Strategy Should Guide Learning From Voice Of The Customer Programs

Listening to customers through a well-established voice of the customer (VOC) program is critical. However, without a customer experience strategy rooted in a company strategy, it’s easy for a firm to lose track of its core value proposition to key target customers.

Don Norman tells a wonderful story about a conversation he had with Southwest Airlines chairman Herbert Kelleher that speaks directly to my latest report on customer experience strategy:

"Use Southwest Airlines as the model. When customers demanded reserved seating, inter-line baggage transfer, and food service, they refused (and only now, are reluctantly providing semi-reserved seating). Why? It is not because they ignore their customers. On the contrary, it is because they understood that their customers had a much more critical need. Southwest realized that what the customers really wanted was low fares and on-time service, and these other things would have interfered with those goals.

 I once had a lively, entertaining dinner with Herbert Kelleher, Chairman and co-founder of Southwest Airlines. I asked him why they had ignored the requests of their customers. Herb looked me up and down sternly, sighed, took another sip of his drink, uttered a few obscenities, and patiently explained. His marketing people asked the wrong question. They should have asked, would you pay $100 more for inter-airline baggage transfers? $50 more for reserved seating? No, the customers wouldn't have. They valued on-time, low-cost flights, and that is what Southwest delivers.

Land the plane, push the people out as fast as you can, tidy up quickly, with everybody pitching in: cleaners, flight attendants, pilots, and rush the new people in. Don't use assigned seating because in its absence, customers run into the airplane, hoping to grab a good seat fast. Minimize turnaround time and you need less airplanes, less crew, less expense. Add amenities and you slow down everything, requiring more airplanes, more cost. Why would you want to slow down the turnaround time when your entire business model is based upon low-cost efficiency?"

With strategy in hand, defining who target customers are, use tools like a Kano Model or derivative to understand what drives customer delight . . . and what won't move the needle at all.