I’ve run into a number of satisfaction studies lately that claim to speak for real customers. A little digging showed that these claims are based on studies that use panels of people similar to your actual customers. The Internet has allowed us to speak directly to customers in the context of real experiences. There is an emerging new breed of market research analytics that is democratizing the voice of the customer. Panels are no longer needed to speak for people, people can speak for themselves.
Our research shows that the way panels rate satisfaction is not the same as the way actual customers in real situations rate it. What is important to them and how satisfied they are is very different. The difference is easy to understand; For example, when I’m in my underwear at 1 AM in the morning, on my laptop, trying to get something done, I’m not experiencing things in the same way as when I am tasked to do something and then evaluate it. I’m not creating fictitious situations and then evaluating them. I can provide real and immediate feedback on my actual experience based by my actual needs.
Panel and focus groups have their place. My point is that the voice of the customer is different; it is about actual customer satisfaction. I’m not saying it’s better than panels, I’m saying it’s different. It’s a new type of information that is more closely aligned with what customers actually experience and how well their expectations are satisfied.
With a panel, people are tasked to behave in a certain way and then asked to rate their ability to act in that way. They have been qualified using demographics or psychographics, whether they are in market to purchase, or whether they make a certain income or not. They are often rewarded for participating. Voice of the customer respondents are qualified by their own unsolicited choice to visit the site for their own purpose and they are not directly rewarded for participating.
A good analogy for the difference between the information that comes from a panel study and the voice of your customer is the difference between a date and a blind date.
On a blind date you’ve been tasked to evaluate each other. The way that you function and the way that you respond to each other is completely driven by the fact that you’ve been tasked to either like or dislike each other. That’s exactly what a panel does, it sends you on a task and it asks you for your opinion.
Let’s look at a regular date; the mutually qualified situation, where you’ve met somebody and you’ve agreed to get together. In this case the exploration is more natural and closer to the truth. The outcome is not driven by the fact that you’re solely there to evaluate each other. It is driven by your mutual interest in a potential relationship.