Well, lessee, how can I answer this one. Actually, most companies, and many of their customers, think that they are listening to the voice of the customer when they do surveys and focus groups and then make internal decisions on how to respond to the results. That is just plain wrong. That may be hearing a group of some customers but "listening to the voice of the customer" is another proposition entirely.
What it actually means is that the thinking of the company has to shift from the inside out to the outside in. There are a number of components that are part of that process. First and foremost, the customer has to be involved in the thinking about the strategy from the beginning. That means that the processes, programs and technology developed and used need to be focused around the concept of collaboration with the customer. What better way to do that than actually involving some of your customers in an advisory role? That's the physical manifestation of the voice of the customer. Their real verbal participation in the effort to determine your company's future.
If you don't want to be that "extreme" in your thinking and actions, then the voice of the customer means that the center point of all your planning includes the idea of how it will benefit the customer, and you find that out by asking the customer. Going out and mapping the actual interactions the customer has with you, and the success or failure of those interactions at a granular level matters. You need to map the actual customer experience so that you can see the beneficial important interactions all the way to the negative and not unimportant interactions. You have a clear picture of, not just what the specific groups of customers think about your products/services etc, but how they actually interact with you within a period of time using multiple channels to do it, and how well you do with them -- granularly. THAT is the voice of the customer that you want to listen to so that when you plan a strategy, identify a new process or practice, develop a product or service, implement a feature or function, you will be acting on behalf of the creation of customer value, and thus value that will ultimately be mutually rewarding to you and your customers.
This was first published in August 2006