“I wish I could zoom in on this photo.”

“I want to be able save this article to read later.”

“It’s more important to me to be able to find what I’m looking for – fast.”

“It’s such a pain to enter my payment information each time I buy something.”

“Seriously? Worst quality stream. Poor audio and video. Missing the most common-sense features.”

What if companies sat down and had a conversation with their customers?

What if companies actually listened and acted upon what they heard?

Few organizations include customers in the product design (and in many cases, redesign) process. Yet customer evangelists and detractors alike want to share their ideas with organizations. Product (re)design is a resource-intensive, expensive, and time consuming initiative for companies. However, if organizations learn how to harness customers’ voices within the process, the product can meet and surpass customer stated and unstated needs in a more impactful way.

Voice of the Customer is an all-encompassing term used to describe the strategy, processes, technology, and people utilized to capture customers’ perceptions and to drive organizational improvement. The most effective voice of the customer programs not only use listening techniques, but they also analyze, report and act upon customer feedback. Companies that employ these four components – listen, analyze, report and act – are more likely to experience company growth, increase customer revenue, enhance customer loyalty, acquire new customers, and decrease associated customer costs.

Whether you are designing your product, prototyping, or have already released it, consider utilizing some of the following voice of the customer listening techniques for your product designs and redesigns:

  • Surveys: Collect customers’ advice through design surveys with quantitative and qualitative questions. Ask questions that will assist design and build: How could we make your experience easier? What features are most important to you? If you have already released a project, ask questions related to their satisfaction and reaction to new features and functionality: Does Product X meet your expectations? Is Feature Y helpful? How would you improve Functionality Z in the future? Ensure responses can support product decisions and rationale when features need to be prioritized later.
  • Interviews and Focus Groups: Targeted interview and focus group conversations support a deeper understanding of customers’ emotional reactions to current and desired future usage. Interviews and focus groups can also create a collaborative environment for open brainstorming and idea sharing. With the ability to dive deeper on particular questions and ideas, organizations can use this method during design, prototyping or post-product release to flexibly gain insights to customer thinking.
  • Observations: Having the ability to observe your customers interacting with your current product or your future product, be it in the prototype or post-release phase, can yield significant findings. When you watch customers interact with your current product, you can determine both strengths and flaws that can drive design changes. With your future product, you can validate your product design and adjust accordingly based on your observation results.  By witnessing natural interactions, companies can identify usage patterns, common product pitfalls, and customer reactions to the product.
  • Webinars and Demonstrations: Webinars and demonstrations provide a formal platform for organizations to reveal prototyped or released features and functionality. These sessions also allow users to actually witness the product in action. With a facilitated feedback session to follow, users can provide reactions to the features and functionality built, so the company can iterate on the design further.
  • Customer Advisory Councils: Customer Advisory Councils allow dedicated users the opportunity to counsel organizations on product decisions, including design brainstorming, feature prioritization, and feedback collection post-launch. Online tools like Lithium and Communispace have made assembling and garnering insights from these groups much more affordable and fast. Select users based on their level of engagement with the specific product or organization as a whole.  With great familiarity rooted in understanding of both your company and their own personal behavior, these panel recommendations can be extremely effective.

With these various listening techniques, companies may naturally feel inundated with both positive and negative feedback. In order to determine what to act upon, it is important to filter, sort and prioritize what you are hearing. Reconnect with your company and product vision (hopefully you incorporated your customers when developing these!) Determine if what you are hearing aligns and makes sense for the direction of your organization and the product. Understand what customers are providing the specific feedback and know what customers’ experiences matter most. Lastly, be aware of both the volume and trends of feedback. Understand if “everyone”really is requesting a specific feature. Discern if the feedback is occurring over time and across customer segments, or if responses are simply one-off experiences.

Applying voice of the customer listening methods ensures more educated and data validated product design and execution. Companies have the opportunity to realize better product solutions, faster, all for less actual and opportunistic costs. This allows them to enhance customer satisfaction through true engagement.

So are you hearing voices yet?