Rebooting Innovation Series, Part 1: Taking a fresh look at your customer

Published: July 28, 2020

The world has been abruptly interrupted. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives from personal to professional. The slowdown of commerce has pushed small-business owners to transform their business models overnight in an attempt to stay afloat amid economic collapse. Most companies have sharpened their focus on the core to ensure business continuity. They have doubled down on implementing virtual workplaces, and safety measures to ensure employee productivity and safety.

While the uncertainty about the future continues to loom, one thing is clear--there is no returning back to old ways again, the normal has been redefined.

In a recent McKinsey survey, more than 90 percent of executives said they expect the fallout from COVID-19 to fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years, with almost as many asserting that the crisis will have a lasting impact on their customers‚ needs. --site source--

Executives have to evaluate what these changing needs are and reprioritize their innovation portfolio. It's time to reboot innovation. Let;s explore a new approach to innovation through this article series, starting with changing the way we look at our customers to discovering new possibilities.

Take a fresh look at your customer:

For a company to innovate, it must create products & services that can help customers perform a job faster, cheaper and easier than before. To achieve this, organizations must understand what the customers are trying to achieve, how are they getting it done today, what pains they endure and how they measure success.

In his book Competing Against Luck, Clayton Christensen writes, after decades of watching great companies fail over and over again, I've come to the conclusion that there is, indeed, a better question to ask: What job did you hire that product to do? When we buy a product, we essentially ‚hire‚ something to get a job done. If it does the job well, when we are confronted with the same job, we hire that same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we ‚fire‚ it and look around for something else we might hire to solve the problem.

Jobs-to-be-done is a powerful framework to understand the real intent behind customers decisions.

A couple of years ago we were helping an insurance company to redefine their claims processes. One of our objective was to improve the productivity of the call centre agents. During our research we realized that the agents capture information on a notepad during the call and transfer the contents into the system post the call. We hypothesized several reasons for the duplication, including cluttered screens with unnecessary fields, several back and forth switching between screens, disparity between the screen flow and the agent's script. And basis those, we designed a few elegant solutions to the problem. When we tested them with the users, each one of them failed to meet the objectives. This was surprising and a bit disappointing. Reevaluating the agent's jobs, we realized we had missed addressing an important one 'help me empathize with the customers'. We realized that most calls the agents receive are from distressed customers who are in some type of trouble--met with an accident, or has had a property damage--and as a rule, the agents always let the customer speak as long as they want to before they interrupt. And since customers spoke in no particular order, the agents took diligent notes on the notepad to ensure they capture all the information shared. This revelation made us realize that we were focusing on the wrong thing. We then shifted our focus from tying to improving the system interface to making a better notepad. And the users loved the concept in the very first iteration.

Jobs aren't just functional, they have social and emotional dimensions too. Social jobs are related to how customers want to be perceived by others in their social groups. For example, for a call centre agent, one of the social jobs was 'To be the best operator in the group' and emotional jobs are related what the customer wants to feels in a given context. For example, the agent wants to 'feel knowledgable about the customer'.

Identifying the customers jobs and understanding the struggles in getting their job done can help us know them better and can lead to profitable innovations.

How to begin?

  • Form groups with diverse expertise, which includes representation from product teams, customer service, frontline staff and sales; brainstorm and define the customer profiles based on your as-is understanding.
  • Use Jobs-to-be-done framework to understand the customers functional, emotional and social jobs. Understand the current barriers and pains customers have in getting their job done. (Source here)
  • Clearly capture the desired outcomes. For example in an account opening processEvaluate those jobs in both pre-covid and post-covid context.
  • Don't fall into the trap of 'we know the customer' because the survey said so approach. Instead look into the primary research material, analyze existing data and review customer issue catalogue to understand the different customer needs.

What to watch out for?

  • Gaining deep understanding of customer needs requires an in depth analysis. it may be prudent to start with 'what we know' to kick-start and then initiate an in depth research.
  • Don't fall into the trap of 'we know the customer' because the survey said so approach. Instead look into the primary research material, analyze existing data and review customer issue catalogue to understand the different customer needs.
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