How do I hear the voice of the customer as I develop a new product?

October 2000 Quick Tip

Product developers have learned over the past decade that they should listen to the “voice of the customer” as they design their products. But this just begs the more difficult question: “How do I ‘hear’ this ‘voice’?”

The good news is that we all have the voice of a customer inside of us, based on our life experiences over the years. In computer lingo, we come with a “default” voice “installed” inside of us.

The not-so-good news is that this default customer can be highly untypical, so it is a dangerous design reference. Alan Cooper, in his book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, explains why so many computer products are maddening to use. (See our column: Are Your Inmates Out of Touch? Many computer and software products are designed by engineers living in Silicon Valley, which is a highly atypical place. Everywhere you turn in Silicon Valley, you run into engineers, so the engineers who work there soon think that all customers are as capable of using their product as the people they encounter every day.

To design products for typical users and customers, take some time and effort to get out into their world. The best ways of doing this are creative and highly industry specific. For instance, Black & Decker sends their designers out with service technicians in vans that visit construction sites and do-it-yourself stores. Hewlett-Packard stations them in shopping malls to watch customers fumble with HP products. This isn’t hard to do, but you have to make the effort to identify typical customers and then take the time to “hear” them regularly.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.