“Best Practice: Uncovering Unmet Customer Needs” – Anthony Ulwick
Tony Ulwick is the pioneer of jobs-to-be-done theory, the inventor of the Outcome-Driven Innovation® (ODI) process, and the founder of the strategy and innovation consulting firm Strategyn. He is the author of “Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice ” (IDEA BITE PRESS) and numerous articles in Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review.
How can you best capture a solid set of customer needs?
Knowing what a customer need is in different situations and how requirement statements should be structured and formatted is the key to success in innovation. Outcome-driven innovation (ODI) works when applied to product and service innovation as well as design, operational, organizational and business model innovation. The concepts apply equally well in all situations because the job is the same: to figure out what solution best satisfies customers’ unmet needs.
The key to understanding customer interactions is knowing what inputs you are looking for. Companies must decide that the objective is to uncover either what jobs customers are trying to get done or what metrics customers are using to judge the successful execution of a specific job.
Using a mix of personal, ethnographic and group interviews, companies can map all the jobs associated with a given demographic and context. And, with practice, a small team of employees can be relied on to collect customer inputs for multiple areas of the business when the need arises.
To capture desired outcomes, a four-step approach is best.
STEP ONE: JOB MAPPING
conduct personal interviews in order to dissect the job the customer is trying to get done into process steps. We call this process “job mapping.” The job map is created so the company and the interviewer have a clear understanding of what job the customer is trying to get done — from the customer’s perspective. It simplifies the data gathering process immensely if the interviewer knows which process steps to focus on when capturing desired outcomes. Without a job map in hand, even the most experienced interviewer is likely to struggle.
STEP TWO: CONTEXT
conduct one or two ethnographic or observational interviews with customers to gain insight into the context in which the job is getting done. This will help the interviewer be more effective at capturing and refining desired outcome statements in subsequent interviews. These interviews also may be used to better flesh out the job map and begin the outcome gathering effort.
STEP THREE: OUTCOME METRICS
conduct personal, small group or large group interviews to elicit from customers what metrics they use to measure success in executing each step of the job. This is where the bulk of the desired outcome statements are captured.
Group interviews may be mistaken for focus groups, but the goal here is to capture the customers’ desired outcomes — an objective that is foreign in traditional focus groups, which are typically used to test concepts and get general customer feedback. To uncover desired outcomes, companies should first deconstruct the job into discrete steps and then ask, for each step, how performance is measured. Through this methodical line of questioning at each step in the value model, a complete picture emerges of all of the customer’s unique measures of value in getting the job done.
STEP FOUR: FILL IN THE GAPS
conduct interviews to fill in any missing details that remain after completing the first three steps. A company knows that it has uncovered all the customer’s need statements when all attempts to capture outcomes related to speed, predictability and output have been exhausted for each process step in the job map.
The approach used to capture job statements is similar, but capturing job statements does not require the creation of a job map.
Finally, let’s examine how you ask your questions.
If you truly want useful ideas, don’t ask customers for them directly.
Avoid questions like “How would you improve this product?” or “What features would you like to see added to it?”
Instead, ask them about the “job” they use the product to do. Listen closely, and they’ll pinpoint unmet needs, niches awaiting innovation.
What questions will get them talking? Try these:
What makes this job — or parts of it — challenging, inconvenient or frustrating? The response should point you toward pitfalls that you may be able to address by creating a product.
What makes this job time-consuming? What you really want to know is whether a product that speeds up the process would be successful.
What causes this job to go off track? There may be an opportunity to reduce any instability.
What aspects of this job are wasteful? If you can find a way to boost efficiency, your innovation could be a winner.