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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")
An example would be an 'exciting quality,' the feature or quality of a good or service that causes a "wow" factor. In addition, what is obvious to customers may not be always apparent to the producer of the product or service. 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."
To learn more about Gemba visits and sound Voice of Customers Analysis, please see the QFD Green Belt® or Contact Us (Tel: +1 734-995-0847).