Quality Management Tools for Enabling Customer Relationships

In February 2002, the United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, uttered the following infamous phrase:

“There are known-knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known-unknows, that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown-unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s clever rejoinder fills in the obvious missing element and demonstrates the secret wisdom of Rumsfeld’s analysis:

“…What he forgot to add was the crucial fourth term: the ‘unknown knowns,’ the things that we don’t know that we know.”

When it comes to knowing what customers want, we could learn a lot from Rumsfeld and Žižek. Sometimes customers know what they want and how to articulate it; sometimes they know what they want but not how to articulate it. Even more difficult to understand is when customers don’t know that they don’t know what they want, or that they don’t know that they do know what they want.

Quality management has a toolbox to help organizations navigate the complexity of customer wants and needs. The Voice of the Customer is a collection of tools and methods that can uncover customer motivations and feelings, even when the customer is unaware of them.

However, the Voice of the Customer is about more than just listening. It’s also about how we organize, analyze and prioritize the information we collect so that we can incorporate it into products and services that meet the entire range of customer requirements. While many organizations are adept at sending out surveys and looking as though they’re listening intently to the Voice of the Customer, most dedicate far less attention to acting on that information. By listening to the stated, implied and silent Voice of the Customer and then using that information in our processes and design thinking, we can enable customer relationships that are deeper than ever before.

Voice of the Customer (VoC): Enhance Quality by Capturing Stated, Implied and Silent Needs is the first in a series of Insight Reports dedicated to helping you improve your quality management by mastering the Voice of the Customer methods. Nicole Radziwill (Intelex Quality Practice Leader and American Society for Quality Fellow) and Graham Freeman will show you:

  • the difference between stated, implied and silent needs
  • the best tools and methods for each type of need, and
  • the most innovative tools for the next-generation Voice of the Customer.


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