Voice of the Customer Part 5: Creating Meaningful Customer Experiences

In this final look at the Voice of the Customer, we’ll look at what you can do for your customer after you collect and organize all the information about their stated, implied, and silent needs.  

While VoC can be useful for uncovering customer preferences regarding pricing or product features, the goal of a truly insightful VoC process is to discover what constitutes a meaningful customer experience. Customer experience is built on the premise that while customers are often rational decision makers, they are also emotional and value experiences that are pleasurable, beneficial, and educational. Furthermore, they value experiences that allow them to co-create those values through their interaction with brands and companies. (Hwang and Seo, 2016)  

Total Customer Experience (TCE) describes the end-to-end process that encompasses the social, physical, and emotional realities of the customer as they move from the initial stages of awareness to the post-transactional “nurture” stage. (Hwang and Seo, 2016) With the democratization of technology contributing to a levelling of innovation in conjunction with increased customer expectations, customer experience has the potential to be a powerful differentiator and competitive edge for today’s organizations. (Alcántara et al., 2014) The practice of Customer Experience Management (CEM) complements Customer Relationship Management (CRM) by negotiating the gap between customer expectations and customer experience and working to enhance customer loyalty. (Hwang and Seo, 2016). 

Despite this, a universal definition of customer experience remains elusive. While some approaches consider customer experience to divide into positive and negative, other more holistic approaches see it as including values such as pleasure, learning, nostalgia, and fantasy along a continuum that matches the highs and lows of everyday life. (Hwang and Seo, 2016). A meaningful experience does not need to be something overwhelming or sublime, but something that reflects that values of the person having the experience in different stages of their existence. These experiences could also move beyond the mundane and become experiences that have a lasting impact on the well-being of the environment and the basic needs of cultures around the world. (Jensen, 2014) Experience is therefore more than simply solving the problem the customer has at hand: it becomes something that explores the possibility of living and creating a good and meaningful life. (Jensen, 2014) 

VoC is the fundamental exercise that exposes the customer values that can help organizations create those meaningful experiences. Customers adopt products for instrumental usage when those products interact with and are seamlessly interwoven with the complex and profound systems that make up the customers’ lives. VoC is therefore a critical input to the design process.  

One of the most valuable ways in which VoC can be used is through the application of storytelling. Storytelling is how people and organizations create common cultures by sharing their knowledge and values to create emotional connections. (Beckman and Berry, 2009) Designers can incorporate storytelling into their process by using the VoC toolbox to learn how the customer views the narrative of their lives, the performative actions that might confirm or contradict their interpretation of their experiences, and the workarounds that they could consciously or unconsciously incorporate into their lives as they negotiate the complex systems of their experiences on a daily basis. The stories the customer tells, whether overtly or tacitly through their behavior, become the inputs designers use to inspire new and innovative solutions that complement and delight customers. (Beckman and Berry, 2009) Designers learn from those stories (and become characters within them) as they find ways to inspire customers to adopt products that blend seamlessly and profoundly with the customer experience. These stories can also become structural narratives that inspire other customers and create new communities and cultural values. 

Anticipating Future Needs 

Capturing customer needs and desires is important, but being able to identify the needs that they will have in the future is the basis for innovation. Anticipating future needs is an active subject in marketing and quality management research. This section introduces several techniques that have been used to forecast or infer future needs. Because many of these methods are exploratory and not yet validated, this section only introduces a small sample of the kinds of approaches that may be used routinely in the future. 

For example, Gotzamani et al. (2018) used multivariate Markov Chain models to capture the dynamic nature of VoC, and how it changes over time and in different contexts. They developed an adaptation of Quality Function Deployment (QFD), a qualitative tool to help organizations evaluate trade-offs and select product specifications that will meet customers’ needs. Stansfield & Azmat (2017) have started exploring “artificial intelligence infused ISO 16355” to make QFD more responsive to the new data available from the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor networks. Trainor et al. (2014) studied “social customer relationship management (CRM)” to see if customers’ needs can be predicted or anticipated by the decisions their friends and social contacts are making. 

Horizon scanning, the “systematic search for incipient trends, opportunities and constraints that might affect the probability of achieving management goals and objectives” (Sutherland et al., 2011) has also emerged as a paradigm for capturing high level trends in VoC. Some software packages are now available to manage the collection, organization, and analysis of horizon scanning data that can contribute to understanding VoC. Ernstsen et al. (2018) recommend a 3-step horizon scanning process, specifically aimed to anticipate disruptive forces that should transform customer needs and requirements. The steps are: 1) Defining, 2) Identifying, and 3) Synthesizing. Most significantly, they recommend examining the following resources to anticipate future customer needs: 

  • Technology reports (e.g. by analysts including Gartner, IDC, Forrester, McKinsey) 
  • Industry-specific reports (from World Economic Forum, McKinsey) 
  • Conferences and seminars 
  • Technology conferences 
  • Foresight reports (by public authorities, governments, US agencies, European Union)

Ernstsen et al. (2018) also recommended that techniques like topic modeling and sentiment analysis should be applied to the horizon scanning resources to uncover future needs. The most critical requirement, however, is to embed horizon scanning into product design and development processes to adapt to newly emerging needs as soon as they can be detected. 

Summary 

Understanding customer needs and desires is important because it helps organizations develop high-quality products and services now and helps drive innovation to meet customer needs in the future. In this series, we have provided a four-stage process to help organizations in theirVoC journey: identify customer needs, understand and prioritize needs, create meaningful customer experiences, and anticipate future needs. Although the emphasis was on identifyingVoC for new product development, the same techniques can be applied to the development of new services or continuous improvement of any offering. A robust, comprehensive VoCprogram will incorporate multiple methods from each of the three needs categories (stated, implied, and silent), and use techniques like storytelling to create and deliver meaningful customer experiences.  

Sources 

Alcántara, E., Artacho, M. A., Martínez, N., & Zamora, T. (2014). Designing experiences strategically. Journal of business research, 67(6), 1074-1080. 

Beckman, S., & Barry, M. (2009). Design and innovation through storytelling. International Journal of Innovation Science, 1(4), 151-160. 

Brandt, D. R. “The Current State of Corporate Voice of the Consumer Programs: A Study of Organizational Listening Practices and Effectiveness.” International Journal of Listening 00, 2018, pp. 1-27. 

Ernstsen, S. K., Thuesen, C., Larsen, L. R., & Maier, A. (2018). Identifying Disruptive Technologies in Design: Horizon Scanning in the Early Stages of Design. In DESIGN2018-15th International Design Conference

Gotzamani, K., Georgiou, A., Andronikidis, A., & Kamvysi, K. (2018). Introducing multivariate Markov modeling within QFD to anticipate future customer preferences in product design.International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, 35(3), 762-778. 

Hwang, J., & Seo, S. (2016). A critical review of research on customer experience management: Theoretical, methodological and cultural perspectives. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 28(10), 2218-2246. 

Jensen, J. L. (2014). Designing for profound experiences. Design Issues, 30(3), 39-52. 

Stansfield, K. E., & Azmat, F. (2017, March). Developing high value IoT solutions using AI enhanced ISO 16355 for QFD integrating market drivers into the design of IoT offerings. In Communication, Computing and Digital Systems (C-CODE), International Conference on IEEE(pp. 412-416).  

Sutherland, W.J., Bardsley, S., Bennun, L., Clout, M., Côté, I.M. et al. (2011), Horizon scan of global conservation issues for 2011, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 10–16. 

Trainor, K. J., Andzulis, J. M., Rapp, A., & Agnihotri, R. (2014). Social media technology usage and customer relationship performance: A capabilities-based examination of social CRM.Journal of Business Research, 67(6), 1201-1208. 

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About Nicole Radziwill

Nicole Radziwill is a quality manager and data scientist with more than 20 years leadership experience in software, telecommunications, research infrastructure, and higher education. Prior to joining Intelex, she was an associate professor of data science and production systems at James Madison University, Assistant Director for End to End Operations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed software product development for the Green Bank Observatory (GBO), and managed client engagements for Nortel Networks and Clarify (CRM). She is an ASQ-certified manager of operational excellence (CMQ/OE), an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB), and contributed to the development of ISO 26000—“Guidance on Social Responsibility.”

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