Strategy is a hard thing to define. People often ask me what we do as strategy consultants. A simple, but unsatisfying, answer is that we help companies figure out what to do to create value. But that’s not especially elucidating, either. How do we help them determine what to do?
Among other things, we talk—and listen—to customers. We have delivered valuable, actionable insights to clients by doing voice-of-the-customer (“VOC”) research.
For example, consider one of our clients, which had dutifully built its products largely on the basis of customer feedback. We recently interviewed a cross section of their current and potential customers. Our client was started to find a large difference between what customers and non-customers valued. They hadn’t realized that, by designing their product to be desirable to current customers they had ended up with a product suited only to one segment of the overall market. They are now designing a refresh that should allow them to reach a much larger effective market.
Here’s another example of how voice-of-the-customer research can create value. A few years ago, we were interviewing channel partners for a consumer products company. Asking about the relative importance of various product attributes, we kept hearing about the importance of one particular attribute that our client was not even aware of. After reviewing our findings, our client decided to make performance on this attribute a key part of its product development and marketing investments. This client has gone on to become one of the largest and most successful companies in its industry.
It’s surprising to me the number of companies that try to make big, strategic decisions without having a crystal clear understanding of what buyers value, what they are struggling with, or how competitors are addressing their problems. This is where VOC research can really add value.