Whether you are working on the fuzzy-front end of product or service development, developing customer personas to better target your marketing communications or doing a deep dive on customer experience, doing voice of the customer market research typically means sitting down with customers, listening and capturing their ideas.
So how do you get set up for success when collecting voice of the customer data?
Here are 5 key principles for successful VoC data capture, together with what to do before, during and after listening to learn. You’ll also want to check out, and avoid, the most heinous crime when capturing voice of the customer data.
Principles of Capturing Voice of the Customer
- Emergence: be open to learning new perspectives. VoC is a process of discovery and exploration (not gathering evidence for a pet theory).
- Relevance: The goal is to capture concerns of the customer in the area under investigation. (Other aspects of market research address concerns such as capturing your internal team ideas.)
- Reflection: Use the interviewees’ words. Avoid jargon and internal lingo. For example, if your interviewee call IT, “ICT”, you should too.
- Respect: The primary objective of the discussion leader is to be engaged, and engage with the interviewee, not take notes. Allow interviewees time to think. Use silence. This is the Golden Rule.
- VoC is a team sport. Learning is for sharing. There are no right or wrong answers (most of your notes will be interviewees’ words & ideas anyway). Make notes legible for sharing.
Before The VoC Interview
Before you are ready to start interviewing, a lot of preparation is required. Immediately before the interview these steps
- Make yourself familiar with ecosystem / area under investigation.
- Identify suitable candidates and schedule interviews (typically based on draft customer persona(s) or other market segment information).
- Develop a Voice of the Customer discussion guide.
- Assemble a multidisciplinary team of discussion leaders and observers made up of both those who will be required to make decisions, and those who will act on the data.
During The VoC Interview
Guidelines For VoC Discussion Leaders:
The role of the discussion leader, or interviewer, is to ‘conduct’ the conversation with your interviewees; to lead the discussions. You’ll need one per discussion / interview. Leading interviews takes practice and skill (and most people need training and feedback).
- Leading The Witness: You will need to seek clarification from interviewees at some point. ‘Leading the witness’ is the most heinous crime you can commit in conducting voice of the customer interviews. It distorts the perspective, makes the picture shaky. It corrupts the data. (Hopefully you had to squint to read this – research from the Economics Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, shows that squinting / frowning heightens attention by increasing effort.
Avoid this distortion by, now while you have time to think about it, choosing and writing down at least two open-ended question aimed at
- better understanding or clarifying the interviewee’s idea, experience or opinion, and
- that you will be comfortable using.
For example people have different ideas about what “high tech” or “expensive” means.
Sample Open-Ended Probing / Discovery Questions In VoC
– What does XX mean to you?
– That’s an interesting thing to say. (Silence)
– What’s your experience of X?
– Could you help me to understand what you mean by X?
– What is X like for you?
– Why do you say that?
– “I don’t want to be accused of ‘leading the witness’. I’m interested in your thoughts on XX.” (This one works very well, when used in a light-hearted tone.)
- Conceptual Discovery: trust your instinct to go where the interviewee / conversation leads you. Use the VoC discussion guide to ensure you cover the essentials.
- Conversational Meandering: Expect the conversation to meander somewhat as comfortable exploratory discussions do. It’s up to the discussion leader to judge when to steer the conversation gently back on track.
- Clarifying Questions: If you’re not sure what the interviewee means ask. Now is the time to find out ‘why’.
- Probe: Expect to need to deepen your understanding as useful and unexpected ideas emerge.
- Only Learning: The objective in this undertaking is to listen and learn. Sales pitches, persuasion or correcting misunderstandings are for other times (if at all).
Guidelines For VoC Observers
From the people in your organization who will make decisions, and those who will execute those decisions, you’ll need a minimum of two observers for each interview. The observers’ role is to listen attentively and capture the voice of the customer.
Each observer should participate in at least three different interviews. This goes a long way towards ensuring a sense of both patterns, identifying anomolies in the data and atypical interviewees.
Observers do the following:
- Use The Discussion Guide: your discussion leader will broadly follow the discussion guide outline. To dramatically cut writing, note the topic name from the discussion guide.
- Capture Intuitively: write down what seems relevant to you. You’ll remember lots. Being familar with the VoC discussion guide serves you well. (Don’t write down every word but too much is better than too little.)
- In Their Own Words: you’ll find that some things particular interviewee really ring true or beautifully express an idea. It’s therefore helpful to note what the interviewee is saying verbatim. Use “quotation marks” for exact quotes. You’ll find this useful later.
- Don’t speculate. Don’t imply. A skilled discussion leader should ensure that appropriate areas are probed and ideas made explicit.
- Observations: It’s often useful to note the difference between the interviewee’s own experiences and third party observations.
- For example the interviewee may say: “My team was really annoyed.” In this case your notes should say: ‘[The interviewee] reported that her team were “very annoyed at the amount of time needed” for training.’
- You can note your own observations too. Again make sure to differentiate. -> in the margin mark “O”. For example, you might note when the interviewee seems particularly passionate or uncomfortable, or their body language;
- – O-‘He raised his voice when talking about XX’
- – O – ‘She appeared very annoyed and drummed her fingers on the table.’
- Avoid Distraction: If solutions (or indeed other ideas) pop into your head, to avoid distraction, write the idea down and get back to concentrating on the discussion in front of you. (This is particularly prevalent with product development teams.) To clearly note these are not the interviewee ideas, add –S- in the margin or draw a separate box around your ideas.
The Best Method For Capturing VoC Data
- I encourage observers to write rather than type during interviews. The very act of writing improves recall and learning.
- As an alternative to writing, you could type up your notes during the interview. In my experience this tends to be distracting for everyone but it’s efficient and legibility is guaranteed. Error on the side of respect towards your interviewee, whatever that might look like in your environment. (Some folks choose to type up notes afterwards but it is by no means required for a good outcome.)
- Perhaps a useful middle ground is hand writing coupled with a nice app hand recognition app, such as Evernote. This also offers the benefit of searchable notes.
Capturing VoC Data Using Recordings
– I am often asked about recording interviews. Never (amazingly), have I seen a team go back and use recorded interviews.
– People’s memories work remarkable well when prompted and clarified by their own notes. This method of data capture also relies partly on ‘observer triangulation’; multiple individuals participating in data capture and remembering each interview.
– Transcription is nice for academic research which often involves teams of people who can’t participate in the interview themselves.
– Evernote has very good hand recognition software in my experience. If you must have a transcript this type of technology is, in my opinion, a better investment than recording or transcribing since the search mechanism is very good.
Immediately After Each VoC Interview
Schedule 15 minutes for tidying up notes and debrief immediately following each interview.
- Without talking with other observers or discussion leader, review and fill out your own notes. Read through from beginning to end.
- In the margin, star items that you sense are of particular importance to the interviewee (and pertain to the area under investigation).
- In the margin, star items that you sense are a particularly useful or insightful ‘voice’.
- Now turn to the end of your notes for this interview; rewrite (verbatim) those key/starred ‘voices’. Aim for 3-10 ideas per interview. Full sentences aids analysis later.
- Once all team members have written their own ideas, together have a brief discussion. With your interview colleagues, clarify any points you didn’t catch during the interview.
- Inspired by this brief discussion with your colleagues, capture any additional ideas or ‘voices’ you now want to include, if any. Again, verbatim quotes are best.
- Discussion and make any improvement or changes needed to the discussion guide.
After You’ve Completed The VoC Interviews
- After completing all your individual interviews (of which you must do at least three) go over all your notes together asking;
- What (if any) patterns do I see?
- Ask yourself; what is really going on?
- If you sense additional key ideas, choose an additional representative ‘voices’ or add an ‘observational’ idea..
- Photograph and add these to the document sharing also.
- Congratulations: You now have a set of (mostly verbatim) customer voices from the VoC made up of:
- Customer needs / ideas you, working alone, identified as important to the customer.
- Additional items important to the customer which emerged from discussion with your interview colleagues.
- ‘Pattern matching’ items which emerged as important to customers when comparing across (at least 3) interviews.
- Type up or take a (legible) photo of your starred ‘voices’.
- Add your voices to the document sharing for your project.
- To easily find files later, name the files as follows (or use another standard naming format):
- <yyyy/mm/dd date of interview>-<interviewee’s-name>-<your name>-page#
- For example: 20170522-Gary-Burchill-Jane-Morgan-page1
- Now you are ready for the data analysis phase of voice of the customer.