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The all-important VOC; 10 reasons to pay attention to it early and often

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Brian Bednarek shares his first exclusive article with WhichPLM, in which he gives his ten top reasons to pay attention to the voice of the customer. Brian is the founder and CEO of MESH01, which connects brands with a global virtual network of consumer testers and product designers for customer-driven solutions and market analytics.

There’s a lot of industry talk focused on the VOC (Voice of the Customer) and how important it is to integrate into the product development cycle. I know what you’re thinking: this seems like an obvious approach. After all, most companies like to tout strong relationships with their customers. But, unless you’re taking active steps to incorporate the VOC into the pre-launch process for each of your products, you risk falling behind your competitors. Because you can safely assume that they’re doing everything they can …not just to listen to their own customers but also to take yours away.

This all comes down to weaving customer feedback – early and often – into the very fabric of your products. It requires rejiggering R&D operations to ensure the VOC is heard right from the concept phase, through prototype testing, and all the way through market launch. It takes a certain amount of nimbleness and adaptability to do this right. However, doing so gives companies the confidence that comes from knowing they’re delivering what their target markets want. Besides, just as product successes can make a brand, failures have the power to do irreparable damage. Investing in systems that factor in consumer feedback is like measuring twice and cutting once.

Need more convincing? Here are ten reasons why incorporating the VOC into your product development cycle is the strategic choice:

1. It just makes sense. 

The first – and some might say only – reason to weave the VOC into product development cycles is because it honors the preferences of the people who purchase and use your goods. It’s as simple as that. It’s a form of conversation in which customers do most of the talking. If you really listen, you’ll learn what’s important to them, either about a single product or about their bigger-picture concerns. Whatever emerges, it’s valuable and quantifiable.

2. It gets thing off on the right foot.

Capturing the VOC early means kicking off a product’s development cycle with answers rather than questions. When you know what’s important to your customers before you design a product, the concepts you end up with are more likely to hit the mark.

3.  It keeps you on the right path.

When you weave the VOC into the process often, it minimizes the chance of customer input getting lost in the shuffle. Keep the lines of communication open throughout the development cycle so you don’t stray from the goals your customers help you establish. It yields consistency and guards against mistakes. Begin, continue and end with the VOC.

4. It can improve every step of your process.

The VOC has the power to refine your development cycle from start to finish. While design teams are just beginning to experiment with concepts, customer input can inform their work. When you reach the testing phase, customer feedback helps identify potential concerns when they are still relatively easy to address. Once your product reaches the market, it will align with what customers have told you they want.

5. It doesn’t have to slow down development schedules.

Companies are always under enormous pressure to move products to market quickly. Incorporating the VOC into product development cycles can actually complement fast-paced schedules. It’s a matter of budgeting both money and time to accommodate this critical resource. If your company needs time to phase this process in, begin by adding a VOC step for a single product that’s close to market-ready. Then, gradually build additional VOC steps to the process by moving backwards down the line toward the conceptual stages. Eventually, your development cycle will be rich with the customer voice. From concept to delivery, your process will move more efficiently and with less excess.

6. It guards against product errors.

The more you incorporate the VOC, the greater you protect yourself against product weakness and failure. Investing time and money to listen to your customers early and often costs far less than scrambling to correct a flaw after a product has reached the market. Markdowns, time required to reconfigure and reintroduce products, damage to your brand’s reputation – all of these costly consequences can be avoided when products are developed from the start to meet stated customer desires. The VOC is a safeguard against mistakes.

7. It’s the new normal.

Regardless of how your company has always done things in the past, this is the way of the future. Connecting with the customer early and often is how an increasing number of market leaders are beginning to approach product development. Don’t get left behind.

8. It’s made easier by digital tools.

Conversations with customers have been happening for as long as products have been developed. But technology has drastically simplified the process of gathering and expanding on the potential value of the VOC. There are robust digital platforms, web-based tools, software applications, social media channels, direct-to-consumer outreach campaigns – all driven by technology that captures, stores and enhances the usability of the customer voice. Relevant information can be shared across departments and analyzed across the seasons. Any costs associated with collecting VOC data can be amortized and distributed.

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9. It doesn’t require in-house VOC-capturing capabilities.

For some companies, it makes more strategic sense to outsource this function and focus on what they do best. They may choose to partner with an independent organization that specializes in turnkey, scalable platforms that complement existing product development processes. Manufacturers get access to all the relevant data that will lead to pre-market product improvements without having to add expensive internal infrastructure.

10. It reinforces the adage that the customer is always right.

It’s never a waste of time or money to listen to the voice of the customer. Their feedback doesn’t just matter; it’s critical. Tap into the wisdom of those who hold your products’ success in their hands. Listen to the voice of your customer, weave their insights into your development cycles early and often, and watch your brands soar.

*Watch out for Brian’s next instalment in this series, which will centre on the benefits of ‘collective intelligence.’ 

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.