to making the wrong product(s), or to making a version of the product that doesn’t match the customer’s needs. And, ultimately, to lose market share or even go out of business as customers and potential customers look elsewhere.

How to Gather the Voice of the Customer

There are many ways to collect the voice of the customer.

Common methods include surveys and other forms of online questionnaires; focus groups; face-to-face meetings; and others.

You can collect the voice of the customer at many times. Do it before creating a product to make sure you should continue and so you’ll know how to best create the product. Do it with your existing customers after their purchase and while they’re using your product so you can better please them and retain them as customers. In short, keep your ear open to the voice of the customer at all times.

Two interesting methods to consider are hackathons and design thinking workshops. These are not typically discussed in the context of collecting the voice of the customer, but they’re tools designed to gather exactly the type of information we seek when we try to collect the voice of the customer.


What To Do with the Voice of the Customer

Gather the voice of the customer. Analyze it to learn more about the customer, to learn their true needs, and to help create products they’ll appreciate. Distribute the voice of the customer and what you’ve learned about it throughout your organization. Make products that align with the voice of the customer.

Is Voice of the Customer The Full Story?

The voice of the customer can be a very powerful tool, but it’s worth noting it may not always lead to the BEST answer.

Why? One reason is that customers don’t always give the most useful information.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you make garage door openers. You conduct voice of the customer exercises and get some pretty good advice about how to make your garage door opener better–a quieter motor, more sensitive sensors, etc. But you don’t get revolutionary, innovative advice because they’re not thinking deeply enough. So for example, maybe they don’t tell you that your garage door opener should be wifi enabled and should have an app people can access from their mobiles phones (to be honest, this example would have been better five years ago, before we all knew about the Internet of Things, but hopefully you get my point here).

Actually, let’s go back a little in time to give another example. If you’re old enough to remember the early days of mobile cell phones, before smart phones like the iPhone became the thing, the big demand was smaller, smaller, smaller (and a cooler way to flip). It’s like that, if you took a voice of the customer survey back then, phone customers would say they want a phone that’s even smaller. Very few would have voted for a bigger phone, most likely. And yet, that’s what has happened since, once Apple looked deeper into our real problems and needs, instead of just what we were saying, and began to realize all the different kinds of things we could do with a phone–take pictures, take videos, use GPS, browse the internet, use apps for any number of things, etc).

The point is it’s important to learn not just about how customers view your product, but what their real underlying problem is that your product helps to solve.

Read this article–The Fallacy of Voice of the Customer–for a more in-depth look at this issue.

Conclusion: It’s Necessary for Any Company–Lean or Not–To Know the Voice of the Customer

Want to acquire new customers and retain them over time? Then it’s important to voice the customer.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 25 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center and an Instructional Design certification from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training. Jeff frequently writes for magazines related to safety, safety training, and training and frequently speaks at conferences on the same issues, including the Washington Governor's Safety and Health Conference, the Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the Wisconsin Safety Conference, the MSHA Training Resources Applied to Mining (TRAM) Conference, and others.

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