If Only You’d Ask!

(Are you really listening to the voice of the customer?)

Hey, Mr. Six Sigma Blackbelt. It’s me, your customer. I hear all of you six sigma guys talking about how important it is to understand and listen to the voice of the customer, but if you are listening to us you couldn’t tell it by me. All I see is an overwhelming concern about costs, your costs, not mine. What customers are you talking to that tell you to get your costs down? We don’t even know what your costs are and furthermore, when you cut costs, do we get a price cut? I don’t think so.

If you’re really concerned about the voice of the customer then open your ears and listen up. I want value. Pure and simple, value. Let me make it even more simple. I want outstanding quality at the best price I can get. In fact, if you give me great quality I will even pay more for it.

Now when I say quality I don’t mean just product quality. You guys in the factory never look beyond the walls. Features are good but there are other things that are important such as product support. When I buy your product and it breaks or won’t work properly I want to be able to get it fixed quickly and correctly. I want to be able to get the right parts when I need them or to have the right parts available to the dealer where I take your product for fixing. I want someone to be responsive to my needs and to give a damn about me.

Let me give you a simple example.

Last night my wife and I went to a nice restaurant for dinner. It was the first time we tried this place. After our meal we were talking about dinner. My wife said she liked the quality of the food. I asked her what she meant. She replied that she liked the presentation, the temperature, the seasoning, the quantity and a couple of other things I forgot about. She asked me what I liked about the place. I told her I liked the atmosphere, we could actually talk and hear each other. I liked the fact that there were no kids running around and that we could have a nice leisurely dinner. The fact that it was close and it was easy to park was also nice. She then asked me about the bill. I told her it was a little higher, but not much, than some of our more familiar haunts. But I thought it was worth it. That’s value: good food presentation, temperature, seasoning, quantity, atmosphere at a fair and competitive price. We both agreed that we would go back and certainly tell our friends about the place.

I can get very detailed about quality if someone just asked me. I could tell which quality factors are the most important to me and I can tell you how well you perform on those factors… if you would only ask me. I can tell you about automobiles, tractors, combines, cheese, mayonnaise, telecom products and services, brokerage services, banks, airlines, theme parks, toilets, computers, cruise lines, anything… if only you’d ask.

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret.

When push comes to shove there isn’t really a whole lot of difference between your product and the next guys. Your quality is about the same. I know you don’t believe this or, if you do, you choose to ignore it. But it is true. You try to convince me that you have the best quality, but I know better.

What really makes the difference for me is where I buy the product. Now that I think about it, a lot of the value comes not from the guy who makes the product but from the guy who sells it and services it. I bet you Black Belt guys didn’t think of that, did you? If I were you I’d spend a lot more time focusing on the customer and how six sigma could improve your company’s value delivery throughout the entire value stream. Remember value at the point of production does not automatically translate into value at the point of consumption. And it’s me, the end user who is the ultimate definer of value. And, I’d be glad tell you about it, if only you’d ask.