News & Views

5 Minute Read: Voice of Product (pt. 1)

What if the customer isn’t always right? What if following their voice is leading you in the wrong direction? It’s time for a richer conversation.

In the battle for the best customer experience (CX), business leaders have been pursuing Voice of Customer (VoC) as the holy grail for decades – spending millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours studying consumer psychology, setting up focus groups, and scouring survey results for a direct line into the minds of the people who use their products. The data they gather is used to inform R&D budgets, drive new levels of innovation, and kiss or kill projects altogether.

But what if the customer isn’t always right? What if following their voice is leading you in the wrong direction? It’s time for a richer conversation—one with both people and products – to get a more accurate sense of how your products are performing and see which innovations will set you apart from the pack.

Voice of Customer: Powerful, Not Perfect

There’s no question that VoC will always play a critical role in product development. It offers a unique window into subjective preferences that drive buying behavior and, increasingly, options for offering the personalized experiences customers crave. Why else would companies invest so heavily in consumer research to determine the precise curve of a mobile phone’s corners, or select the most “sympathetic” voice for a smart speaker?1 Yet while VoC is powerful, it’s not perfect. Three flaws make VoC an incomplete part of a CX program:

  • Humans are complicated and unpredictable, often saying one thing and doing another. We get tired, distracted, impatient, and stressed. We forget facts and manufacture new memories. During times of persistent stress, science tells us that parts of our brains can actually shrink2.  Roughly 75% of false convictions are due to inaccurate eyewitness statements3… and while faulty perceptions may lead to a great Netflix series, they also complicate CX and product research. 
  • We’re more reliant on technology than ever. AI-powered products are already stepping in to fill our gaps in judgment. Vehicles make split-second decisions about steering and braking; Amazon packages our pills and triggers interventions for high-risk patients4; connected appliances automatically reorder supplies; mobile apps help us with household chores. The result? As we hand off decision-making to technology, we’re becoming less reliable witnesses to our own behaviors—and less reliable reviewers of the products we use. 
  • Methodologies for gathering VoC often fall short. Social listening helps identify customer sentiment, but tends to capture extremes rather than the broader middle. Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys gauge whether customers would recommend your brand or product, but don’t tell you why. Quantitative surveys can be skewed by imprecise questions, and qualitative surveys can be ripe for misinterpretation. Other times, VoC simply falls silent. More than 9 in 10 unhappy customers will abandon a brand without ever complaining.

While the easiest way to deliver an excellent customer experience may be to deliver an excellent product experience… how can designers make that happen if customers aren’t accurately reporting how a product performs?

Voice of Product (VoP): A Reliable Eyewitness to Customer Behavior

Real-time data from intelligent devices provides insight into what consumers actually do – not what they say they do or think they do. Machines don’t have motives (at least not yet!) so they lack any incentive to bend the truth. They also don’t experience fear or stress-induced memory loss, so their record of events is pure.

A new breed of conversations is already happening in our cities, workplaces, and homes. Smart cameras and traffic lights monitor intersections; AI-powered co-bots roll the aisles of big box stores and work alongside humans in warehouses; and a host of smart speakers, thermostats, appliances, and vehicles interact with their owners every day.

There will be 41.6 billion connected devices in the field by 2025, generating nearly 80 zettabytes of data.

The volume of this conversation is growing louder by the year: The IDC projects there will be 41.6 billion connected devices in the field by 2025, generating nearly 80 zettabytes of data. Which begs the question: Who’s listening, and what are they doing with all that data?

COVID-19 provided one simple example: While residents reported complying with stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, mobile phone data painted a sharply different picture of people on the move. In the business world, Vectorform’s partnership with LANDAUER, a leading provider of radiation safety services, offers another great example of VOP truth-telling. LANDAUER’s product platform was analog and relied solely on the voice of the customer—hospital staff who manually tracked their radiation exposure as they moved among rooms and patients. When Vectorform introduced a Bluetooth-connected badge to track real-time radiation exposure, we brought valuable new data to the conversation. It turned out that busy medical staff had been inadvertently under-reporting their own radiation exposure. The VoP badge data raised awareness of the daily risk and helped shape behavioral changes that lowered the average exposure rate among staff.

This is the promise of VoP. By supplementing the voice of the customer, companies can create a richer dialog that yields tremendous value. The power of VoP is just one reason that at Vectorform, we believe the voice of the product is too important to omit from CX conversations.

Looking Ahead

The nuances of our humanity will always demand both art and science from product designers. The challenge is to capture both components. By leveraging the power of connected devices, we can introduce an objective voice to help balance the conversation: the voice of the product itself. Doing so will create opportunities for more targeted innovation in the crowded CX field and enable new leaders to emerge.

Actions to Consider

It’s time to bring the voice of the product to the table, and listen to what it has to say. You can start today by exploring a few questions to stress-test your own CX programs.

  • Are you seeing a disconnect between VoC data and how you intended/expected for your product to perform?
  • Do you know how often consumers are truly using the features they asked for in VoC surveys?
  • Is it time to retire features that are rarely used, and ramp up next-gen innovations instead?
  • Could adding a smart feature introduce VoP and help you direct R&D resources?

Connect with us if you’d like to learn more about how Vectorform is helping clients listen to the Voice of Product, or to speak with one of our subject matter specialists.

Next up in our 5 Minute Read series:

  • VoP: Using Voice of Product to Transform the Customer Experience
  • Anticipating User Needs with HMI
  • Innovation-led Growth


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