Strategyn

Giving Customers A Fair Hearing

Clearly define your customer needs And watch your innovation efforts succeed
MIT SloanIs there agreement in your company that innovation is the key to growth? Is there agreement that understanding customer needs is the key to success in innovation? Is there agreement on what a customer need is? Strategyn has posed these questions to people in hundreds of companies, and in doing so has made a surprising discovery. Even though there is broad agreement that innovation is the key to growth and that understanding customer needs is the key to innovation, not even five percent of the companies said there was agreement within their firm as to what a customer need is. This raises a very disconcerting question: How can a company confidently identify customer needs, determine which are unmet and systematically create products that address them if it cannot agree on what a customer need is? The answer is: it can’t. This is a root cause of failure in the innovation process. In the provocative article, Giving Customers a Fair Hearing, Tony Ulwick reveals for the first time how a “customer need” must be defined to become a useful input into the innovation process. The article refutes much of the existing Voice of the Customer theory and introduces timeless standards for identifying customer needs using the jobs-to-be-done innovation theory.Eager to grow through innovation, companies are looking to customers to guide them toward unmet needs. But these entities often end up with vague, unusable — or even misleading — customer input. Why? Ulwick says that companies often think that customers do not know, or cannot effectively communicate, their actual needs and requirements. But the truth is that customers know and can communicate their needs perfectly well.

Citing 20 years experience in working and refining the jobs-to-be done theory, the author demonstrates how companies are able to get the customer inputs that are required to succeed at innovation. In Giving Customers a Fair Hearing, Ulwick introduces a set of rules that define the purpose, structure, content, and format of a customer needs statement, transforming the art of requirements gathering (and hence innovation) into a rules-based discipline.

Go to MIT Sloan Management Review to download.