The Systems Thinker Blog

Voice of the Customer: Are You Listening to Your Five Customer Types?

Posted byRon Carroll

Like most business people, I believe the customer is king. The customer is why we exist. The customer is our boss. So, who exactly is our customer and what do they really want from us? Consider with me five possible customer types, four of which you may not have thought about before.

Customer is king

First: The Voice of the Customer

The “Voice of the Customer” (VOC) is a phrase used to indicate that the opinions and needs of customers are always being considered; customer desires are foremost on your mind.

The customer is always looking for the “best deal,” and for each prospective buyer, certain things are “Critical-to-Quality” (CTQ). You must meet these customer CTQ specifications (specific/detailed physical requirements) or expectations (planned/hoped-for result) precisely, or you will lose them.

After you have learned from the Voice of the Customer what is Critical-to-Quality in their minds, you ensure that every part of your business is aimed at fulfilling the promise to deliver as expected.

Five Customer Types

What may not be so obvious is that you likely have more than one type of customer, each with different specifications and expectations. Let’s take a look at five possibilities:

  1. Primary or Direct Customer – This is the customer you directly serve and who usually pays your invoice. The primary customer may be consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B).

  2. Secondary or Indirect Customer – This is the consumer or business that buys your product or service from your primary customer, usually the end-user. It may also be another interested and influential party to the transaction. It is essential to please the secondary customer even though you don’t sell directly to them. When they are happy, your primary customer is happy.

    Two Examples: A software developer sells a product to a chain of retail computer stores, the direct or primary customer, who then sells it to the end-user, an indirect or secondary customer.

    A non-profit business serving people with disabilities must please the funding agency (State), the disabled person, and the parents of the disabled person. Each of the three customers has unique expectations and requirements.

    It is very important for your product or service to meet the specifications and expectations of both primary and secondary customers!

  3. Customers of Multiple Product-Market Sets – You may also have more than one "product-market set." For example, a computer store may sell hardware and software off-the-shelf in one market and do on-site tech support in another market. A lawn and yard maintenance contractor may serve one clientele and provide custom landscaping to another clientele.

    Each product-market set requires a distinct customer profile. The Voice of the Customer telling you what is Critical-to-Quality will also vary. Selling different product-market sets is really like having separate but related businesses.

  4. Internal Customer – In your business operations, the next step in a business process is the customer of the previous step in that process. In an assembly line operation, for example, station two is the internal customer of station one. The order-fulfillment department is the customer of the order-processing department. The sales process is a customer of the advertising or lead generation process. Each “customer” in a chain of business activities is happiest when their specifications and expectations are met.

  5. Employees as Customers – Employees are also customers of the business. They too have specifications (e.g., work hours, wages, and benefits) and expectations (e.g., rewarding assignment, opportunity for advancement). Whether spoken or not, if you fail to meet their requirements, they will eventually go elsewhere.

What Your Customers are Looking For

Customers—OF ALL KINDS—want the same four things. They seek goods and services of 1) high quality (no mistakes or problems), 2) that are on time, and 3), that provide excellent value. They also want 4), a good experience along the way.

So, look at the four buying expectations for each of your customer types and see what improvements you can make to your business systems and processes.

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Tags: Business Systems, General Business, Customer Retention