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Silencing the Voice of the Customer (VOC): An update on new research methods to create breakthrough products & services

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On April 20, 2011, Tony Ulwick, founder and CEO of Strategyn, explained why he believes the voice of the customer (VOC) needs to be silenced in a webinar conducted by the Institute for International Research and Strategyn. We had great participation and feedback, but unfortunately we ran out of time before we could answer all the questions that were coming in.

If you missed the Silencing the Voice of the Customer (VOC): Focus on the "job-to-be-done" and create breakthrough products and services webinar, you can view it here.

We would very much like to respond to some of those questions now:

Q: Is the job map only for functional jobs, or does it also apply to social and emotional jobs too?

A: Strategyn defines a job as the fundamental goal or goals customers are trying to accomplish, or problems they are trying to solve, in a given situation. This includes functional and emotional jobs. The job map, however, is only applicable to the functional job that is being studied, as it reveals how to improve product function. Making the job the unit of analysis is the cornerstone of the outcome-driven innovation philosophy.

Q: You assume that the job to be done is not changing. However, often, this is not the case because as capability to do different things changes, often the request for a specific job then changes. How do you handle this?

A: Changes in the capability to do things actually represents changes in the tools for the job, not changes in the actual job. The job does not change ' that is a safe assumption. Let's say you switch from using a toothbrush and toothpaste to clean your teeth to a Sonicare cleaner or to chewing gum with antiplaque ingredients in it. If you think in terms of the tools'the solutions'you might think the job has changed, but it hasn't: the job is still cleaning your teeth. Only the tools to do the job have changed.

Q: How do you know everything a customer wants when they don't even know what they want?

A: Traditional innovation approaches often say customers don't know what they want because those approaches are thinking in terms of solutions, and it's true that customers often can't envision what solutions will help them get a job done best ' after all, they are not the technology experts. But customers do know exactly what jobs they are trying to get done, and the 50 to 150 metrics they use to measure the successful execution of a job. We have completed hundreds of studies that prove this is so. These metrics are the customer's needs, and they know them ' all of them. With these metrics in hand, companies can envision and create the products that will help customers get the job done better, which is the goal of innovation.

Q: If you are silencing the voice of the customer, who do you talk to in order to find out what jobs the customers are trying to get done?

A: We are not suggesting that companies stop talking to customers. What we are suggesting is that companies silence the voice of the customer as a practice ' it does not work for innovation. In other words, companies should silence VoC and adopt the practices we are describing here. These improved practices are still dependent on customer input, but the focus is on understanding the job they are trying to get done and not on how to improve a product, which is where VoC goes wrong. We ask the customer to describe all the steps they take to get a job done, and then we ask them to tell us what makes each step time- consuming, unpredictable, and inefficient. We then listen for the metrics they use to measure success and document them as customer needs.

Q: How different is the outcome-driven approach when it is used for breakthrough innovation vs. product improvement?

A: In both scenarios, the outcome-driven innovation process is executed the same way. Differences do arise, however, when new solutions are being proposed. Product improvement assumes new features will be added to an existing product platform, but breakthrough innovation typically requires the conceptualization of a new platform. In either case, your primary goal is to find solutions that address the unmet needs of the customers. The tools to get there are the same.

Q: What was the independent study that quantified the change in success rate from ODI?

A: In 2010, Strategyn engaged researcher Janet Bumpas to study the success rates of traditional innovation methods and its own innovation process, Outcome-Driven Innovation' (ODI). The results show that while traditional innovation processes have an average success rate of 17 percent, ODI's success rate is 86 percent. This means that 86 percent of the products and services launched by Strategyn clients using ODI were a success. You can find more details of the study on our website.

Q: How was innovation success defined in this study?

A: Companies were asked to judge the success of a product based on one of four metrics: revenue, market share, customer satisfaction, or return on investment.

Strategyn believes it's time to silence the voice of the customer as an innovation practice. The customer does indeed have insight into the jobs they are trying to get done, but you need to think from a different perspective in order to turn that insight into valuable customer inputs. Strategyn's ODI methodology does exactly that. Armed with that knowledge, you can tackle the challenge of innovation knowing that you will be successful: and you will create growth plans that work.

For more information on Outcome-Driven Innovation, please visit our website to download the free white paper.

Contributed by Tony Ulwick, Founder & CEO, Strategyn, Inc.

Tony Ulwick is a thought leader, author, and a long-time practitioner in the field of innovation. Tony is the inventor of Outcome-Driven Innovation', a patented process built around the theory that people buy products to get jobs done. His methodology has been adopted as a best practice by dozens of the world's leading firms, including Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, and Colgate-Palmolive.

His articles on strategy and innovation include the Harvard Business Review's 'Turn Customer Input into Innovation' and 'The Customer-Centered Innovation Map.' He is also the author of the best-selling book What Customers Want.

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