The Voice of the Customer in Project Success

In Project Management methodologies, most projects follow established stages, such as Define > Plan > Deliver > Close. Capturing the Voice of the Customer (VoC), especially during the Define stage, is critical to project success. Developing the ability therefore to truly listen to what the customer is saying is of course fundamental, yet many of us struggle with this. Added to this is the fact that customers will make assumptions that you already know, as a professional project manager, what many of their needs are, and so these needs tend to go unspoken. These unspoken needs still need to be captured and confirmed, and that’s where the Voice of the Expert (VoE) comes into play.

Throughout each stage of a project, there is an ongoing need to capture both voices, because relying too heavily on one over the other can put your project at risk. To help overcome this, the following model, when diligently applied, ensures that both the VoC and VoE get heard. I call it The Customer Loyalty Grid™ because the chances are your competition are not doing it, and applying it will give you a distinct competitive advantage by creating loyal customers.

What makes a loyal customer, one who speaks loudly and with fervor about your organization, telling others how you have made a real and positive difference in their lives? In a word…expectations.

But meeting or exceeding customer expectations is not as simple as it first appears. For a start, many of your customers or prospective customers are not sure what they should expect, and many will not tell you because they expect you to know…after all, you’re the expert at what YOU do, and you can’t expect the customer to know as much about that as you.

In our work, we like to break this problem down into pieces, and for that purpose we use what we call The Customer Loyalty Grid™ to help us understand this better. This grid is divided into four zones, as depicted in the diagram below:

The Customer Loyalty Grid

 

Zone 1: Unstated/Expected…The Zone of Indifference

Literally, this includes all those customer needs and wants that are basic to fulfilling the contract between you and them. For example, customers expect to be treated with courtesy and respect, and would probably be puzzled (and maybe even insulted) if you asked them if this was a need. It of course is, and if you don’t meet this need, you will cause DISSATISFACTION. If you meet this basic and obvious need, the best you can hope for, in most cases is INDIFFERENCE.

Zone 2: Stated/Expected…The Zone of Satisfaction

This is where your customer actually TELLS you what is important to them. Listen carefully here, as this is a key stepping stone to customer loyalty. Meeting a customer’s needs here will cause SATISFACTION, whereas not meeting them will cause DISSATISFACTION. For example, a customer might expect a volume discount on a purchase, but knows that they have to specifically ask (or negotiate) for it. It is an expectation, simply because other organizations that the customer deals with provide this benefit. This is also the zone where customers complain about products and services, and where service recovery can restore levels of satisfaction.

Zone 3: Stated/Unexpected…The Zone of Delight

This is where your customer HOPES for something, ASKS for it, but really does not expect you to provide it. This is your opportunity to provide something beyond their expectations and by so doing will create DELIGHT. For example, a customer might ask for something that is usually available only in a premium priced product. Not providing it will unlikely cause dissatisfaction. Therefore this is an area for particular attention in building a LOYAL customer base.

Zone 4: Unstated/Unexpected…The Zone of Loyalty

This is an area where your expertise in whatever product or service you provide and the customer’s lack of expertise can really pay off! Providing benefits above and beyond what the customer is even aware of can create a LOYAL customer. This requires you to be really proactive in suggesting to customers new innovations that they can really benefit from. Many customers will be even willing to pay extra for this. For example, airbags in automobiles when first introduced were an innovation that saved lives, but customers had no way of asking for this innovation, or expecting it, before it became known to them.

All Zones are equally important

To get to the Zone of Loyalty, you must first conquer the other zones…there are no short-cuts. If your organization is really good at innovations (the key factor in creating Loyalty), but struggles at reliability (the key factor in creating Satisfaction), then it will end up struggling in all four zones.

Loyalty creating innovations are time limited

What was once an unstated/unexpected innovation will eventually become unstated/expected…would you now purchase a car without an airbag system? Would you even ask the salesperson if it is installed? So maintaining a rate of innovation that matches or exceeds what the market demands is crucial to maintaining customer loyalty.

The Grid in practice
You may be working on a project team that is charged with the goal of achieving breakthroughs in program, product or service design. So how would you use the grid in such a situation? What design process would you use?

A typical process might involve the following steps:

  1. Targeting Customers
  2. Interviewing Customers
  3. Summarizing the Voice of the Customer (Zones 2 and 3)
  4. Adding the Voice of the Expert (Zones 1 and 4)
  5. Translating into Product and Service Requirements
  6. Validating the Requirements
  7. Translating into Product and Service Designs
  8. Producing, Implementing and Evaluating

Taking the time at the outset to marry the Voice of the Customer with the Voice of the Expert pays dividends down the road, by dramatically reducing rework, confusion and missed deadlines, as well as using the VoE to promise Zone 4 innovations that the customer is not aware of, and your competition may not be up to speed on! As Steve Jobs put it “It’s not the consumer’s job to know what they want”