Voice of the Product: Devices Are Talking, and It’s Time We Start Listening
Ever since there was competition, businesses of all sizes have always known that the key to staying relevant in the market is understanding their customers’ needs. Whether that was achieved through good old chitchat in the store around the corner, or through a more or less elaborate research project in the customer experience department using the latest messaging and AI technology to gauge sentiment; businesses then and now know to listen to the customer—to give customers a voice. If anything, you could argue that the significance of this is only increasing in the age of globalized competition.
A whole industry has formed around the “voice of the customer” (VoC) over the years. Many vendors offer software tools and consulting services to help businesses elicit and track learnings from customers. Some go further and include the “voice of the employee” (VoE) for internal operational improvements, or the “voice of the market” (VoM) for “enterprise reputation capture and analysis and insights for product or services development,” as analyst firm Omdia puts it in their 2020 Market Radar on AI-enabled Experience Management Platforms.
Where Is the Product Itself in Experience Management?
Customers. Employees. The Market. Do you see what I’m seeing? We are missing out on an important member of the equation between a customer and a business: the product. It is time to start giving it a voice.
Before understanding why that is a good idea, let’s revisit the current state. There is customer behavior (and proactive surveys), which create data, which becomes knowledge. With the right approach, you will eventually get insight, which then influences what you change as a business, in terms of how you service your customer. If all things go well, that change will improve the customer experience. Let's call this the CX optimization circle.
Companies selling digital products, such as Web tools for project management or ERP software, have long started adding their products to this circle. By adding log points (a process that software engineers call “instrumenting the code”) as an additional data feed, they can “hear” directly from their products about customer usage and product performance. So rather than relying on what the end users (customers, employees, partners, vendors) are saying about how they use a product, the product itself now “speaks.” And the product may even contradict the user; your customer might report “I’m using your product two to three times a week”; but the product knows better and tells you “actually, they use me more like five to six times, and the trend goes up.”
Thanks to technology advancements in recent years in the context of the Internet of Things, or IoT, with a plethora of smaller and cheaper sensors and other hardware and much more reliable connectivity than was possible before, we can finally accomplish the same for physical products. By giving products a “voice,” businesses can expedite the CX optimization circle. This process typically happens continuously throughout the lifetime of a product generation.
By listening to the voice of the product, they have not only more data to turn from knowledge to insight, but that insight also comes from a source that cannot, through its programmed nature, “distort” the truth through language or emotion like humans do. Cognitive biases of us humans can have a tremendous impact on how much of what a user tells you about their user experience is actually rooted in objective truth vs. individual (mis-)perception. By listening to your product, you will get “both sides of the story,” and your view will be much more complete and accurate than was ever possible before. Use it to build better products, to deliver better services, and systematically understand product usage in order to drive change.
Combining the Voice of the Customer and the Voice of the Product
Key to weaving the voice of the product into the circle of CX optimization is to make the product “heard” outside of just the product group within a company, where IoT solutions typically sit today. CX professionals need to get access to this source of information, too. In some instances, preemptively, you want to be ahead of the customer in communicating about their needs—e.g., when your product tells you that it needs repairs or new parts soon. In other instances, when responding live to an inbound customer contact, you want to compare what they are saying with what your product is saying about an incident. And finally, in hindsight, you want to use both the VoC and the VoP (think of “surveying your product”) to identify trends, new patterns of behavior (of both the customer and the product), or changes in usage, in order to improve your product and improve your CX. This completes our circle:
Take cleaning robot maker iRobot. Their connected mopping and vacuum robots are not only connected to the Internet for the user, so they can manage cleaning runs through the app; they are also connected to the Internet for the contact center, so that when a customer calls with a question, the customer service representatives can have a live “conversation” with the product to get details about the situation that go beyond what the customer can report—and also tell the “objective truth.” This exact scenario happened to me the other day. My new mopping robot was acting up, and I had to contact the company. The service agent could log in to my device, “ask it” about details of the situation, which not only shortened the call (as I didn’t have to explain things myself), but also allowed them to push a software update that fixed my problem. The only thing they didn’t do was contact me about this potential problem before it occurred—but there is always room for improvement, even with a business that advanced in how it uses technology.
In healthcare, a doctor could verify the number of times a patient took their pills, if the pill dispenser is an IoT device, comparing that to what the patient reports themselves. In retail, or transportation and logistics, a warehouse manager could get alerted of an automated restocking order so that inventory is replenished before it is sold out. And so on.
The opportunities for listening to the voice of the product are endless. Which parts of the physical world around you will you start listening to?
Tobias Goebel brings almost two decades of enterprise software experience, with roles spanning engineering, product management, sales engineering, and product marketing. At Twilio IoT, he works on defining and evangelizing technology solutions that tap into the business potential of connected things.