How Can “Voice Of The Customer” Be Used To Improve Organizational Performance?

In Lean Six Sigma, a specific methodology is used to address improvements in an existing process. These improvements are based on “the voice of the customer.” In other words, the organization’s motivation for improving organizational performance is based on what the customer is telling the organization. This makes sense since the organization’s sole purpose is to serve its customers. Without customers, the organization fails to exist.

Using the voice of the customer to improve organizational performance is a six-step process.

1. Customer requirements. Determine the requirements of your customers through conversations, review of comments/suggestion, interviews, focus groups, or other means. Then group the requirements into related categories and if necessary, into sub-categories. For example, Help Desk customers may need calls answered within one minute, 24-hour access, emergency calls, onsite assistance, etc.

2. Importance value. Look at each group of customer requirements and assign a rating to each based on customer importance. This rating will be a ranking of each item, from highest to lowest. For instance, for customer needs for the Help Desk, it could be that the highest importance is answering calls within one minute, so this is ranked 1, the next highest is onsite assistance, so this is ranked 2, etc.

3. Hows. Now determine how the organization will address each customer requirement. For example, for the item ranked 1, answering calls within one minute, perhaps one way to do this is by adding more operators, for the item ranked 2, onsite assistance, perhaps a solution is to open provide 24/7 onsite service, etc.

4. Relationship matrix. Now that you know what you will do to satisfy customer requirements, the next step is to establish a correlation between what the organization will do (the Hows) and what the customer requires. This is done by assigning a correlation key (e.g., H=3, M=2, L=1) and placing that correlation in the matrix. For example, is answering calls within one minute a H, M, or L correlation with adding more operators? Is a 24/7 onsite service a H, M, or L correlation with the customer’s requirement for answering calls within one minute.

5. Ranking the Hows. Once you have filled in your relationship matrix, calculate your correlations to rank them. For each column, add together the weightings of the H, M and L rankings to get a column total. This is your absolute weight. Then take each column total (remember, each column heading is how you will address the customer need) and multiply that with the customer’s rank of importance. This will give you the relative weight. For example, if the total of the correlations in your column under “Add more operators” is 32 (this would be the absolute weight), and the rank for “answering calls within one minute is “2,” then the relative weight is 64 (i.e., 32 multiplied by 2). Use either the absolute or relative weight to come up with a final ranking of your priorities.

6. Correlation matrix. When you have determined your priorities based on the relationship and ranking of the customer requirements to your list of solutions, the next step is to map the correlation of the two. A correlation matrix allows a graphic representation of how actions for one area (e.g., adding more operators to answer calls within one minute) may affect another area either positively or negatively (e.g., adding more operators to answer calls within one minute may positively impact the organization’s solution to provide 24/7 onsite service). That is, by adding more operators, more calls are answered within one minute and there is an increase in onsite service 24/7. In other words, the correlation matrix allows the organization to see where actions for one “how” may favourably or unfavourably impact other actions or hows.

Based on this evaluation, your organization will be able to select top priority projects based on a scientific methodology that tells you what areas to improve for maximum customer value and higher organizational performance. A useful tool, called the “Quality Function Deployment” matrix or “House of Quality” can help you with the methodology I’ve described here. It also includes a methodology for rating your organization’s performance against your competitors. Regardless of what method you use to improve your organizational performance, the key is that the improvement must have value for your customer. By listening to the voice of your customer, you will always be able to know where to look for improvements. That’s how successful organizations remain successful.