Only by using the appropriate information source can you begin to truly know your customer and understand your customer needs. Read about all the possible information sources that are available that you may already have access to.

One of the key elements of the Six Sigma methodology (the measure phases of DMAIC and DMADV) is understanding your customers and their needs (CTQs). Once customers are identified and segmented, if appropriate, customer needs must be solicited and quantified.

There are many ways to know your customer. This includes information that your business probably already owns, but may not be using to the fullest extent.

  • Market Research Studies and Reports
  • Current and Lost Customer Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Surveys (Person, Telephone, Mail, Online)
  • ‘Be Your Own Customer’
  • Customer Feedback and Complaint Logs
  • Customer Observation
  • Many of the above listed information sources may seem familiar to you. But others, such as ‘Be Your Own Customer’ may not. The idea behind ‘Be Your Own Customer’ is simple: you never really understand your customer until you have to walk in his/her shoes. Sign up for your own service, and purchase and use your own product. You may be pleasantly surprised (or not) at the outcome. On one project that I ran, the entire team signed up for our own service as a benchmark for a competitive analysis we were performing. The sample size may be small, but the results were eye-opening!

    Another useful information source is customer observation. Dell Computer Corporation often invites customer to their usability lab to to test certain products, instruction manuals and packagings. In one case, a customer became so frustrated with the packaging materials that he turned the box upside down to remove the computer. Needless to say, the computer didn’t survive and the packaging group evaluated other packaging options. The point is clear: only by using the appropriate information source can you begin to truly know your customer.

    The information sources listed above vary greatly when you evaluate their associated factors and attributes. For instance, the business cost of conducting focus groups is significantly higher than that of a snail-mail (postage paid mail) customer survey. Be cautious, however, of not sampling representative data — complaint logs are biased by design. The data isn’t ‘free’ either, as every line item of a complaint log has an associated customer cost of poor quality.

    So where do you start? Look at the data you already have. Talk to other departments within your organization. They may have already collected data or purchased market research that you can use (if you are a large corporate, this is probably the case). Be conscious of:

    • data bias,
    • the validity and integrity of the data,
    • how the data was collected, and
    • how the data was interpreted.
      Always go to the raw data and make your own conclusions if possible.
    About the Author