Listening to the Voice of the Customer

Six Sigma is a customer focused, fact and data driven approach to improving the output of a business process.  It is critical that we listen carefully to what customers want and need before we try to design or make improvements to a process to meet their wants and needs.

Many business process improvement initiatives focus on trying to reduce the number of defects and the number of customer complaints.  Quality is certainly important to customers, and we want customers to be satisfied, but we must recognize some other key issues.

First, the lack of complaints does not necessarily mean that customers are satisfied.  They may leave without complaining, or they may be actively searching for another supplier of goods or services without ever lodging a complaint.

High levels of quality do not always mean that customers are satisfied.  In fact, a product or service may be free from defects and still not be competitive.  Competitors may be offering a product or service with better features, a better price, or they may be offering some other measure of value that influences the purchase decision of the customer.

Surveys are often used to try and collect information from customers.  Writing a survey that will result in accurate, unbiased feedback is a complex undertaking and one that you might want to seek expert help with.

Customer focus groups are used to compare several products or services in a side-by-side fashion.  Participants are asked to discuss what they like and don’t like, and how the products compare to each other.

Most organizations have a body of existing data that can be analyzed to see what problems, issues and concerns customers may have.  Here is a partial list of sources of this type of data:

Warranty reports

Field service reports

Onboard diagnostics (used extensively in the automotive and aerospace industries)



Government data

Reverse engineering of customer products

The following suggestions are additional ways to listen directly to the voice of the customer:


Customer suggestions

Feedback from sales people

Online discussion groups and other social networking media

Published data such as Consumer Reports

Employee use of company products

Mystery shoppers

Customer advisory board

Trade shows

You should develop your own list of sources of customer information using this article as a starting point.  Add to your list as you identify new and creative ways to more closely provide what it is you’re your customers really want and need.

Your comments or questions about this article are welcome, as are suggestions for future articles.  Feel free to contact me by email at

About the author:  Mr. Roger C. Ellis is an industrial engineer by training and profession.  He is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 45 years of business experience in a wide range of fields.  Mr. Ellis develops and instructs Six Sigma professional certification courses for Key Performance LLC.   For a more detailed biography, please refer to