In the early 1990's, companies started to listen more systematically to the “voice of the customer” (VOC)* after the quality movement made it clear that companies had room for improvement in this regard. Companies could more precisely identify how to provide the most value by dissecting the customers' voice so that they could hierarchically structure and prioritize their needs. Many companies learned from this exercise and customers benefited.
However, VOC also missed the boat in one major way. The voice of the customer approach assumes that the customer is talking to you. But what if the customer is either unwilling or unable to articulate anything? This is the “silence of the customer” which could be equally if not more important than what customers actually say such as when “96% of customers who are unhappy don't complain.”
Thinking about it, in a B2B context this could also mean that social media listening efforts could be misdirected if listening is limited only to direct customers. Instead of trying to listen to direct customers when they may not have anything to say, companies could be better off holding their ears close to the ground where the customers of the customers interact instead. Why? Well, imagine if we could hear customers' customers concerns. Wouldn't that put us in a better position to also predict what our customers' needs are, articulated or not?
* Abbie Griffin & John R. Hauser (1993), “The Voice of the Customer,” Marketing Science, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1993.