“The golden rule for every business person is this: Put yourself in your customer’s place.”

― Orison Swett Marden, 18th Century American Author

Companies win by being better than the competition at addressing the important needs of customers. What are the important needs of your target customers? How does your company fulfill those needs with their products, competitive products? Where are your blind spots with customers? How are customers and their needs evolving?

If you want to win, then you should first win by knowing your customer better than anyone else. Get in their shoes, ask them questions, and monitor how they feel about your value proposition and competitors.

Whenever you are building a product or service, improving a process, or doing a project, the most important input should be the voice of the customer. They should tell you, in their own voice, their ideas, concerns, priorities, and feedback. When people collect the voice of the customer, they are always surprised by what they learn and how the customer thinks.

People often like to think that they know their customers and what they want, but often they are simply projecting their own preferences and ideas onto their customers. Instead of guessing or projecting, it is always much better to simply ask the customer and hear their voice. And, in today’s world of social networks, and online technologies, it isn’t hard to hear the voice of the customer, though it is harder to cut through the noise and get to the real insights.

What is the voice of the customer?

Whether problem solving customer segments & markets, customer value proposition & journey, or processes, everything the people in an organization do involves internal or external customers. And, the voice of the customer is one of the most invaluable inputs and tools for problem solving. Now, the trick is the customer can both be end customers, who purchase products and services, or internal customers such as other functions, stakeholders, employees, or partners.


voice of the customer example

The voice of the customer is the collection and synthesis of the customers’ ideas, concerns, priorities, and feedback, on a particular product, service, process, or project. The application of voice of the customer can and should be applied to most problem solving that happens across an organization.


voice of the customer framework


How do you capture the voice of the customer?

There are many techniques to capture the voice of the customer, including:


Interviews are often the quickest way and most exploratory way to get the voice of the customer, given a conversation can go so many different directions. When you conduct interviews, make sure you take the time to build an interview guide with the questions you want to ask, prioritized in order of importance. Also, focus on open-ended questions instead of one-word or yes / no questions. These may include “Take me how you think about buying…”, “What are the most important features…”, “What are the biggest issues you find with…”



Surveys are another great tool to learn a lot from a large number of people. Now, surveys are only as good as the questions that are asked. While discrete questions, those with a discrete number of choices, can be good, make sure you put in a choice of “other”, where necessary. Use open-ended questions, when you don’t have a sound hypothesis of how the customer thinks or you want to generate ideas. Try word association questions like “Pick the one word that comes to mind when you think about…?” There are great online tools, such as wordclouds.com, to take all of those words and build a Word Cloud, which is one of the coolest ways to display word association data. Below is a fun example.


word bubble example


Existing Data and Analysis

Often, there is a ton of existing data from the voice of the customer already out there. You can hear the voice of the customer in online reviews, message boards, social networking, previous surveys, feedback forms, customer service records, and transactional data. The key to existing data is to find the common threads within the data, like “What are the top issues customers complain about on reviews, and what are the top features they love?” Once again, there are great tools, such as wordclouds.com, to sift through thousands of messages and come up with common threads.


Ethnography or Observation

Ethnography, which is simply objectively observing how someone interacts with a product or service, or how they do a process, can be the most informative way to understand the voice of the customer observation is raw objective feedback and takes away any biases or interpretation.


Focus Groups and Online Comment Threads

If you want to engage with how customers think about an idea or issue, you could initiate a focus group or a social media comment thread to have a facilitated and informative conversation. Make sure you have a strong facilitator or else the extroverts can take over a focus group.


Net Promoter Scores (NPS)

Take a look at the section on Net Promoter Score (NPS) if you want a systemic methodology to monitor how customers are feeling about a business, product, or service while providing rich feedback.



More and more companies are using digital and virtual games to understand the voice of the customer better. Westin enabled customers to design an entirely new hotel concept from the bottom-up in Second Life, an online virtual reality world.


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 Learn more about Joe Newsum, the author of all this free content and a McKinsey Alum. I provide a suite of coaching and training services to realize the potential in you, your team, and your business. Learn more about me and my coaching philosophy.
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