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Some weeks ago, a colleague posed a question to me. Since it had been awhile I can only paraphrase the conversation. We were discussing metrics and how they might be used within Product Development to determine the success or failure of a particular project campaign.
We pontificated on what seems to be a common question. How does one relate the voice of the customer and the expectation of quality. Before proceeding any further it is important to understand some fundamental concepts.
Product Development is the art of creating a good that has intrinsic value to a customer. In this context a customer would be the end-user who has previously articulated some level of "want" or requirements for this particular good or service. It is important to note that customers do not always know what good or service best suits their need. Which explains why some companies are very interested in being first to market with some abstract product which is supposed to solve some fundamental set of customer problems. Often times first to market products are clearly not technically superior, but if the company has a legacy of recognizable and generally successful products (aka cash cow product which provides profit to company) they have the best opportunity to consume market share while using the customer as a beta tester.
So back to the conversation I was having with a colleague. In most cases, there is great value in understanding the customer expectation or what is commonly described as the voice of the customer. There are several ways in which customer input can be obtained. Note that this list is not by any means exhaustive
If the above strategies have been deployed, you have a better opportunity to understand the voice of the customer. After you have a handle on the customer want there are any number of ways to leverage this knowledge to deliver the best product for potentially the highest profit margin for your business. If the customer considers your product to be of excellent quality, you can be certain that the average customer would be willing to pay a premium in most cases. What is quality and how is it measured? Depending upon the industry, there are any number of ways to measure quality. It is important to note that what ever metric is used, that it should translate to a tangible attribute that is recognizable by the customer.
For instance, one quality measure could be product warranty or the promise that the goods or property are as represented or advertised. Some in manufacturing use repairs or defects per thousand units as one such quality measure. One could also use the Deming definition of Results of Work Efforts / Total Costs, as a more succinct means of understanding quality.
Minimizing repetitive non-value added work from your process can benefit not only manufacturing but also social services, allied health, and any transactional based effort. Recalling the voice of the customer can present the added benefit of helping a business establish targets which subsequently develops value streams for a product model. If you can accurately measure status to these customer centric targets, you have the potential of delivering a quality product that a customer will value.
In summary, the ability to correctly assess status to delivering the specific tangible voice of the customer attributes will directly impact the perceived quality of a product, good or service. Companies that are able to surmise the quality definition generally enjoy good financial profit and reasonably good public relations.