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Six Sigma: Choosing The Best Method For Listening To The Customer

Jun 28, 2008
Telephone Surveys

A telephone survey is a basic way to randomly select and carry out customer surveys. The sample generated can be generalized to an entire target population. A great example of this is if you want to carry out a survey of customers who have bought or have viewed a newly-launched product.

A standard questionnaire should be prepared and the interviewer makes phone calls to the customers and record the data on the basis of the information provided.

The data collected is very useful, but this method is expensive. Its success depends upon the accuracy of the questionnaire prepared. It will take a couple of weeks to get the information from the select group. The questions should be asked in a similar manner, the question wording should be the same and all the responses should be categorized.

Mail Surveys

Mail surveys can also provide companies with a substantial amount of data - and at a much lower cost than that on telephone surveys. However, mail surveys have a low response rate and can take quite a few months to complete. The lower the rate of response, the lower the reliability of the survey.

If you decide to do follow up with new letters and questionnaires, it will add on to the cost. A response rate of fifty percent is the lowest rate acceptable.

Focus Groups: In-Person

In the in-person focus group is a discussion carried out among 15-20 people who are lead by a moderator with a detailed discussion in the area on which information needs to be collected. The group cannot be generalized to the larger population, but a vast amount of data can be collected. Effective visual aids can be used for communication.

The discussion group can come up with the reasons for customer dissatisfaction and possible solutions to the problem. There are traveling costs of participants, charges on the location and so on to contend with. The entire process typically takes a week or two for preparation of guidelines and recruiting participants.

The downside, though, is that the participants can be used again at a later date.

Focus Groups: Online

Online groups are similar to in-person focus groups. The difference is that the discussion takes place on the Internet, saving companies looking to implement Six Sigma the cost of getting participants to the interview site. Online focus groups are more suited for younger age groups, as they are usually very comfortable with online chats than individuals above age 40.

This group can generate a lot of information.

One On One Interviews

If your company is implementing Six Sigma, then one-on-one interviews allow you to get detailed information that cannot be achieved from a survey - even though it cannot be generalized to the larger population. When you require information from people like CEOs, Doctors and celebrities, it is impossible to get a large group together in a meeting at the same time.

However, busy, important people like the ones above can fit interviews into their schedules. The cost involved is lower, though some costs may have to be incurred by both the interviewees and the interviewers.


Intercepts involve getting information from people at public locations like stores, malls or theatres. Often, the information received is of the utmost importance.

This information is generalized to a specific target group, such as women with infants who may be asked about a certain baby food. Additionally, it will be specific to that day, as well as the location.

User Testing

Six Sigma user testing involves having the individuals use the company's product while they are being observed. Alternatively, they may be made to log that data in a diary or a sheet for a period of time. This helps the company to understand if the user finds any difficulties in using the product.

The company website will also be checked in this manner. The amount of time taken to do this will vary depending on the product.

Customer Complaints

This is one way of obtaining data that will give you an idea of the problem area, but it will not necessarily be qualitative. The cost involved is low. The complaints have to be monitored and tabulated as they come in, providing a general idea of the situation.

One or a combination of these techniques can be used to listen to the customer and collect information that is necessary for any Six Sigma project to succeed.
About the Author
Tony Jacowski is a quality analyst for The MBA Journal. Aveta Solution's Six Sigma Online offers online six sigma training and certification classes for six sigma professionals including, lean six sigma, black belts, green belts, and yellow belts.
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