How to identify unmet needs of the customers?


Innovation thrives on a deep understanding of the customer’s unmet needs. Imagine this: your customers are not just purchasing your products; they are essentially ‘hiring’ them to fulfill a certain ‘job‘ or goal. This paradigm shift in thinking comes from the Jobs Theory, and it’s crucial for innovators like us who are continuously seeking ways to serve our customers better. So, how do we zero in on these unmet needs? Let’s deconstruct the process into actionable insights to learn how to identify unmet needs of the customer.

1. Understand the Customer’s Job-to-be-Done:

Firstly, recognize that every customer has a ‘job’ – a goal independent of your product. For instance, if the ‘job’ is to get to a destination on time, your product is the tool they ‘hire’ to accomplish this.

2. Dissect the Needs into Actions and Variables:

Each need consists of an action and a variable, both measurable in terms of speed and accuracy. When existing products are slow or inaccurate in facilitating these actions, a customer need is unmet.

Let’s dissect the concept that each customer need consists of an action and a variable, with both measurable in terms of speed and accuracy.

Action and Variable: The Fundamental Components of a Need

When we talk about a need in the context of a product or service, we’re referring to a requirement that is essential for achieving a particular outcome. This need can be broken down into two key components:

  • Action: The specific task or activity that the customer must perform.
  • Variable: The element or aspect that the customer must manage or manipulate to complete the action.

Measuring in Terms of Speed and Accuracy

  • Speed: Refers to how quickly the action can be completed using the product.
  • Accuracy: Refers to how precisely the variable can be controlled or predicted to ensure the desired outcome.

When a product doesn’t allow for the action to be completed swiftly or the variable to be managed precisely, we identify this as an unmet need.

Example: Online Shopping for Clothing

Imagine a customer shopping online for a custom-fitted shirt, which represents the ‘job’ to be done.

  • Action: The action here is the process of entering measurements to ensure a perfect fit.
  • Variable: The variable is the actual measurements themselves, which the customer must provide accurately.

In a scenario where the customer enters their measurements into an online form (the action), they expect this process to be quick (speed) and the measurements they enter to be translated accurately into the final product (accuracy).

Unmet Need due to Slowness:

If the website is slow, buggy, or cumbersome, requiring the customer to navigate through several pages just to enter their measurements, the speed is compromised. The customer feels frustrated by the time taken to perform a seemingly simple task.

Unmet Need due to Inaccuracy:

On the other hand, if the website’s interface for entering measurements is confusing, leading to potential mistakes in measurement entry (the variable), the accuracy is compromised. Even if the customer can enter measurements quickly, inaccuracies might result in a poorly fitting shirt, defeating the purpose of the action.

Innovation through Addressing Unmet Needs:

If a new online clothing retailer designs an innovative interface that simplifies the measurement entry process (improving speed) and provides an augmented reality tool to automatically measure the customer with their webcam (enhancing accuracy), they’ve successfully identified and addressed an unmet need.

By doing so, the new retailer offers a superior solution compared to the competition. Customers are likely to prefer this new, efficient, and accurate method, thereby ‘hiring’ this retailer’s product to fulfill their job-to-be-done.

Identifying and addressing these unmet needs are at the heart of innovation. Products that can transform a slow, inaccurate action-variable dynamic into a swift and precise experience have the potential to disrupt markets and become the new standard.

3. Measure Speed and Accuracy:

To evaluate how well needs are being met, we measure the speed at which the product allows the customer to perform an action and the accuracy of the variable involved. Slow and inaccurate equates to unmet needs.

Consider the task of planning a route with multiple stops. If a user struggles with finding the optimal sequence of stops due to slow and cumbersome apps, this signals an unmet need.

4. Conduct Customer Effort Surveys:

To gauge this, use customer effort surveys. Ask your customers how difficult it is to complete the ‘job’. The percentage of customers who report difficulty equates to the customer effort score. A high score here is a beacon highlighting an unmet need.

5. Translate Customer Effort into Product Roadmap:

Analyze the survey data to understand the perceived effort. The higher the effort, the higher the probability that a customer will switch to a product that makes their ‘job’ easier. This insight should guide your product roadmap.

6. Prioritize Based on Customer Effort Score:

Use the customer effort score to prioritize features in your product roadmap. Features that reduce customer effort the most should be at the top.

7. Build a Feature Thesis:

Once you’ve identified and prioritized the unmet needs, formulate a feature thesis for your product roadmap. This is a hypothesis on how a particular feature will make the customer’s job faster and more accurate.

The underlying beauty of this approach is historical evidence; products that enable customers to achieve their goals faster and more accurately have consistently outperformed slower, less accurate alternatives. This is not just a theory; it’s a proven pathway to innovation. By meticulously identifying the unmet needs and aligning your product roadmap to address these, you can significantly increase the chances of your product being ‘hired’ by the customer.