Is this the access to profitable revenues, loyal customers and enduring success? (Part II)


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In this post I continue the conversation which I began with the last post.

Warning: don’t collapse ‘job to be done’ with customer needs

How did the philosopher Heidegger put it? Yes, he pointed out that you/I always approach that which shows up in our lives with an already existing horizon of understanding. Put simply, that means that our default way of being is such that we use our existing ‘frame of reference’ to make sense of the new. Which means that we will distort the new to fit into the old and thus squeeze all value out of the new. And I have noticed that some of you have collapsed ‘job to be done’ with ‘customer needs’. No, no, no. They are distinct even if they are related – think about the two sides of a coin. If you don’t get that now, you will by the end of his post provided you keep an open mind. Let’s listen to Clayton Christensen.

Milkshake: Cheaper? Chunkier? Chocolatier?

In his book How Will You Measure Your Life? Clayton Christensen writes that that a big restaurant chain wanted to increase sales of their milkshakes. So the company spent months studying this issue. It bought in customers who fit the profile of the milkshake consumer and asked them all sorts of questions. Questions like:

  • Can you tell us what we need to do to improve our milkshakes so you would buy more of our milkshakes?
  • Do you want them chocolatier? Cheaper? Chunkier?

Using this customer feedback the company worked and worked on making the milkshake better. The impact on sales? No impact on sales or profits whatsoever. I say you might want to really hear this and make a note of it before your rush out, gather feedback and get busy making changes.

One of Clayton Christensen’s colleagues looked at the situation and brought a completely difference perspective to the matter at hand. He asked the following question:

“I wonder what job arises in people’s lives that causes them to come to this restaurant to ‘hire’ a milkshake?”

This question opened up a new domain of enquiry. Clayton’s colleagues stood in a restaurant hours on end observing – paying careful attention to what was happening: “What time did people buy these milkshakes? What were they wearing? Were they alone? Did they buy other food with it? Did they eat it in the restaurant or drive off with it?”

What did they find? They found that nearly 50% of the milkshakes were bought in the early morning. And they were bought by adults who were almost always on their own. It was almost the only product they bought and almost all of them got in a car and drove off with their milkshake.

On another morning, as customer left with milkshake in hand, Clayton’s colleagues asked them questions designed to elicit the job that these customers were hiring the milkshake to do. What did they find? They found that these customers had a long boring ride to work. “They needed something to keep the commute interesting. They weren’t really hungry yet, but they knew that in a couple of hours, they’d face a midmorning stomach rumbling.”

What else did Clayton’s colleagues learn? They learnt that customers had hired bananas, doughnuts, bagels, candy bars. And the milkshake was the best product for the job. Why? “It took a long time to finish a thick milkshake with that thin straw. And it was substantial enough to ward off the looming midmorning hunger attack”.

Was this the end of the breakthrough insights? No. Clayton and his colleagues discovered that the same product – milkshake – was hired for a fundamentally different job. “Instead of commuters, the people who were coming in to buy milkshakes in the afternoon were typically fathers.…… I recognised that I had been one of those dads…. and I had the same job to do when in that situation. I’d been looking for something innocuous to which I could say “yes”, to make me feel like a kind and loving father.”

Who well did the milkshake do the job that the fathers hired it to do? Not well at all. Observations showed the children would take a long time to finish the thick milkshake through the thin straw. And after a while the fathers would become impatient to leave and so half the milkshake would be get thrown away.

What is the profound learning here?

I cannot do better than Clayton Christensen so let me share his words with you:

“If our fast food chain asked me, “So Clay…. how can we improve the milkshake so that you’ll buy more of them? Thicker? Sweeter? Bigger?” I wouldn’t know what to say, because I hire it for two fundamentally different jobs…. when they averaged up the responses ……demographic segment that has highest proclivity to buy milkshakes….. to develop a one-size-fits-none product that doesn’t do either job well.

On the other hand, if you understand that there are two different jobs that the milkshake is being hired to do, it becomes obvious how to improve the milkshake. The morning job needs a more viscous milkshake, which takes even longer to suck up. You might add in chunks of fruit – but not to make it healthy, because that’s not the reason it’s being hired…..And, finally, you’d wheel the dispensing machine out from behind the counter to the front, install a prepaid swipe-card so that commuters could run in, gas up and go……

The afternoon make-me-feel-good-about-being-a-parent job is fundamentally different. Maybe the afternoon milkshake could come in half sizes; be less thick……”

Words of wisdom

I wholeheartedly agree with Clayton Christensen’s words of wisdom:

“There is no one right answer for all circumstances. You have to start by understanding the job the customer is trying to have done.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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