Are you listening to your customers and effectively meeting their needs? Listening can be hard work, so it’s important to use the right tools to get the information you need for innovation. These three methods to determine Voice of Customer have been shown to be effective and efficient.


Ethnography is the study of people (product or service users) in their natural environments. For medical products, this means observing when, where and how people use the medical product. An example would be to follow a critical care bed during the course of a typical day at a hospital. Who is using the care bed, at what times, and how is it being used would be observed to gather information for future product development and/or existing product improvements. Ethnography is useful to discover pain points which lead to innovation opportunities.

Contextual Enquiry

Contextual Enquiry is a specific method of obtaining data by semi-structured questioning of a user in a one-to-one interview and then observing him using the product. Since this method combines a physical aspect and direct enquiry, better quality and more realistic, current level data is gathered than through many traditional market research methods (i.e. survey or focus groups). The aim is to focus on the medical product, ensure the enquiry happens in the right context and location, and discuss the medical product with its intended users and non-users to determine any unknown interactions. The next step is to interpret the data correctly, whilst sharing an understanding of the realistic use of the medical product by its users and non-users.

Usability testing

One way to determine how an existing medical product is being used and to validate users understanding of the device in a controlled research environment is through usability testing. The method involves observing and then questioning how a medical product is used. For example, usability testing may show particular field issues, such as a nurse using a medical device repeatedly in a way which is not as intended. The root cause may be the training program, the medical product itself or the environment that it is used in. Once the root cause is determined, enhancements can be made to the medical product or the systems and environments it is used in.

Depending on your resources, you can choose the single method that resonates best with your company and goals or you can combine methods for a more complete picture.

Unfortunately, all too often, Voice of the Customer is considered to be a luxury and not a necessity. But ignoring VoC means you are likely to fall into the trap of companies whose new products are not truly innovative and are doomed to fail. In fact, more than 75% of new product introductions are failures, and most of these failures are due to poor user input at the start of the project. As more companies internalize these facts, the VoC approach will hopefully become more mainstream. Remember, it never hurts to know what your users think!

Patrick Sirois

At Triode, we specialize in developing new products and services for complex industries like medical devices and transportation. We work with you closely to help define product strategy, with an emphasis on reducing the risks associated with innovating in these sophisticated and often regulated consumer-oriented environments.