Bill Inmon on Hearing The Voice Of Your Customer

This post explores the importance of hearing your customer, and how to use sentiment analytics and other technologies to achieve this goal and avoid going out of business.

By Bill Inmon, Forest Rim Technology Inc.


TWA. PAN AM. Woolworth’s. Sports Authority. Staples. Banana Republic.

What do these very diverse businesses have in common?

They have one thing in common. They were once thriving business that are now either going out of business or have gone out of business.

Fig 1 Going

There are many reasons why a once prosperous business wakes up to find out that they no longer exist. But one of the recurring themes that is common to many business that go out of business is that – over time – they did not listen to their customer. Had they listened carefully to their customer they would have been able to respond to changing market conditions and changing market tastes. And once they understood what the customer was saying they could adjust their sales and marketing strategy.

But as long as they were deaf to the customer, they were merely a failure waiting to happen.

Fig 2 Listening


Once upon a time it was very difficult to hear the voice of the customer. There were many technological barriers. The cost of technology was too high. There was too much data. There was no way to gather the data. Because the


So where is the voice of the customer heard in today’s world? There certainly are lots of places where the voice of the customer is heard. On the Internet there is Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Consumer Affairs. Within the walls of the corporation there is email and surveys and other sources. Many corporations elicit feedback from their customers and the feedback takes many forms.

Some of the forms of the voice of the customer are public and some of the forms are private. But they are there just waiting to be heard.

Fig 4 Speak


And what do you find that the customer is talking about when you tap into the voice of the customer? You find the customer wants to talk about every subject imaginable. The customer wants to talk about pricing. The customer wants to talk about available selection. About the condition of a product.The color of a product.The size of a product.

The customer wants to complain. To offer suggestions. To tell what is wrong and needs to be fixed.

The customer has questions. About the installation of a product. About the wear and tear of a product. About the packaging of a product. About the delivery of a product.

Occasionally the customer offers a compliment. More often than not the customer tells what is wrong.

Occasionally the customer wants to buy something.

Occasionally the customer talks about the premises the corporation has. About messiness. About cleanliness. About parking. About the restrooms.

Occasionally the customer wants to talk about people. About service. About attitude.

In a word the voice of the customer can be about anything. And ALL of the things that are on the mind of the customer are important to the corporation.(If the corporation wants to stay in business.)

Fig 5 Complaints


So how does a corporation go about hearing the voice of the customer in today’s world? There is a rather prescriptive way in which the corporation goes about hearing the voice of the customer. That path is shown by -

Fig 6 Taxonomy

However they arrive at the corporate desk – either public or private – the voice of the customer enters the corporation in the form of text. Text has long defied the computer technician. Text does not fit comfortably or well into the classical corporate
Once sentiment has been organized into its major subject areas, the actual sentiment can be organized into a finer granularity. There is positive sentiment and there is negative sentiment. There is strong positive sentiment and there is strong negative sentiment.

And – as important as sentiment is – also important is the object of the sentiment. The object of the sentiment provides the context of the sentiment. Both the sentiment itself and its context are important for hearing and understanding the voice of the customer.