Discover the synergy between customer perceptions, Voice of the Customer (VoC), and Quality Function Deployment (QFD) as underpinned by the timeless PDCA cycle. Dive deep into how ISO 9001:2015 places the customer at the heart of quality management and how modern businesses can harness these principles for continual improvement, agility, and sustained success. From understanding the nuances of capturing VoC to translating it effectively into product features via QFD, this article showcases the importance of an iterative approach to stay attuned to evolving customer expectations.

VoC: to Understand How to Capture Customer Perceptions, You Need to First Understand Why They Matter

Quality management is a multifaceted discipline, but at its core lies a simple principle: understanding and meeting customer needs. Whether it’s through evaluating customer perceptions, listening to the Voice of the Customer (VoC), or utilizing Quality Function Deployment (QFD), businesses strive to align their offerings with customer desires. Yet, the process of understanding, implementing, and revising strategies based on feedback can be made even more efficient when seen through the lens of the PDCA cycle.

What Does ISO 9001:2015 Say About Customer Satisfaction and Customers’ Perception of the Quality of Provided Products and Services?

ISO 9001, with customer focus being the first of seven quality management principles that are the standard’s foundation, includes several requirements regarding how firms are to collect and utilize customer feedback to ensure that they consistently provide products and services that meet customer requirements and that they are continually working to enhance customer satisfaction – customer feedback is one of the primary performance indicators used  to judge the overall effectiveness of a quality management system.

Clause 8.2.1 of the standard requires the following: “Communication with customers shall include (…) obtaining customer feedback relating to products and services, including customer complaints.”

Clause 9.1.2 of ISO 9001 states: “The organization shall monitor customers’ perceptions of the degree to which their needs and expectations have been fulfilled [emphasis ours]. The organization shall determine the methods for obtaining, monitoring and reviewing this information.”

It is important for both firms and their auditors to recognize that there is no specific requirement in ISO 9001 for the organization to perform formal customer satisfaction surveys, although they are referred to in the notes accompanying 9.1.2 and are commonly used with varying degrees of utility.  It is therefore important that the organization understands that they need to see things from the customer’s perspective and monitor the customer’s perceptions – measurement of customer satisfaction may be appropriate in some situations, but it is monitoring of the customers’ perceptions that is a direct requirement here.

Customer Feedback as a QMS Process

An IAF from the ISO 9001 Auditing Practices Group suggests that customer feedback must be considered as a process of the QMS and not simply looked at as a clause from the standard.  Firms need to think about how they manage their processes for collecting customer feedback, how it is analyzed and interpreted, and whether the process produces information that can be utilized to understand customers’ perceptions of the quality of products and services offered and the overall effectiveness of the quality system – but all the methods for collecting this information are left up to the organization.

To be able to define customer feedback as a process, firms should ask questions like:

  • What are the desired outputs of my customer feedback process?
  • What information is actually available regarding my customers’ perceptions (reviews from consumer websites, articles in media, survey responses, etc.)?
  • How do I collect data (face-to-face, telephone calls, visits, questionnaires, etc.)?
  • How reliable is the data that we have?
  • Have I considered all types of customers (distributors, wholesalers, end users, etc.)?
  • Are there trends in the data?  Does data indicate that customers’ needs and expectations are changing?

How is this information utilized to improve products, processes, services, the overall quality system, and customer satisfaction?

Quality Function Deployment (QFD):

Definition: QFD, often referred to as customer-driven engineering, is a systematic process for translating customer requirements (Voice of the Customer or VoC) into corresponding technical requirements for each stage of product development and production. Essentially, it’s a “quality system” for ensuring that the end product meets the needs and wants of the customer. Many industries might take more modern approaches and build these often-implicit requirements into a DFMEA, input/output matrices, or other design and development methodologies to ensure that they are considered in improved and future product designs.

History of QFD:

  • Originated in Japan in the late 1960s.
  • Initially developed to improve the quality of goods in the shipbuilding industry.
  • Introduced to the U.S. in the early 1980s.
  • Adopted across various industries globally due to its effectiveness in driving customer-focused product development.

Relationship with VoC:

  • Starting Point: The VoC is the starting point for QFD. It provides the raw data about what customers want and need.
  • Translation: QFD takes this raw data and translates it into specific product features, manufacturing processes, and performance measures. It essentially acts as a bridge between customer needs and the technical teams responsible for creating the product.
  • Hierarchy of Needs: QFD not only identifies the needs but also prioritizes them, ensuring that the most critical customer requirements are addressed first.

The House of Quality: One of the primary tools used in QFD is the “House of Quality”. It’s a matrix that connects customer requirements to product features. While this methodology is not as widely used today as it was when it was introduced, the “House of Quality” still serves as a great input for DFMEA, input/output matrices, or other design and development methodologies.

  • Customer Requirements (Whats): Listed on the left side of the matrix.
  • Technical Descriptors (Hows): Listed across the top.
  • Roof of the House: Represents the interrelationship between different technical descriptors.
  • Body of the House: Contains correlations between customer requirements and technical descriptors.

Benefits of QFD:

  • Focused Development: Ensures that product development efforts are directly aligned with customer needs.
  • Resource Optimization: By prioritizing features based on customer needs, companies can allocate resources more effectively.
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: QFD requires input from various departments, leading to better internal communication and teamwork.
  • Reduced Time to Market: By ensuring that the product development team is working on the right features from the outset, QFD can lead to faster product launches.


  • Complexity: Especially in large projects, the House of Quality can become complex and unwieldy.
  • Time-Consuming: The QFD process, if not managed properly, can become lengthy.
  • Dynamic Customer Needs: Like with VoC, customer needs can change, requiring regular updates to QFD matrices.

QFD provides a structured methodology for ensuring that the voice of the customer is translated into tangible product features and attributes. By connecting the needs of the customer directly with the development and production process, QFD ensures that companies create products that truly resonate with their target audience. In today’s highly competitive market, tools like QFD that prioritize the customer are invaluable.

PDCA – The Heartbeat of Continuous Improvement

The PDCA cycle, also known as the Deming Cycle, traces its origins back to Dr. Walter Shewhart, a pioneering statistician often considered the father of statistical quality control. However, it was Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a key figure in the post-WWII Japanese economic revival, who popularized the cycle and emphasized its continual feedback loop nature (we’ll leave readers to argue the semantics as to whether Deming would continue to vie for an S instead of a C). This iterative four-step management method is designed for the continuous improvement of processes and products.

  1. Plan: Identify a problem and develop a strategy.
  2. Do: Implement the proposed strategy on a small scale.
  3. Check: Evaluate the results and compare against expected outcomes.
  4. Act: Adjust and refine the strategy based on findings.

Today, PDCA remains a cornerstone methodology in quality management and lean manufacturing. Its simplistic yet powerful approach allows organizations to systematically test hypotheses, adapt to new insights, and refine processes in almost any context, from product development to service delivery and operational workflows.

Bridging PDCA with Customer Perceptions, VoC, and QFD

  • Plan:
    • Understand customer perceptions using tools like surveys or feedback platforms.
    • Capture the Voice of the Customer to define their needs and desires.
    • Use QFD to translate VoC into technical requirements for product development.
  • Do:
    • Develop or modify products/services based on the actionable insights derived from QFD.
    • Implement strategies for better communication or product enhancement.
  • Check:
    • Evaluate how well the product/service aligns with initial customer perceptions and needs.
    • Monitor customer satisfaction and feedback continuously.
  • Act:
    • Refine strategies based on feedback.
    • Revisit the VoC to detect any shifts in customer needs or perceptions.

The Power of Iteration

The beauty of combining PDCA with customer perceptions, VoC, and QFD is the iterative nature of the approach. Businesses don’t just make a one-time effort but instead commit to a cycle of continual learning and improvement, keeping the customer at the heart of each decision.

For instance, as markets evolve, so do customer expectations. What was a groundbreaking product feature a year ago might be standard today. Employing PDCA ensures that businesses don’t remain stagnant. By regularly revisiting customer perceptions and employing tools like QFD, they can stay agile and responsive.  Understanding how VoC relates to QFD and is facilitated by the PDCA cycle will help firms to better adhere to commitments to customer focus and continual improvement, while becoming more agile and adaptable in the process.

In Conclusion

In today’s rapidly evolving market, relying solely on periodic insights isn’t enough. To truly succeed, businesses must integrate tools like VoC and QFD within the framework of continuous improvement, exemplified by the PDCA cycle. This holistic approach ensures that companies remain in tune with their customers, fostering trust, loyalty, and long-term success.  Our suite of tools are specifically designed to help you capture and manage data from various inputs to make informed decisions, and this includes capturing VoC data through applications such as SurveyQuest and PRRQuest, which can then be analyzed and acted upon to improve products and processes with powerful applications such as FMEAQuest, CIPQuest, MOCQuest, and more.  See our full suite of applications HERE to better understand our full suite of SaaS solutions.  Reach out to request a demo or to trial a set of applications in a no-cost, no-obligation, and no-restriction proof-of-concept (POC).

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