MNC Consulting Group Newsletter
October 2015
Meeting Customer Expectations
Image Source: blogs.warwick.ac.uk

If you wanted to design a new product or service, how would you start? Would you pull out your sketch pad? Or your laptop? Or some other drawing instrument? Would you talk to your employees or managers? While all of these actions seem reasonable, there is an important first step-identifying what your customers want. Without customers, designing new products or services is a frivolous endeavor.
 
There are numerous articles and books written about how to please customers-from listening to them to empathizing with them to offering them freebies and more-but the core of meeting customer expectations is in understanding how their needs mesh with your business offerings.
 
An elegant tool to help match customer expectations to your business market space is the "house of quality" or quality function deployment. The elegance of the tool is in the detail that it provides, which detail is invaluable when matching customer needs to the business's technical requirements.
 
When completed, the house of quality resembles a house - complete with foundation, "living space" and roof. Click on this website for a detailed explanation on how to use this tool. In brief, here are the steps:
 
  1. Start on the left hand side of the house - this is where you list your customers' expectations (or requirements). Obtain these expectations directly from the customer (don't guess!). Rate these expectations in order of importance starting with "1" as the LEAST important factor (rating importance also comes directly from your customer).
  2. At the top of the house (attic) just below the roof, list the technical requirements required to meet your customers' expectations. These are your performance measures.
  3. In the middle of the house-relationship matrix-match the customers' needs to your technical requirements. That is, what technical requirements (what you will do) match each of your customers' expectations (as identified on the left hand side of the house)? Typically, High, Medium or Low ratings are assigned.
  4. The next important step is assigning weights to the High, Medium and Low ratings. A good rule is to assign numbers in multiples of "three" - i.e., assign each High rating a score of "9," a Medium gets a "3" and a Low gets a "1."
  5. For each column under the technical requirements, calculate both absolute and relative weights. Absolute weights include a tally of the company's correlation assignment (e.g., number of High ratings multiplied by 9, number of Medium allocations multiplied by 3, and so on, to get a total absolute weight for the specific technical requirement). Relative weights include the customer's ranking in the weight, i.e., they take into consideration the customer's importance of the item under consideration (e.g., 10 might be the most important item) and the company's rating (e.g., High = 9). Therefore, 10 times 9 delivers a score of 90 for the specific technical requirement. This gives you a more accurate "Voice of the Customer" rating.
  6. Complete the correlation matrix (roof) of the house to indicate the direction of improvement. Will the change result in a positive improvement? If it does, then it's worth considering and doing first.
 
While a powerful tool to meet customer needs, the house of quality may be off-putting to some because it looks complicated at first glance. However, if you take the time to understand its utility, you will be amazed at its power in meeting customer needs and increasing your business potential.
When to Re-Design
 
When products or services saturate the marketplace, it's time to re-design your offering and start over. Sometimes just some "tweaking" of your the existing product or service may be all that's needed to re-invent your business. But here are five considerations for bringing in fresh offerings:
 
  1. Listen to consumer complaints about products or services already in the marketplace. Three-ply toilet tissue wasn't created on a whim; neither was invisible "go on dry and stay dry" deodorant. Likewise, if you're the "complainer," what are you complaining about? Maybe there's a new business opportunity in your complaint that you may wish to pursue on your own!
  2. Use focus groups to test existing products. Observe the groups when they use the products. What's missing? What can be improved? Post-It Notes filled a big gap in the marketplace exactly because of watching someone use paper and tape. Of course, Post-It Notes were also a happy accidental finding, but that's another story!
  3. Explore niche markets. Check out this cool website for how niche businesses solve problems. You'll probably say "why didn't I think of that?"
  4. Use new technology to re-invent existing products and services. How could you use technology to save time for the customer? For example, build apps that enable your customer to see how your product will look in their home before they purchase. Or provide a super-easy return process that is no-hassle and risk free - what a concept!
  5. Create new market space. For instance, Starbucks does not just serve coffee, but it has created a new market space by emphasizing the social value of drinking coffee. Meeting and networking at Starbucks is the goal; not drinking coffee!
 
Ultimately, any design or re-design of products or services needs to keep the customer in mind. If customers like your services or products, your company prospers. It is as simple as that.
In My Humble Opinion (IMHO)
Last month I returned to school to get a Master of Arts degree in professional communication. It's a lot of work, but I'm enjoying the learning process. I think learning is a passion of mine. Learning is also a way of re-inventing (re-designing?) me. With each new skill, incremental improvement ensues. Whether I use my newly honed skills and knowledge is not the question:  The question is when. I am excited about the possibility of either entering into a new field or staying with the old (but in a new way!).  In any case, my existing or new clients benefit from my newly-acquired skills and knowledge. Learning is never a waste - it is a sustainable practice in which we should all engage. IMHO.
 
"We are more ready to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential. Hence the fact that many inventions had their birth as toys."
- Eric Hoffer

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