Voice of the customer

From the April 2019 print edition

With the ability to make instant and customizable buying decisions combined with the option to purchase from any supplier worldwide, skill in understanding what customers want and how your supply chain can provide it becomes paramount.

David Muncaster is manager, continuous improvement and CSAT, Staples Advantage Canada

That’s where the customer survey comes in. A customer survey is not just about getting feedback—a good organization will have methods to dissect that information. Such a survey can be used to forecast trends, understand buying habits and be responsive in the supply chain. Connect this with the reach (and impact, both positive and negative) of social media and supply chain professionals must include the survey as a factor in understanding of how to thrive in the new digital landscape.

Every organization needs a way to capture the customer’s voice. But that doesn’t end with a fancy survey. First, start with understanding the customer’s initial expectations for a product or service. This could be as simple as the market an organization is in, the industry it serves or the common service it provides. Secondly, look at that expectation and close the gap with the actual product or service. Are you confident that you can meet those expectations? Finally, the real challenge arises when the customer gets the product or service. They then make another assessment and determine whether their perception of what you provided matches with their expectations. Ultimately, identifying and working to answer these three gaps is fundamental to understanding, and satisfying, your customer.

Mining for gold
“Perception” is a key word to take note of. That’s where a good survey analysis will help you understand the true voice of a customer. Finding the specifics in a survey can be difficult, as you’re only hearing from a portion of your total customer base. The percent that say they’re satisfied only tells you so much.
Not all customers provide comments and the ones that do could provide incomplete ones. Customer survey comments can be like a gold mine, but like any prospector, it takes time to get through all the dirt to the real nuggets. For example, how do you deal with comments from customers such as “Your delivery is terrible!” or “I don’t like your product”? Not very helpful. Your survey systems need to be able to investigate and glean info from those comments and may require direct discussions with those customers to truly understand why “your delivery is terrible!”

When dealing with your customer survey and the comments, there is a tool in quality management circles called the Kano Model. This model says there are three distinct characteristics that customers view your product or service with: basic characteristics, performance characteristics and delighter characteristics. Basic characteristics are what allow you to get in the market. It’s what your customers expect from anyone providing your service or product. Performance characteristics are the ones that allow you to remain competitive—they are the attributes you do better or worse than your competitor. Finally, delighters are those attributes which put us ahead of our competitors, the things customers don’t expect but realize are new or different that others don’t possess.

The challenge you have is that, over time, delighters will become performance characteristics, which will become basic characteristics. Apply this to supply chain activity; in the past, delivery of a product within three-to-five days would seem normal and acceptable. It became a basic characteristic that wouldn’t provide a competitive advantage. Then the ability to be faster or slower in that window became a performance characteristic. If you could do it in three days consistently while your competitor could do it in five days, customers would be happier and purchase from you more often. Then a progressive supply chain professional came up with the idea of next-day delivery at no additional charge based on order size. This was a delighter to customers. That supplier became a supplier of choice, was able to charge more for the service and it set them apart in the industry…at first.

But as more companies adopt the delighter (say, providing next-day delivery), that attribute becomes normal and expected. People start saying, “I expect next day delivery now.” If you can’t provide that on a consistent basis, then your performance scores will drop. Finally, since so many competitors end up adopting it as customers expect that attribute, it becomes a basic characteristic. Customers expect everyone to have it and may not even consider a company that can’t provide it. We see that with next day delivery—more and more customers are having to find ways to fulfill this need.

Really analyzing customer feedback allows an organization to understand what those basic attributes are in order to continue to do them well, how you are doing on the performance activities compared to your competitors and uncover those potential delighters that could make you an industry leader.
The digital age has changed the way we get and receive customer feedback, and this feedback is having profound effects on entire organizations. In the past, poor performance by a supply chain might have led to word of mouth impacting the bottom line of a local branch. But now, with social media, thousands, if not tens of thousands of potential customers worldwide can have a damaging effect on businesses. It’s imperative we use the voice of the customer to stay ahead in this new landscape.