Cameras, Pictures or Memories?


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What Does Your Customer Need?

“Your customer doesn’t want a drill. He wants a hole.”

You have no doubt heard that one before. Working through customer requirements is difficult, particularly when customers don’t know what they want.

Do Customers Want Cameras?

I found a story in an old 1990s textbook (The Leader’s Handbook). It goes like this:

Konica Cameras had a problem: they wanted to develop a breakthrough camera that would grab the market, but the feedback they were getting from customers only led to minor improvements. In a product development meeting, the then chairman Takanori Yoneyama made an observation:

“Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. We ask for feedback on our cameras, but people don’t purchase our cameras to own a camera. They buy our cameras to take pictures. We see ourselves as manufacturing and selling cameras. Customers see us as a source of acquiring the capability to take photographs. Perhaps we should start seeking feedback on the pictures.”

Once Konica started to look at the customer’s photographs, they discovered that they were pretty dreadful, over-exposed, underexposed and worse still, one superimposed upon another. But in each case, the customer blamed themselves. They said, “I have bought a perfect camera; the problem must be that I am just a bad photographer”.

Konica realised that they needed to build an error-proof camera and went on to develop automatic focusing and exposure, film winding and flash. They ensured the customers were buying great photographs, not just great cameras. The new models did wonders for their sales.

Peter Scholtes

Do Customers Want Photographs?

The irony of the story is that those cameras are pretty much a thing of the past. As we all know, customers didn’t want cameras or photographs. They wanted memories. But that reinforces the point beautifully, your customers’ needs change.

What Do Your Customers Want?

At the risk of teaching you how to suck eggs, there are three main ways to determine what your customer needs. All of these are common sense, but common sense and common practice aren’t necessarily the same thing.

  1. Go and see. If you want to know where to look, data is lovely, but there is no substitute for going and seeing for yourself. Some of what you see will be easily identifiable pain points. More challenging to discover are the hidden frustrations.
  2. Ask them. A few open questions will tell you more than a plethora of closed ones. Leading questions will only give you the answers you want to hear. At the risk of stating the obvious, there is little point in asking questions if you don’t listen to the answers.
  3. Try it out. Walking a mile in your customers’ shoes will tell you more than you’d believe. If you can’t try it (open heart surgery, for example), you can sit in the waiting room or stand in the operating theatre.

There is no guarantee that this will tell you exactly what your customers need or want — they probably haven’t got a clue — but it will take you a whole lot closer to finding out.

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Photo by Sarah Price

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


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