News & Views

5 Minute Read: Voice of Product (pt. 2)

Voice of Product is changing the conversation between brands and consumers and driving innovation that packs a profitable punch.

A toothbrush is an unlikely AI hero. Yet the Colgate smart product embodies several Voice of Product (VOP) lessons that are worth a closer look. Connected products track every interaction in real time, even when humans aren’t paying attention. As users perform the mundane task of tooth-brushing, Colgate receives a stream of data it can feed into future improvements. The brand knows when a toothbrush is nearing its end of life and can time sales & marketing activities for maximum relevance. Based on brushing patterns recorded via VOP, Colgate can recommend automatic reordering of the current product, or cross- and up-sell related products, suggesting a softer brush head, a smaller bristle, or floss and rinse aids. The customer experience (CX) also benefits. Users enjoy a perpetual cycle of online engagement, a more personalized shopping process, better oral health, and can even engage their kids in real-time tooth-brushing games on their iPads…all seamlessly powered by the constant hum of VOP data.

It’s not a glamorous example, and that’s the point. VOP opportunities are everywhere. Forward-thinking brands across all industries and budgets can use VOP data as a powerful complement to traditional Voice of Customer (VOC) research. The combination can improve the customer experience and drive new revenue streams for businesses—a powerful one-two punch that creates anticipatory experiences for customers while bolstering the bottom line. And it’s all within closer reach than most leaders realize.

Narrow your thinking about AI

It’s easy to get lost in the overly ambitious world of AI. CES 2021 featured a flying Cadillac, brain-altering headbands, and robot butlers. Media headlines hype stories of AI’s frightening implications. Across every industry, technological possibilities are opening up faster than most businesses are able to process or practice. The gap between humans’ capacity to innovate and organizations’ ability to execute on those innovations grows wider every day.

Fortunately, you don’t need to have Tesla’s brilliance or Apple’s budget to use Voice of Product to your advantage. The most successful AI is narrow AI, and VOP is powered by the everyday machine learning algorithms that analyze swaths of data, identify hidden patterns, and predict future outcomes. The key is to resist becoming so enamored (or overwhelmed) by the technical possibilities that you forget the point of the technology in the first place. At Vectorform, we often find the most important shift clients can make in their digital strategy is purely analog. By moving their mindset from a technology strategy to a digital customer engagement strategy, they’re able to refocus on finding an achievable plan for using AI to create customer value.

One of the simplest ways to close the AI innovation-execution gap is to make it narrower from the start. Colgate didn’t attempt to radically redesign the toothbrush; it reimagined how its current form could function and connected it to capture VOP data. This incremental, practical approach to AI enables companies to extract insights about when and how product features are actually used; understand customer buying cycles, and build on wins while minimizing risks. Starting small isn’t a limiting factor, because the real-time nature of VOP ensures an always-on conversation that can be tapped at any time.

Learn to anticipate customer behavior

The real-time connectivity of VOP is a game-changer for how brands can shape the customer experience. More frequent value exchange with consumers strengthens relationships and “stickiness,” creating new opportunities for cross-selling and upselling. Brands become able to deliberately tap into actual behaviors, rather than relying solely on self-reported product experiences and subjective satisfaction levels. The immediacy and objectivity of VOP is key to anticipating—and rising to meet the needs of—future customer behavior.

Consider intelligent vacuums. For the 85 million U.S. families that own pets, the top vacuuming pain points are hair-clogged brush heads and loss of suction. VOP can detect stress in the vacuum motor and notify the owner via a connected app, offering links to order a specialized pet cleaning kit or a new brush head that will resolve the problem. By identifying the issue at the moment it occurs—and providing an actionable solution—VOP not only anticipates the customer’s need but also tees up an effective cross-sell.

The fully transparent nature of VOP also creates opportunities for brands to evolve their VOC efforts. Survey questions can be triggered by real-time customer interaction, encouraging more targeted, actionable responses. VOP data can even replace the need for certain surveys altogether. Rather than a pop-up questionnaire or rating scale, a brand can serve up a discount for adjacent products or services a customer is likely to want based on actual usage—delivering an unexpected perk for the customer, and potential revenue for the brand.

Treat CX as a profit center

To capitalize on VOP’s potential, the customer experience must be recognized as a core driver of the business—not a “nice to have” that yields annual trophies or badges. Companies are ultimately measured by the revenue they generate, not the awards they win. Without the intentional funding and discipline of a centralized profit center, most attempts at improving CX—and the VOP initiatives that support that goal—will fall by the wayside when other revenue-generating priorities arise.

To capitalize on VOP’s potential, the customer experience must be recognized as a core driver of the business—not a “nice to have” that yields annual trophies or badges.

The beauty of establishing CX as a profit center is that it creates a virtuous circle of investment and reward. The more you fund your VOP efforts, the more data you receive; and the more you know, the better you can predict what customers will want next, rather than playing expensive guessing games with product development dollars. Armed with objective real-time data, product designers can shift attention from churning out new products to better understanding how customers are using existing products, and adding or adapting features accordingly. These incremental product revamps, informed by VOC and VOP, can help brands systematically minimize risk, improve CX, lower the cost of innovation, and “future proof” product revenue.

Tesla continues to excel at this approach. The body styling of its Model 3 is unremarkable by industry standards. But the unapologetically basic shell belies a highly dynamic customer experience, with more than 150 OTA updates that have offered new features and driver experiences throughout the life of the vehicle. These instant updates eliminate the need for drivers to “trade up” to a new model every year – and enable Tesla to direct its dollars toward building better CX rather than constantly manufacturing new body designs.

Ready to start?

  • Put the customer, not the technology, first. Your connected product strategy needs to be grounded in the customer experience. Consider creating a CX liaison for each organizational function as a first step toward a more centralized CX approach.  
  • Prepare for full transparency. VOP creates customer awareness across the enterprise; make sure your organization is ready to listen and respond. If you don’t already have a method for quickly consuming and operationalizing product data, start tackling that now.
  • Create a business case to level-set your ambition. Unless you’re Tesla, you probably don’t need to pull 4 gigs of data daily from your product to hear VOP. Set a reasonable goal that makes it easy to take action.
  • Aim small and iterate quickly. As with all innovation, learn what works and keep moving forward. Incremental progress is progress!

Vectorform can accelerate your transition to an agile organization capable of deploying VOP at scale. If you’re just getting started, our Innovation Consultancy can identify key value drivers, ready your teams, and focus your efforts to bring VOP to market. If you’re already on the VOP journey, our Design Development team can bring tech stack innovation to help you execute as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Let’s start the conversation today.

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