Voice of Customer programs are like car maintenance and housecleaning

Just in time for “spring cleaning”, my real estate agent sent me this very helpful list on how to keep a clean home.  I’m not sure, I suspect it may have been a comment on the state of my house.


I’m not much of a housekeeper so I switch the “daily” to “weekly”,  The “weekly” to “monthly”, the “monthly” to “umm… I think I saw something move”,   and the “once a season” to “when I move”.

That said, I do like the idea of keeping to a schedule.  There are some things that you do every once in a while, and some things you need to do more frequently.

I noticed my car owner’s manual has a similar approach.

  • Break-in service:  after 2,000 km (that’s 1,200 miles for you non-metric folks)
  • Oil/filter change: every 5,000 – 10,000 km
  • Break fluid flush: every 2 years

And so forth…

When it comes to Voice of Customer programs, many organizations get overwhelmed by the number of methods and approaches that they can take.  Should they do a survey?  Social media analysis?  Interviews?  Focus groups?  Customer Panels? Analyze their site/product analytics?  Should we be doing this “big data” thing?

There are so many different options that sometimes organizations become paralyzed with indecision.  Or, more insidiously, they try to cram in ALL customer learning into one vehicle.  “We’re doing a survey?  Great, let’s ask them about these twenty other things we’re dying to know”.

It’s not a sprint.  You wouldn’t do all your housecleaning all in one go, and you wouldn’t maintain your car that way either.

A good Voice of Customer program takes a similar approach.  There are things you should do when you first launch a product or service, or when your customer first gets your product.  The “Break-in Service” if you will.  Then then are things that you should do every week, every month, every quarter, every year or two. 

I find it useful to think of customer listening along two different dimensions.  One is how direct the technique is.  Direct techniques involve asking the customer directly about something.  Those techniques include things like surveys and interviews.  Indirect techniques are ways that you might infer your customers’ needs, thoughts and desires through quietly observing them.  These might include things like ethnography, website analytics, or social media monitoring.

Another dimension is how frequently you might perform the activity.  Frequent activities might include customer satisfaction surveys every time a customer completes a transaction, usability testing, or Google analytics (depending on your site traffic).  Infrequent activities might include customer journey mapping, customer panels, or ethnography.

When you map out different techniques into quadrants, you get something that looks like this.


 As a good rule of thumb, it is useful to do one technique out of every quadrant.  Unless you are a very large organization, you won’t have the resources to do all of these.  The specific tool you use will depend on the specifics of your business and product.

Maintaining a customer-centered organization requires constant attention.  You can’t achieve it by creating a task force once a year that goes around and points fingers at people.  Just like you wouldn’t expect your car to run smoothly if you launched a “car quality initiative” once every 12 months.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be onerous.  You don’t have to do everything at once.  Pick a few things that make sense for you, put yourself on a schedule, and do it regularly.  Your customers will thank you.