What about when customers do not know what they want?

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In the previous blog, we discussed how Customer Research, including VoC (Voice of the Customer) can be utilised to understand customers’ opinions and expectations of a proposition; and then how this research can be utilised to transform that product or service. This approach is clearly more likely to lead to the organisation developing something commercially sound and far closer to a customer’s needs. But what about when customers do not know what they want or need?

When customers do not know what they want

This may sound like somewhat of an odd question, however it is nevertheless relevant. When undertaking qualitative research, if you attempt to ascertain a customer’s views on ‘ideal’, they may be able to describe some features of the proposition, or even express their emotions relating to how the proposition might make them ‘feel’. However it can sometimes be difficult for an organisation to translate this information into a ground-breaking product or service. Sometimes a slightly different approach is needed.

None of us knew that we needed a smartphone before they came along, however now we are (nearly) all permanently glued to them. To most of us, It would seem almost inconceivable to attempt to effectively live our lives without one, however ten years ago, smartphones were not even a ‘thing’. (Smartphones were first launched in 1999, however did not achieve global mass adoption until a number of years later). It is highly unlikely that listening to the voice of the customer alone would have brought about something as ground-breaking as the smartphone. VoC looks at measuring reality vs. expectations and is essential to understand the strengths and weaknesses of an existing proposition, but sometimes innovation is needed too.

Innovation

Yet innovation is no guarantee of success. There are always brilliant ideas, however a brilliant idea isn’t always a commercially viable one. And there have been some truly awful ideas as well. We have seen some truly amazing inventors in our time, but even the best have usually experienced some degree of failure.  Sir Clive Sinclair made his millions in entry-level home computing in the early 80s (those of you of my vintage may remember the ZX80 & 81), however within a few years had got it spectacularly wrong with the Sinclair C5.

For all the successes of tech giants Google, they too have had their fair share of failure, including Orkut, Google Buzz and Google Wave. Even their fourth major venture into Social Media, Google Plus, has been largely considered to be a flop. Apple’s Steve Jobs could be argued as having got it right most of the time, hence him being seen as a genius by many people

Research can help us get so far, however innovation is needed to in order to get to the future first. However these examples go to show that innovation alone is not enough. Innovation needs research too, in order to keep it efficient, relevant and on track. Research is still the best way of ensuring that the innovation is tested for the best possible outcomes.

Who knows? If Sir Clive had used some research on the C5, maybe it wouldn’t have seen the light of day, and would have saved him a whole bunch of embarrassment and financial failure…

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for this article. It’s tough to find the balance between being customer-led and taking an innovation leap. But you’re right, everything needs to be grounded in research and feedback.

    I just wrote about a similar topic last week – http://blog.accessdevelopment.com/when-to-use-customer-feedback-and-when-to-ignore-it

    To me it requires an intense focus on the basic why, looking at needs and finding the best way to help people meet them, even if it’s radical and risky.

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