5 Things about Public Relations
Abstracting House of Quality Thinking to Identify Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Voice of the customer, six sigma blackbelts, and garbled "strategy"

This is Chris Halliwell again for the Technology Marketing Center, with part 2 of 3 posts on the use of House of Quality (HoQ) concepts in place of an overall strategy for technology-enabled product value...

A couple of weeks ago I talked about Ed McQuarrie's ground breaking market research tool, called "customer visits" and how that technique had become synonymous with "voice of the customer" (VoC) in the everyday vernacular of technology marketing.  There's danger and damage in this mash-up of concepts, in my opinion, and here's my suspicions about how the damage was done.

The sub-title of Ed's book on customer visits is "building a better market focus."  That was the original concept, a tool to build concensus and focus among product strategy and development team members.  Not a tool to yield a prioritized list of product features; not a specification-like document.  Years ago when I first read the book it was very exciting, and fit my experiences, to see a structured way of getting a cross-functional team to a common and insightful understanding of the customer's environment so that they could agree on broad concepts of competitive advantage in delivering customer value.

But when "customer visits" morphed into a synonym for "voice of the customer", this powerful tool became the bailiwick of roaming hoards of six sigma blackbelts, in search of new consulting opportunities based on experience in quality function deployment (QFD).  The scene was now set for two "wrongs" coming together to distort the "right" of customer visits.

First, the demand for training in customer visits techniques and the generalization of that tool to VoC fueled six-sigma-driven education programs in many high tech companies.  Especially if the company was managed by strong process orientation (e.g. semiconductors, defense, materials, etc.), senior management was all for six sigma quantitative rigor in understanding the customer.  "Wrong" one:  an expansive market insight tool, the basis of market leadership, had just become a yeoman quality tool.

Second, as the blackbelts were now teaching voice of the customer to cross functional teams, the insight garnered had to be displayed and communicated, and the natural QFD display format?  The house of quality. The HoQ display format is amazing, but it is founded on granular feature evaluation and tradeoffs in the context of customer careabouts and competitive offerings.  Not a "wrong" in and of itself, just a very bottoms-up tool that is hard to implement, cumbersome, and may not yeild the faintest clue about the difference between important and urgent, and does not address cross-product-family, or cross generation establishment of sustainable competitive advantage.

Stay tuned for part 3.  Comments?



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