The Business World is Transforming
  • By 2025 the worth of the Internet of Things will be $6.2 trillion.
  • The sharing economy will reach $330 billion by 2025.
  • For people starting their education, 65% will enter the workforce into jobs that don’t exist today.
  • The average tenure on the S&P 500 is dropping. Only 25% of the companies in 2012 will remain by 2023.
  • Automation and robotic usage will grow 2,000% from 2015-2030 amounting to $190 Billion market.
  • 86% of global CEO’s are championing digital transformation of their companies.
  • By 2025, half of world’s companies with revenues exceeding $1 billion will be headquartered in today’s emerging markets.
  • By 2018, the data created by the Internet of Things will reach 403 zettabytes a year.
  • By 2030 the population will be over 8 billion people and 50% of Global GDP growth will come 440 cities in emerging markets.
  • By 2030 more than 30% of workforce will be older than 55 in developed countries.

How Asking One Question Can “Delight” Your Customer

How Asking One Question Can “Delight” Your Customer
05/03/2017, Martin Bonadio , in Operational Transformation

Is it good enough to simply meet the needs of your customers or do you want to find exciting ways to elevate the value you bring to the table? Well, anyone can identify requirements, to really identify customer intent, you must be willing to ask the questions no one else will in a way that others are afraid to.

I inadvertently discovered this concept years ago when I attended a meeting with a client and, out of interest and lack of knowledge, asked them a semi-unrelated question that was way beyond the expected scope of the project.  What I learned shocked me but more importantly, it led to my firm’s elevation from a small 2nd tier supplier to a being a full systems integrator and partner! How is that possible with one single question?

The key is a concept that has become known as the “Voice of the Customer (VoC).”  The VoC is a structured communication process that begins with non-leading, clarifying and probing questions, and progresses with active listening to acquire a comprehensive gathering of information directly from the customer.

Sounds simple, right?

The idea is to move backward from the specification(s) to the spirit of the customer intent. Go two levels above. For example, if you make wheels for a car, don’t ask about the size and shape of the wheel or even the size and shape of the car. Ask your customer how they intend to seize the industry and be the leading transportation company of the 21st century. Believe me, this will force them to stop and think. It may even be awkward at first, but let them talk and their response will surprise you. That’s where you develop a solution. Who doesn’t want to revolutionize the industry they support?

Traditionally, analysts ask our customers to provide a specification. Six Sigma taught us to build exactly to their specifications. Lean Management taught us to deliver exactly what they want.  So wait. Stop. Now we are contradicting ourselves, right?

Wrong! These specs generally come from functional groups, are narrowly focused, are a copy from a copy, an agglomeration, or poorly coordinated.

When taking a VoC approach, we review all available customer perspectives as well, and almost always find gaps:

  • Poorly defined requirements
  • Conflicting requirements
  • Requirements beyond current experience
  • TBD’s

It is clear from participating in multiple VoC projects over the years that customer specifications do not always align with their actual program visions. These documents, which may include a Statement of Work, a contract, technical specifications, or schedules are geared for standalone projects, tend to be put together by people with specific “functional requirements and responsibilities” but inadequate coordination.

By reconciling the customer’s intent with document review, you understand “who” and “what” your customer wants to be. You become an integral part of disruptive partnering, and you enable  them to breakthrough to the next level of performance. That’s powerful stuff!

This process starts with a VoC panel typically made up of the key stakeholders who represent the project profile. A trained facilitator ensures customer panel comfort, maintains process adherence, explains policies for dialogue, manages time, and addresses real-time issues. Then, the VoC is initiated with a single non-leading question. This question will set the flight level of discussion for the entire session. It must be chosen carefully to ensure maximum leverage of the session with respect to the challenge at hand. The facilitator pitches the question at least two “integration levels” higher than the product under consideration. The idea is to get your customer openly talking.  This is where the real intent can be captured.

The VoC panel plays the role of the active listener during this process. They should capture everything without trying to solve issues or problems, challenge statements, or engage in dialogue other than confirm or clarify the customer response. Once the customer has finished sharing information, then the VoC team can start asking probing questions to dig deeper into their input.

Following a VoC session, the VoC panel works to create a representation of the customers’ intent and presents it back to them for validation.  Once validated, the concepts in the representation are prioritized so that decision-making, gap analysis, and critical success criteria can be established. Impact matrixes, process flows, and project plans are additional outputs using VoC tools that ensure our customer intent is always understood.

The VoC method is one discipline for creating a customer centric environment that we recommend and utilize at the MSSBTI. Learning and utilizing this methodology is a key step to becoming a disruptive partner and adding extended value to your customer.

So one question for you… “Have you established a vision for transforming your business?”

Other articles in Operational Transformation

Customer Service is No Longer Good Enough
Increase Efficiency by Not Telling People What to Do
Procurement: The Ideal Candidate for Operational Transformation?
From Around the Web: Automation and the Technological Advances of Yesterday

Martin Bonadio

Contributing Author

Martin is an accomplished IT leader with over 20 years of experience in implementation and development within the Business and IT environments. His areas of expertise include managing projects to increase profitability, cost reductions, generating operational efficiencies, and ultimately improving collaboration between business units. Martin has managed multiple concurrent projects in the Aerospace, Manufacturing, Retail, and Pharmaceutical/Biotechnology industries.

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