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What is "Voice of the Customer" (VOC) and how does it apply to six sigma?

Whether you are a business manager, business owner, or just an employee in a business, the chances are great that you work with customers on a daily, if not hourly, basis.If this is the case, then you must be constantly working on your customer relations.It can be very difficult to keep your cool when a rude and upset customer approaches you.Or maybe you see that the market is demanding a new approach or new product that you feel is not worth your company’s time and money.But you don’t want to break your “six sigma.” So you’re willing to listen to the “voice of the customer.”

Is it just me, or do you have no idea what I’m talking about? This hypothetical situation may be easier to understand if you know what the terms I’m using mean.

Let’s start with “voice of the customer” (VOC).Voice of the customer is a term used in business to describe the process of finding and then obtaining a customer’s requirements.A business discovers what this is by doing surveys, focus groups, and interviews of people just like you and me.The hope is that these surveys are set up in a way that gathers unbiased data.In reality this can be very difficult to do because sometimes people give answers that they think the interviewer wants to hear, rather than what they actually think.

But why is that a problem?Well, think about it.If you do a survey asking people whether or not they would buy a new kind of shampoo that smelled like chocolate and the majority says “yes,” they would buy it, then your company might spend time and resources creating chocolate-scented shampoo.But then when you actually market your product, no one will buy it.Perhaps that was because the participants did not give their honest opinion on the survey.

VOC data can also be gathered from complaint logs or databases.This kind of voice of the customer lets a business management know what the customer doesn’t like or sometimes (when suggestions are given by the complainer) what they customer would prefer.

Now onto “six sigma.”Six sigma is a system of practices created by Motorola to eliminate defects.By defects they mean items that are not part of the intended population.To many companies this symbolizes a striving for perfection.

For example, the chocolate-scented shampoos mentioned above could be considered a defect because it did not actually bring the customer what it wanted.Six sigma has six (surprise!) key concepts:

1. Critical to quality: which are the characteristics that are the most important to a customer
2. Defect: failing to deliver what the customer wants (regardless of whether or not the customer was actually able to express what was wanted)
3. Process capability: what your process can deliver to the customer
4. Variation: what the customer sees and feels (once again, regardless of whether or not the customer was actually able to express what was wanted)
5. Stable operations: producing consistent, predictable process to improve upon what thecustomer wants
6. Design for six sigma: designing to meet customer needs and process capability

Now how do these two concepts relate?I’m sure that you can figure it out now that you understand their definitions, but we’ll go over it anyway.Six sigma is the desire of a company to reach what the customer needs and wants.Voice of the customer is the way you find out what the customer needs and wants.So if your company is able to effectively discover what the VOC is, then you should be able to achieve your six sigma (nearing perfection) and have a very productive and happy company.

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