CHAPTER FOUR – Identifying Customer Needs
The philosophy behind the method of identifying customer needs is to create a high-quality information channel that runs
directly between customers in the target market and the developers of the product. This philosophy is built on the premise that
those who directly control the details of the product, including the engineers and industrial designers, must interact with
customers and experience the use environment of the product. Without this direct experience, technical trade-offs are not likely
to be made correctly, innovative solutions to customer may never be discovered, and the development team may never develop
a deep commitment to meeting customer needs.
Concept Development Phase: concept generation, concept selection, competitive benchmarking, and the establishment of the
product specification are collectively thought as the concept development phase. The concept of development process implies a
distinction between customer needs and product specifications.
Identifying customer needs Process:
1. Step 1: Gather Raw Data from customers: Three methods are commonly used:
1. Interviews: One or more development team members discuss needs with a single customer
2. Focus groups: A moderator facilitates a two-hour discussion with a group of 8 to 12 customers. A
moderator is a professional market researcher.
3. Observing the product in use: watching customers use an existing product or perform a task for
which a new product is intended can reveal important details about customer needs. For example, a
customer painting a house might use a screwdriver to open a paint can. Some practitioners rely on
written surveys for gathering raw data.
2. THE ART OF ELICITING CUSTOMER NEEDS DATA: gathering needs data is very different from a
sales call: the goal is to elicit an honest expression of needs, not to convince a customer of what he or she
needs. In most cases customer interactions will be verbal; interviewers ask questions and the customer
responds. Questions such as when and why do you use this type of product? What do you like about the
existing products? Here are some general hints for effective interaction with customers:
1. Go with the flow: the goal is to gather important data on customer needs, not to complete the
interview guide in the allotted time
2. Use visual stimuli and props: bring a collection of existing and competitors’ products, or even
products that are tangentially related to the product under development.
3. Supress preconceived hypothesis about the product technology: frequently customers will make
assumptions about the product concept they expect would meet their needs. In these situations, the
interviewers should avoid biasing the discussion with assumptions about how the product will
eventually be designed or produced.
4. Have the customer demonstrate the product and/or typical tasks related to the product: if the
interview is conducted in the use environment, a demonstration is usually convenient and invariably
reveals new information.
5. Be alert for surprises and the expression of latent needs: if a customer mentions something
surprising, pursue the lead with follow-up questions
6. Watch for nonverbal information: the development team must be constantly aware of the nonverbal
messages provided customers. What are their facial expressions? How do they hold competitors’
3. Documenting Interactions with customers: Four methods are commonly used for documenting interactions
3. Video recording
4. Still photography
2. Step 2: Interpret the raw data in terms of customer needs: Customers needs are expressed as written statements
and are the result of interpreting the need underlying the raw data gathered from the customers. It is about translating
the raw data you gathered into writing. How?