Voice of the customer

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    I had a doubt. I think many of you who are associated with non-manufacturing or production industry must have encountered this problem. Now u have a VOC that says ” communication needs to be improved” or ” coordination between onsite and offshore needs to be improved”, I mean abstract, non-measurable needs. Now we are required to convert that into a specific, measurable need statement. But we don’t have any meeting requirements, or communication checklists against which we can measure the need. So pray tell me how do we get specific measurable need statement through a abstract VOC? Examples out of personal experience will be very helpful.


    Robert Butler

    You are dealing with a classic VOC problem – a request for change so vague that you apparently can’t do anything with it.  The key to the problem is Define.  Take your first example – communication needs to be improved – you need to sit down with the people who have offered this and, step-by-step, generate an understanding of what exactly that statement means.  The usual tools for approaching this are:
    1. Extensive use of open ended questions.
    2. Diagrams – block diagrams, flow charts, fishbone diagrams, and process maps.
    3. Lots and lots of discussion with people involved in the process.
      What you wind up with is a set of operational definitions and an understanding of the communication process that allows you, and everyone involved in the problem, to understand the process and to agree on what “improvement in communication” really means. 
      I’ve worked on numerous projects where the initial VOC was just as vague as your two examples. By using 1-3 I was able to convert the initial statement into something I could not only work on but which, when completed, met the customer requirements.
      One of my favorite examples in this regard happened to a colleague of mine.  Our company was a manufacturer of specialty plastics for all kinds of applications. One of our major customers called and complained that the elastic properties of one of our top compounds was unacceptable and “needed drastic improvement in its elastomeric properties”.  The chemical engineers assigned to the problem were getting ready to launch a major re-engineering effort on the basis of this complaint and, as part of the effort they called my friend for advice on DOE.  He started asking questions and ,using nothing but what I listed above, quickly demonstrated to everyone concerned that we needed a better problem definition.  A meeting was called, the customer agreed, and about a week later a meeting was held.  Both sides had marshalled their best and brightest engineers and managers as well as a few other people that my friend insisted on having in attendance. 
      The chemists on both sides got right into the issues of formulation complexities and about ten minutes into the meeting my friend asked the critical question – what was the end use that had generated the initial request?  Their chemists started to give a technical answer and were interrupted by the marketing specialist who said, “What it comes down to is the disposable diapers we make are leaking because the elastic around the legs doesn’t give a proper seal.” 
      Dick said the silence that followed was such that you could have heard a pin drop on a shag carpet.  Both sets of chemists looked at one another and almost in unison said, “That’s all?”  When it was determined that that was indeed all it took the two sets of chemist about a half an hour to figure out formulation changes and necessary tests. Within a week the problem was solved and the product was out the door.



    Hi Krishna,
    The truth is in the middle…the crux lies in translating the collected VOC to get it to make some sense…Also a lot depends on the method u use to collect it..i.e.Interviews, Questionnairres, Scorecard..
    When you see any such vague statement in VOC..the thought should trigger that it needs further probing..sit down with C and drill it down further…


    Ajay Joshi

    As difficult and unclear this VOC sounds, it is not very uncommon. My experience in handling projects that have onshore and offshore development model is that when communication needs to be improved it needs to improve in the following areas :

     Timely communication – Acknowledgements of requests within a certain period.

    You can agree on some turn around time for acknowledgements with the customer.

    Complete Communication – If a deadline ie being missed then not only give the reason for the miss but provide new dates as well as steps taken to ensure that the dates are not missed again. Every often in projects tendency is to
       Customer after some meetings should be able to site some instances where they thought that the communication lacked some elements.
       Some examples of what others have done that can help you monitor this would be to look at various web sites that provide information and then once information is provided ask the user to let them know if the information actually helped them solve the problem or not. This checks for effectiveness of the information provided.
     Hope this helps.


    Liam McGrath

    I agree with all the other replies.  It is important to dig deeper when you get vague VOC statements.  But to solve the root cause you need to be more specific when you ask for VOC in order that you eliminate vague statements in the first place.  This is why survey construction is key: be as specific as you can in order to get workable and measurable VOC.


    ex MBB

    VoC is the MOST IMPORTANT foundation out of three foundations on which the entire Six Sigma strategy of an organization does and should rest! The other two critical components being VoE (Voice of Employee) and VoP( Voice of Process).
    In my view there are two types of VoC- Pro-active and Reactive.
    -Proactive VoC is when you go out and ask customers (mainly through periodic surveys) about your product and services. This being more controllable by you, measuring and acting upon the feedback is comparatively easy. Most organizations use a likert scale of 5 or 10 and based on ratings on different attributes across product and service evolve strategies to do course correction ALIGNED with CUSTOMERS’ VOICE.
    – Topic of this discussion seems to be related to reactive VoC- which means when one off customer or a group start complaining about a product or service attribute e.g. communication as mentioned in your mail.
    One should be careful in differentiating between a genuine issue (to be tackled as a six sigma project) or a one off issue which needs to be tackled differently! Many organizations have a customer complaint resolution process to deal with one off issues. There may be possibilities of scenario where you may be getting very high scores on your proactive VoC survey but one customer complains on the same attribute. To continue with the same example you may get a high score of say 4.5 (on a likert of 5 for communication related attributes) but there may be one customer unhappy with communication! Strategy to deal with such instances will be very different and will need to be adapted by the organization/people involved.
    Hope this long winded response helps rather than confuse you!
    Happy New Year!!!!!


    Ron Tussey

    One approach we use in our organization that has provided a measurable thumb/nail is an end of job survey.  We use this in on/shore and off/shore environments. 
    We have seven open ended questions within a specific category (i.e. Job design, Crew performance, etc) on a 1 to 5 likert scale with five being best practice equivalent and three being expected service level.  An index is developed by category and enmasse to provide a thumb-nail of satsfaction. 
    An open area for customer comment is provided and its use is encouraged as this clarification to the numerical VOC validates the view-point by having the clients impressions placed into the scoring context.  Any score below three initiates our improvement process and recovery practices.
    Thus the fuzziness can become considerably lessened…good luck, Ron



    A tool we teach in six sigma training is called the 5 Why’s. Ask why at least five times to get to the root cause of an issue: i.e. Improve communications…Why I never know when you are going to deliver a product, why do you need this information.. so I can plan my manufacturing schedule, Why do I need to improve  communications?  Because you never deliver on time and it has been causing me delays in manufacture.. So you really don’t need better communications you need better on time delivery ….Yes Exactly.


    Carol A. Gudaitis

    Krishna, what I challenge our teams to do is to define such vague phrases as “improve”, “timely” “Faster” etc. For example in one our our Sales Operations Projects the VOC was that sales orders need to be handed in to the office in a timely manner. Timely Mannner was then defined as 2 days from when the customer signs and returns to the salesmen. Now we were able to measure where we were as baseline and determien how to get to the two day target. Hope this helps, Carol


    Leo Monhemius

    Dear Krishna,
    Six Sigma, in my opinion, is centered upon quantifying fuzzy data into a metric. It is often assumed that a metric exists, but os not accesable.
    I solved this type oproblems several times by applying “Red Yellow Green” quantification for fuzzy parameters. For instance the definition of “fast response” is often quantified with a norm (“within 2 days) so that data is generated. My approach is to make two instead of one limit: Perfect (direct mail reply) and acceptable (2 working days).
    Of course the nonacceptable measurement must be very low (Six Sigma) but it is the percentage perfect that makes the drive for perfection. This proved to work well in call centre environment and at service centers.
    Please react if this is not clear.
    Leo Monhemius, Netherlands


    Junell Scheeres

    I believe every industry encounters this situation in defining the VOC.  I also use the five “WHY’s” approach and customer interviews as the primiary source of drilling down to the real issues at hand. 
    There are a couple of other comments that may also be relevant.  The VOICE of the customer can be heard in a number of places.  Obviously, directly interviewing and querying the customer is the best approach.  But, there are also PROXIES for the voice of the customer.  In healthcare, sometimes our customers don’t know what to expect, and we aren’t always in a position to interrupt the care process to ask. Many times they are intimidated or not in a state of mind conducive to inquiry.  Then, when the encounter is over, they have forgotten or moved on to other things and may not offer suggestions.
    To capture the VOC in cases like this, I have had our direct contact folks (who are face-to-face with our customers) generate lists of the questions or requests they receive from customers every day.  We were able to track common themes and then follow up with options that proactively addressed the questions or requests.  We could then determine if the frequency of the questions or requests changed.  We also used focus groups to help us modify or align our improvement efforts, once we had what seemed like a reasonable, data-based direction to take.
    As was mentioned in other posts, VOC is the foundation of Six Sigma and needs to be given focused and diligent attention.  I would like to offer that we also can help our teams to hear the VOC echo in other ways.
    Junell Scheeres, MA, CSSBB



    Dear Krishna,
    I’ve experienced exactly the same situation in my previous company. It’s a very frustrating situation when you want to take action based on the feedback you get from your customers… but you can’t.
    There are VOC methodologies and systems that convert fuzzy data into actionable data. Please e-mail me at [email protected]. I’ll he happy to give you a hand.


    Carol A. Gudaitis

    Krishna, we challenge our teams to defien such terms as “timely,” “improved,” etc.For example in one prject- Sales Operations, the VOC was that slaes orders need to be submitted in a timely fashion. Timely fashion was defineed as 2 days from when slaesman receives a signed order from the customer. Using this definition, we were able to measure baseline and determine how to reach targeted goal.Hope this helps,Carol



    I hate unproductive paperwork as much as anyone, so I can imagine why your target for order submittal (2 days) is so generous, but I wonder how the 2 days affects your total order turnaround.  Is it appropriate to ask whether you could automate or simplify the process?


    George Chynoweth

    An easy way to start the definition process is to go to your customers with one question:  “Give us just ONE good idea on how we can improve our communications to you”.  Or something similar.  Typically you’ll get a wealth of responses, many of which will provide initial starting points from which you can refine the issues.  You may find a number of categories, such as Information Dissemination, Timeliness, Special Communications, Preferred Method, etc.  Rather than create a survey with items you think might be important, let the customer do it for you.  Good luck.

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