How To Identify Your Customer's Needs

Knowledge / Inspiration

How To Identify Your Customer's Needs

Product Direction
UXDX Europe 2019

Companies have historically used a list of customer needs to describe what customers want. But is that the best way to describe what customers value in a product? Are there different types of value that consumers experience and desire? How do we discover, describe, and design for these different types of value? How can we use these insights to create growth for the business?

Today, I've been asked to come here and talk about customer needs, consumer needs, demand, all that good stuff. This is a topic I love talking about with others because it involves so many other exciting fields of study that I also like to investigate,. Fields like Psychology, Cybernetics, Complexity systems, and so on. All these kind of contribute, I believe, to a really important understanding of what motivates people to go out and adopt and use products.

Now I've got really good news, everybody. That is, the answer to “What customers want?”, “How do we think about needs?”, “How do we communicate those needs?”. It's very simple. It comes down to two things. On one hand, you've got the environments that people want to create and maintain for themselves. And on the other hand, you've got constraints, things that get in the way and block and make it hard for people to create and maintain these environments that they want to have for themselves. And when those two collide and come together, it creates this emergent phenomenon of needs.

So to give you an idea, I want to visualize this in my mind, this is how I think about it. You've got a Desired environment, that we want to create for ourselves, then our Situated constraints and they clash together, smash and then the output needs and of course other behavior. You know, shopping, looking for something different, maybe reinvention. Well, I need something so I'm gonna mess around with what I have and maybe try to tweak it a little bit. And so this is how I think about, how needs are created and how we should think about it and communicate with others.

Now, I think, for most people, the idea of situated constraints, I mean that's pretty straightforward. Constraints are just things that get in our way right. Where maybe people are not so familiar with is the idea of environments. So that's what I'm gonna kind of start off with today and spend most of my time today talking about environments. Like what does that mean when consumers are aspiring to create and maintain certain environments for themselves? And how is this different from outcomes? And what's the relationship between outcomes and environments?

I believe the story of environments is very fascinating, actually. A place that I like to begin is with Singer. Singer was a philosopher of science who lived in the late 19th century, early 20th century, and he did something quite revolutionary. Actually, it was revolutionary. He changed science forever. See up until this point, when he started writing in the 1890s, science was done, it was approached in a very, they call it billiard ball cause and effect. Meaning like if I'm holding the pool stick and I hit it, it hits the cue ball, which hits the three-ball, which goes into the pocket. It's a very simple cause and effect. This is how science was done for hundreds of hundred years right or thought about, but he proved that's not how the world works.

Now he did this actually through a long, complicated proof which I'm not going to go through today. Right, I doubt anyone here wants me to go through ten minutes of a mathematical proof, so I'll give you the illustrated version of what he showed. It goes like this: if I plant an acorn in the ground, is the outcome an oak? Now some you might be thinking it is probably a trick question, so I'll make it easier. If I plant an acorn in the ground, will that cause an oak or if I plant acorn in the Sahara Desert will that create an oak? How about, if I do it at the bottom of the ocean or on an iceberg. Will those actions that I do create the outcome of oak? Now, intuitively, we all know, of course not. Why not?

Well, it's because actually planting an acorn in the ground is not enough. You actually need an environment of things working together in order to grow that oak and allow it to flourish. Things like nutrients in the soil, the moisture content in the soil, humidity in the air, sunlight, not too much, not too little. All those things must work together to create that oak. So that's the first thing that Singer pointed out. The second thing he illustrated is that, well, now that we've moved away from cause and effect to environments producing outcomes, then you can't really give fault or blame to any one particular contributor to those outcomes. For example, suppose I plant an acorn in the ground and it becomes an oak. Can I take credit for that? Can I say I made that oak tree? of course not. But the inverse is true as well? If I plant corn and it doesn't create an oak is it my fault? Those are two things that have a really huge impact on how people thought about the world and understood the world right. You need environments of things all working together to produce outcomes, but also that if you do or don't get a certain outcome, you can't really blame or give credit to one particular factor.

So this idea of environments caught on and the next person to introduce its thinking was Walter Shewhart.He was a mathematician working at Bell Labs and he thought about okay, thinking environments, and so he brought that thinking to manufacturing and he also revolutionized manufacturing. Talk to anyone who's familiar with quality control or running plants, and you know they probably may not remember Shewhart with a big “oh yeah. I was supposed to study that guy at some point in school”. So how did he revolutionize manufacturing? He did it by introducing this. This is the control chart. What this is describing is the environment of the manufacturing process and its sampling important variables of that manufacturing process to ty to figure out which things are out of scope and which things are in scope. But also things like trends that are telling us, maybe something is wrong: something's off. Because Shewhart from Singer recognized that you know focusing on the outputs and the outcomes of our manufacturing processes: Well, that's too late! You know, you've already made the product, and so, if it's no good, it's too late, It's difficult to figure out what the problem is because then you have to work backwards and figure it out. Why were this lot of telephones no good? That's maybe a little hard to figure out. So, instead, if you want to get the outcomes and outputs that you want, you have to create and facilitate an environment and monitor that continuously, So that's Shewhart.

Now next, Deming, So, Deming then also took Shewhart’s ideas and Singers ideas. So also Deming was a protege, I guess you would say, of Shewhart, they work together. Deming applied this idea of environments to management. Right, so I think this quote illustrates Deming quite well. We should work on our process, not the outcomes of our processes. The same thing. Focus on the environment and the certain processes in that environment and then, if you take care of that, you'll get the outcomes you want.

Alright, so I've been going on for 10 minutes. Some of you may be thinking “thanks for the history lesson, allvery fascinating. Thank you. But what's that to do with customer needs, to design? How is it relevant to my work? Well, I would argue that this is immeasurably relevant and important to your work. And actually I have been talking about needs all this time. So I’ll bring it back to this.

Have any of you seen something like this before? Ok, that's awesome hands going up. Actually, let me change that question. You have seen this before. Does anyone know what that is? Customer journey maps. See what we're describing here is a manufacturing environment and sampling that over time and testing for certain variables. OK are they in scope, out of scope? The same thing for acustomer journey map. You're describing an environment for which a consumer is interacting with a brand or product, continuously sampling that experience, those important variables and seeing are in scope or out of scope. This is very helpful to figuring out where are they running into problems, are they unhappy? Where are huge swings in the experience? And again, the same thing, instead of just waiting for the customer to… So similar here, right, the reason why this was so useful to manufacturers was that they could anticipate problems. They could say okay, here on August 18th, between this month, right April, and May we had this time where the manufacturing process was acting really odd. They can anticipate that the outputs of whatever widgets they're making are going to have defects so the same thing here. You can get ahead of the customer and think they're having a bad experience here even before they leave your product or they start complaining. You can anticipate that they're probably going to complain or be unhappy about this. So that's at a high level, the idea of environments. Now I want to go a little deeper into it. “Environments vs. Outcomes”

So I'm going to use the Brexit example when describing outcomes and also comparing that with environments. So I don't have to explain this, I mean the American doesn’t need to come here and explain Brexit to you all, but it's basically, if I could just kind of reduce it down, so you've got the referendum and the vote of voters. So if you almost can think about is voters like the users and the referendum is the product say, for example, or the brand interaction, right, came together on a certain day, cast their vote and then you had basically two outcomes of that, possible outcomes of it “Brexit passes and Brexit fails”.

And, of course, we all know what the outcome of that was. Now, I want to describe some important characteristics of outcomes, so I'm gonna call them for a group of people right, Brexit passing, right. That was an outcome goal for them right. Why are you showing up to the poll and why are you casting your vote? Well, I want Brexit to pass, for example, important characteristics of that, I believe are: notice it's an output of a specific interaction, all right, so there's a referendum and users and you could say: okay, they're, coming together at a certain time and date and that's the interaction and then there's a particular outcome of that.

Also notice how there's a clear start and end of that interaction right. So Brexit passing mattered only for that one particular day, you could argue, maybe people were anticipating it and was important before then, but really mattered on that day and then afterwards it didn't really matter so much if one vote, one way or the other for a group of people because it already happened, so that's the outcome goals.

Now does this really describe, though, what these people wanted? I mean you could argue yeah. Well, they wanted the referendum in the past and they wanted the UK to leave the EU. That's what they wanted. But is that really you know what they wanted? Well, luckily, we know people have gone out and asked them. Well, why did you want the referendum to pass? And two of the big reasons they said were “decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK” and also “the UK has control over immigration in its own borders”. These are a little different, I think. The outputs of a specific interaction or is there a really clear, defined start and end. Well, you know immigration control matters on Monday, but not on Tuesday, and then maybe it matters again on Friday. I don't think so. I think, and I consider these environmental goals, so using control over immigration as an example, let's kind of unpack some of these characteristics of an environmental goa. So it's describing an attribute of a state, meaning that, as long as it's important for me to have a particular vision of how I think the UK should be, control over immigration is gonna be irrelevant to me. So it's describing an attribute of the state as long as that state is important to me, that goal is also going to be important as well. The other thing, there's no defined start and end, as I mentioned before, it's not like control over immigration matters on Monday and Tuesday, but not the day of the week, and I like to visualize it this way, in my mind. Think about a kind of barbell for outcome goals. Well, here's where it matters! Here's where it doesn’t matters, here's what does it matter. Whereas environmental goals it's this process, it's always going. It's always relevant to me all right.

So I'm going to argue or make the case that consumers really want the environment and not the outcomes. Now, I'm, generally speaking, I'm not going to say outcomes are never important so on and so forth, but they're intermediary goals. And that really what they're aspiring for is certain environments - and so I'm gonna prove that.

This was a research project done a couple of years ago with Arlo. The story here is Arlo has established itself as a number one brand product for the consumer home security market. In fact, they probably kind of created that market. And as often happens right when someone creates a market as very lucrative and grows, it tracks competition. So they reached out to us and they said: We have to grow our product or to get more people to buy it, we also want to you know, stimulate innovation. How can we find more growth opportunities for us and also, how can we fight against the competition to help us stay ahead of our competitors who we know are going to come in and do their best to steal our customers? So thats what we did. My team and I went in and we started talking to people who had recently purchased these Arlo cameras and at first, the Arlo team was a little confused by what we were doing because we weren't asking about the product at all. I mean a little bit, you know, but most of the conversation was about other stuff.

You know teh Arlo team was: okay, how easy was it to set up? Ask him what it was like to set it up. You know the picture quality, you know to ask him what they want the picture quality and like what's supposed to show and not supposed to show things of that nature, but that's not what we talked about. We sort of asked them questions like, before you were using the Arlo camera, What else were you using? What did the Arlo camera have in place for you - and this is a magic question, now that you have the Arlo camera, what can you do now that you couldn't do before? How has your environment changed? This is also another great question to ask your customers to really get at what they're trying to get to, and that's saying, okay, compare you with the Arlo camera of today and how you were three months ago when you didn't have it, let's compare and contrast those.

As we asked these questions more and more, the Arlo team started to get it, started understanding that what we were driving at was what was the environment that these consumers are trying to create and maintain for themselves. A and so we came across two types of them, actually, multiple environments, but for this talk, I'll keep the two. So one environment that we call “Protect and Defend” and the other environment we'll call “Care and Aware”. So some attributes of protect and defend things like “I can work with my neighbor's to fight crime”, “I know who is in and around my house”, “criminals don't see my house as a target”. So that's things of that nature describe the environment of what it feels like the experience of protecting and defending my home. What about Care & Aware, were things like? We heard things like well now that I have this camera. I can keep an eye on my kids while I'm away. I know that they're, okay, some people talked about being really excited about knowing what kind of wildlife was on their property. A lot of people we talked with lived in the Midwest of the United States, and so they loved seeing turkeys and deer and things of you know other little wildlife creatures kind of roaming around their property.

Another thing is well, I want to always know about gas or heat or water problems going on. So if it's a gas leak, I want to know about it right away. If someone left a window open and that's causing the air conditioner to work, overtime, use up lots of energy, temperature drop problem, I want to know about that. And then another one which I really liked was “I want my home to welcome me when I arrive”. So these were the characteristics of this environment that they were hoping to experience and create the main theme for themselves.

So, armed with this new thinking, they made some improvements to the camera, but they were now able to abstract and think about opportunities outside of just their camera. So like, for example, they started creating multi-sensors that you could just pop around your house. That you could have it, check for moisture, water leaks, gas, carbon monoxide, temperature, light, motion, things of that nature. Then they also thought about, okay, now, how can we adjust or make changes to the app. For example, here is one really important change that they made. The old way as they always, people would complain about getting all these notifications like every time the camera would see motion, you know it would pop up, a motion detected. What do you want to do about it or anything? I guess nothing and then people would complain about it - too many notifications and so the team thought. Okay, well, we'll just there's a sensitivity to what they have. So you know that's how they control the number of notifications, but once they recognized that it was about a particular environment, they could actually create more meaningful push notifications.

So they did something really cool which matched it, for example, with facial recognition. So instead of saying motion at the front door and then like oh, what is that? Okay, not important, they would say the mailman just came or not, or you could say, Michael just got home or just left, like your son or some other things like an unrecognized person has been detected. So now you create more meaningful push notifications to people and also, you do not directly respond to their complaints about too many notifications. So that was one really big change in the Arlo app.

Another thing right: the Arlo remote which I thought was great. Again tying it back to the experience of whenever I come home, I want my home to welcome me. And so they came up with this thing where you can actually pre-program certain welcome home sequences, I like to have the driveway light up and the certain things you know front door and so on and so forth. But also, you know, we heard stories about well, I also, when I come home, you know, if there are any bad guys in there, I want them to be frightened away. So that's why they kind of have security options here too. So it's kind of dual-purpose: welcomes me home, scares people away inside. But if that person is still inside, I can hit the warning button and call the police. And then another thing here is the are low siren,strobe-light right, if it's an unrecognized face, the bad guy seen, shine a spotlight on them make sure they've been seen, but also a red strobe light, you know, to notify the neighbors. Okay, so this is kind of also touching on that goal of helping me work with my neighbors to fight crime. So this is kind of one way of notifying the neighbors. “Hey, there's something going on here. Please respond”. The way I like to think about this as a experienced designer, think about not just your product itself, but how you know, how might we create a constellation of products and services that work together as a system to create and maintain environments that consumers are hoping to have.

So, as I wind down here, are some do's and don'ts that I I want to kind of leave you all with. Don't think of outcomes as what customers want. I'm speaking generally, yes, I'm not saying outcomes aren’t important, but I probably should say only don't think of outcomes only as what customers want. Rather think about environments, that's really what they want to get to, and these outcomes are really meant to help to create and maintain those environments. Another big, don't, I believe, is study consumers in their current environments only. Instead, I recommend, study the environments that consumers aspire to create and maintain for themselves. I'm gonna call it an environmental experience, EX, maybe they'll catch on who knows.

So again, I'm not a huge fan of the ethnography methodology and contextual, like embedded, contextual design or research. I think that's good for usability and kind of like finding, you know issues with your current product. But I think if you want to really, you know, figure out what kind of environments that they aspire to you, you have to talk to them about that. It's a different type of research. Don't again, don't think of yourself as a problem solver only. Again think of yourself as a gardener. Again think back to what Shewhartt was doing with his control chart and the same thing for the customer journey map.

You're not really being a problem solver in a sense of, ok here we've identified a problem, now, let's go find the cause of it and solve it. Again that's the Billiard Ball cause and effect model. That's gonna be very difficult to figure out. Instead, like what does a gardener do? Right is a gardener really a problem solver or is she someone who has an idea in their mind of a kind of garden they want to design for themselves and them to figure out what do I need to do to make sure this garden is, is thriving right? What kind of soil content needs to be just right, the sunlight you know so and so forth. You know she doesn't wait until the tomato plant dies before recognizing it needs more sunlight, she's, looking at the sunlight, figuring out, okay, how much more or less do we need to add and then adjusting like that?

Alright, so that's all I have.
Thank you.