Voice of the Customer Definition



A room full of so called "experts" can seem like the tower of Babel when you realize VOC does not mean the same thing to everyone. You'll find people saying "don't listen to the voice of the customer" but on closer examination you'll find they are doing exactly the same thing as those preaching VOC but calling it something else. See "Highjacking the Voice of the Customer" for more on the problem.

This is a case where standards would be helpful. Well there is a standard. That is the official definition of VOC in The PDMA Toolbook for New Product Development. This definition is based on the first use of the term which occurred in a paper by Griffin and Hauser in 1993. References below, but first the definition:

The Voice of the Customer is:

  • a complete set of customer wants and needs;
  • expressed in the customer's own language;
  • organized the way the customer thinks about, uses and interacts with the product and service; and
  • prioritized by the customer in terms of both importance and performance--in other words, current satisfaction with existing alternatives.

The Toolbook further defines the terms in the definition. We very briefly paraphrase those here.

A customer need is defined by Griffin and Hauser as "a description of the benefit to be fulfilled by the product or service."

Why use the customer's own words? So you don't blast over the subtlety of meaning in the customer's words with the bias inherent in your own company jargon. The whole reason you are connecting with the customer is to see beyond your biases. A record of the original words also lets you check back later to see if you may have misinterpreted something.

Organizing needs is necessary because there are usually too many at too high a level of detail to work with at the same time. Hence the need to categorize. You'll want to categorize the way the customer thinks again to avoid your own biases which may lead you astray. Get customers to group the needs for you.

Have the customers prioritize the needs. They are very likely to think differently from people in your company. Since the customer is the one whose money you are trying to earn, how well you do depends on how well you meet their priorities.

Read the whole chapter for more detail.


Gerald M. Katz, Chapter 7 The Voice of the Customer, The PDMA Toolbook for New Product Development, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, p. 170.

Abbie Griffin and John Hauser, "The Voice of the Customer," Marketing Science 12, 1, Winter: 1-27.