How can a business identify unspoken customer requirements, make them visible, and harness them for strategic merit? In QFD, one of the best ways to understand stated and unstated customer needs is to go watch the customer "at work" in the 'gemba.'
Gemba is a Japanese word that literally means the place where the real action takes place. This is where a consumer puts the product or service that he/she bought into use. In other words, this is where he or she has devised some work-around to the task. If your product is a toaster, the gemba is the kitchen in the morning. If your product is an emergency room, it may be the triage desk.
For one thing, customers cannot necessarily articulate what they want; often they do not know what they want. It is the responsibility of the producer or provider to do their fieldwork. (Read more on this... "Customer, Kunde, Kyaku: How to better understand customers and improve their process")
What is obvious to the producer of the product or service may not be always apparent to the customer and vice versa. Product designers and engineers are often too accustomed to looking at things from the internal point of view and they can miss the customers' point or misinterpret it.
Gemba visits provide an opportunity to see the whole picture — how your product or service is used, what reactions or interaction the customer has, under what situation, etc. While surveys, interviews and focus groups have their merits and place in market research, the information you get from those methods is usually limited to the framework of the questionnaire, the ability of the interviewer or the direction of moderation that is usually preset. They cannot substitute for the real life experience of a customer in action with the product or service.
Gemba visit should be planned carefully; you should have a good format plan, in order to produce valid voice of customer data. Glenn Mazur, the executive director of the QFD Institute, states, "Gemba visit is not a sales call. Your purpose is to watch and listen."
Today we have many more ways to observe customers in the gemba and collect the Voice of Customers (VOC). This includes trade shows, online social media and customer review sites, etc. The recent resurgence of 'systems thinking' also incorporates the gemba study concept, and so does the trendy 'word of mouse' market research.
Unfortunately most gemba studies in these methods erroneously treat the raw Voice of the Customer data as the 'customer needs'. In QFD, it is important that you must fist identify the true customer needs out of the VOC data collected from the gemba — before starting anything else. Otherwise, it is very easy to make these mistakes.
To learn more about QFD Gemba study and VOC analysis methods, consider attending the public courses (see the links below).
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