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Philips is known and respected around the world for innovation and quality. When tough UK retailers, Argos and Marks and Spencer, challenged the returns rates of kettles, everyone in the business was keen to respond.

Michelle had started a Voice of the Customer programme assessing fan heaters as a Teaching Company Associate and her industrial mentor asked her to move over to kettles.


To improve B2B customer satisfaction by reducing the number of customer returns. Analysing data to build a business case for product modifications for existing products and record ‘best practice’ for future products.


Identification and development of data sources:
– Worked with national and local returns centres to improve data collection
– Set up and managed home use trials
– Visited retailers across the UK to understand their views of the product and reasons for returns
– Visited consumers to see the product in action
– Changed life test practices including the introduction of manual life testing
– Assessed competitor kettles
– Collected production test data
– Work with technical experts e.g. materials and product experts for other product ranges.
Assessment of data
– Adopted ‘the eyes of the customer’
– Introduced the idea that we were selling a cup of tea, not an appliance
– Worked across the business to establish root causes and potential solutions
Introduce modifications to address immediate issues
Build a set of design rules to establish best practice in design


Reduced product returns by 60% saving £600,000 per year over three years. Examples of improvements:

  • In my first week recommended a minor modification that prevented 20% returns and loss of contracts with major UK retailers
  • Recommended a change of colour across the entire family of products (which accounted for approximately half of ‘No Fault Found’ returns)
  • Close collaboration with our element supplier identifying the cause of low life failures and reducing costs for both organisations – Purchasing negotiated a cost reduction for this improvement
  • New operating instructions including product markings
  • Introduced the idea of selling a cup of tea rather than a kettle
  • Brought into new product development meetings to represent the Voice of the Customer
  • Future recommendation – reintroduction of water level indicators (sales improvement not returns prevention)

Awarded an MSc by the University of Brighton for “the improvement of the designed and delivered quality of fast moving consumer goods”.

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Voice Of The Customer Programme – Philips DAP
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