“What” is Good, but “Why” is Better

One of the biggest, and most common mistakes made when designing or improving a product is simply asking the customer what they want or need. All to often, anecdotes from customer interactions and poorly designed customer surveys weigh heavily on product decisions. Customers are asked which features are most/least important, how often they use the product, how big “X” should be, etc. This is a very product-centric approach and not the best way of determining where value exists (or can exist) in your product. This is not a good recipe for innovation.

The reason the product-centric approach is flawed is that it doesn’t dig deep enough. Knowing that feature X is the most important feature is good, but knowing why it is most important is so much better. A customer-centric approach to product development attempts to answer the why instead of the what. This is a much better recipe for innovation.

There are many things to consider and understand in order to really hone in on customer needs. Following is a short list of best-practices that will get you started in thinking about your product through a customer-centric lens.

  1. Understand how your customer measures success. Particularly for a B2B product, understanding how your customer is measured in their job can be very helpful in understanding how your product might add value to their day-to-day.
  2. Identify your customer’s pain points. What do they wish they could do faster, more accurately, less expensively, etc.? How can your product help?
  3. Know what your customer values. Prestige? Safety? Convenience? Experience? How does your product align with your customers values?
  4. Create customer personas. Use the above information to create a sketch of your customers. As you identify meaningful distinctions, create segments. You should be able to draw direct lines from product features to benefits for your customer. Click here to learn more about personas.
  5. Beware of prescriptions. When you interact with your sales team, leadership, or directly with customers, you will inevitably be given a list of desired features. Do not take these prescriptions at face value. Rather, use them as an opportunity to dig deeper. Try and determine the “why” behind the request.
  6. That “yellow button” is being suggested for a reason… What is it? What is the problem? Is a yellow button the best solution? Probably not, but if you understand the problem behind the yellow button request, you have what you need to create whatever the best solution might be.

Real innovation is only possible when you truly understand your customers’ needs and develop your product accordingly. Think about the products you value most. What needs are being met for you? What did the designer know about you that led them to the product decisions that they made?

If you feel like you could do a better job understanding customer needs (we all can), I encourage you to head over to our good friends at Google and search customer needs identification. This will expose you to different theories, books, articles and blog posts on the topic. Read as much as you can and apply whatever makes sense for you and your business. Don’t allow perfection to be the enemy of progress. Start somewhere, make your mistakes and learn from them. Knowing your customer is a never ending adventure so you have plenty of time to get it right.