Customer insight: from customer-oriented to task-oriented!

In the factory we make cosmetics,
in the store we sell hope.

–– Charles Revson: founder of Revlon.

It starts with letting go of the belief that your customer is even remotely interested in the features of your product or service. Your product or service gains value only when it adds something to the potential customer's life. To do this, you must fully understand the customer. But what exactly is a customer insight? A customer insight describes a customer's dilemma or unmet (latent) need. Wikipedia defines it as follows: 'Customer insight is the collection, use and translation of information that enables a company to acquire, develop and retain customers.' A customer insight reveals what customers really want and provides organizations with opportunities to increase their competitive advantage.

Customers don't know what they want

But weren't it two successful marketing mastodons who didn't believe in market research? Both Henry Ford and Steve Jobs believed that the search for truly innovative ideas should not come from the customer. For example, Ford proclaimed, “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said: faster horses.” In the same tradition stands Steve Jobs when he said “often people don't know what they want until you show them.” With that, it seems like Ford or Jobs were against market research. But they were precisely not! What they meant to say is that while people know what direction they want to go in, they are unable to come up with the concrete solution. 

Don't ask customers for solutions
During my brainstorming sessions, a fun warm-up is to ask participants what the world will look like in 30 years. After some prompting, participants describe a world as it will look in two to five years. People simply aren't capable of seeing over a thirty-year horizon. Our imagination builds on our existing knowledge and references. 

This was also true in the early twentieth century. If Henry Ford asked his contemporaries what they wanted, few would have answered “an automobile. Simply because it was outside most people's frame of reference. But if he had asked about people's problems and needs, he would have received answers along the lines of, 'my horse needs to rest often' or 'my horse needs regular drinking and feeding' and answers such as 'fast, cheap, be able to ride in the dark, comfortable, freedom, reliable'. 

Jobs to be Done (JTBD): start with customer insights
A customer insight reveals what customers really want. Insight into the “why” behind the “what. That you gain insight into the tasks people want done. With Jobs to be Done, it is easy to describe a proper formulation of a customer insight. The formulation always consists of: 

When (situation) _________ then I want (motivation) _________ so I (desired result)___________ but currently (perceived barriers) __________!

With the Jobs-to-be-done approach, formulating an innovative customer insight is a piece of cake. For example, using this approach led to the following customer insight for Philips' Wake-up light:

When: In the fall and winter months and the mornings are cold and dark I wake up feeling like it's the middle of the night.
Then I want to: get up well and on time  
So that I can: get to work with lots of energy in the winter months.
But right now: I feel tired when I get up and have little energy. I “snooze” in the morning and stay dozing for almost an hour after my alarm goes off. Too often I go to bed too late at night

Another example for Apple's iWatch and iMusic might look like this:

When: I am running.
Then I want to: listen to music  
So that I: automatically keep running at the right pace through the rhythm of the music.
But right now: I can't find the right running music. In addition, wearing my iPhone 12 Max is very uncomfortable. Too often I skip my running workout and therefore do not follow my schedule. 

Additional explanation of Jobs to be Done (JTBD).
“Help me brush my teeth in the morning” is not a good example of a Jobs to Be Done. “Help me brush my teeth in the morning” leans too heavily on an existing solution (a toothbrush) and causes you to think limitedly about new possibilities. You then continue to think in existing solutions, that of toothbrushes. This may improve your products but it will not lead to disruptive new products and services.

“Keep my teeth healthy.” This is a better example of a Job to Be Done because it is separate from a solution and deals with the customer's true motivation. You start looking for a solution around “Keep my teeth healthy.” You broaden your horizons and in doing so, you create many more new solution directions.

Ruud Olijve

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