Putting the customer at the center is one important ingredient to design and develop valuable products and services. 👥🔍 When you understand, measure, and prioritize customer needs, you are able to find and develop the right solutions and continuously create value for customers and your organization.
We have developed a framework around this idea. 🎯 In the following article I explain why a customer-centric mindset is crucial, that collaboration is key, and how applying “Jobs To Be Done Thinking” can help to generate and utilize helpful data in order to master this challenge. 💡 At the end I will provide five tips as a summary.
The core idea of nearly every company is to create value — value for their customers and for the company itself. It is pretty obvious that when you offer something that makes sense to customers, it also makes sense to you(r company). People will buy your offering to get their tasks done or to overcome their challenges and pain points with your solution. This mindset can help align the organization and the responsible people with where the potential value is and how it can be created.
“Customers measure success by how well they can get a job done” — Jim Kalbach
The problem is rarely a lack of knowledge. There is nearly no company that has not enough information. Think about product ideas, feature requests, feedback, problems, bugs, data and statistics on usage and user behavior. And the backlog grows faster than you can work on the items. That’s loads of information.
The real challenge is focus: Which of these ideas, features or problems is the most important one? How should you prioritize? Is the feedback objective, relevant, and representative for the group of customers you want to address or win?
👉 In short: Which topic and which customer needs offer the biggest opportunity to create value?
A customer-centric approach can help you to answer that question and set your focus accordingly.
Understand your customers
Flippers aren’t always about swimming
Sara Conklin is a UX and Product Designer. Once, her daughter told her, “Mom, I want a pair of flippers for my birthday. But I am not actually into flippers.” Sounds weird. Sara did some “research” and talked with her daughter. And she found out that the young girl is into “being a mermaid”. 🧜♀️ That’s a great example that flippers aren’t always about (improving at) swimming and winning the next Olympic gold medal. Young girls utilize (or “hire”) flippers to feel like a mermaid.
Imagine 50% of your customers are little mermaids and you are improving your flippers for the upcoming Olympic champions (who are maybe only 5 % of your customers or target group). If another competitor in the market comes up and provides flippers for mermaids because they did proper research, listened to different types of users and found out what the needs of many potential customers are (e.g. young girls that want to “feel like a mermaid”), your business will drop.
The hole is not the goal
There is a famous quote from Theodore Levitt (1925–2006), former professor at Harvard Business School:
“People do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”
Very likely they do not even care about the hole. That’s not the ultimate goal (cf. Joe Leech). They rather want to have a shelf on the wall or need a storage option for their books. 🖼️📚
People can hire the drill to hang a picture on the wall. But there are other solutions to solve this, eventually with these little very cheap removable mounting tape strips that do not even leave a hole in the wall when you remove the picture later.
This is (possibly) the goal: Hang a picture on the wall.
Jobs are stable over time
If you are a music enthusiast and like listening to music, it does not matter in which time period you lived: the job is still the same, but how you get it done changed. 50 years ago, you used LPs, later cassettes, CDs or an MP3 player. Now you probably stream your favorite music via an online service. Technology can change, but the subjective importance remains the same.
Imagine you are in the “listen to music” business and provide products in that context. 🎧🎶 Via research you might find many user needs in that area. For example, listen to favorite music when on the go, when running, or when having a shower. Maybe users want to share their playlist with others or find new songs similar to their favorite songs. And there are many more…
How should you prioritize the needs? 📋📊 How should you decide which next improvement is most relevant for your customers? Or at least more relevant than another. In which area is the greatest value where you should develop and offer a solution to a specific need?
Imagine the idea from the beginning. There is rather too much information. It can happen that you have about 100–150 needs after you did qualitative research with interviews, surveys, or feedback sessions.
When you evaluate the long list of (solution-agnostic) needs with customers and get a rating for importance and satisfaction, the results can provide some guidance about which topics you should focus on next and first.
You can ask customers how important a specific need is to them and how satisfied they are with the current solution. The results can be displayed in a diagram like the one below. In the bottom right area you see the underserved needs (very important needs with low satisfaction). Overserved needs (in the top left corner) and balanced needs (in the center) can also be interesting, depending on what you are looking for and where the focus is at the moment.
Build a bridge or cross the river?
Imagine you are standing in front of a river with a bunch of people. You can tell them “Let’s build a bridge”. So, everyone will start building a bridge. But what kind of bridge? There might be different ideas and opinions on what the right bridge will be. Instead, you can tell the group that you all need to get across the river — as this is probably your overall goal, not building a bridge. Then you ask for possible solutions. It could be building a raft, or finding a narrower point of the river. Or you have a super swimmer in your group that helps get everyone across the river.
“Instead of committing upfront to features they think will deliver the outcome, the whole team can own the problem.” — Alice Newton Rex
As metaphor and compared to software development, imagine the next release is in 2 weeks. But the bridge would take 4 months to build. You might end up removing some details so that you can deliver the proposed and requested feature (“a bridge”) in time. But is it still safe and usable?
If your goal for the next release was to get your users across the river (to use this metaphor again), the whole team can come up with solutions (maybe a raft) that will make it until code freeze, and you already can deliver some solutions to the existing need (cross the river). Maybe it is already good enough and you can take care of other issues and you do not even need a bridge any more (for example when the needs are addressed satisfactorily enough).
“Give teams a problem to solve, not a solution to implement.” — Jeff Gothelf (Author of Lean UX)
This has a lot to do with collaboration. To discuss possible solutions to a topic, everyone needs to understand the users and their needs. If you want to solve problems together and to have UX-related and user-focused discussions at eye level, everyone in the team needs to have a basic customer-centric mindset.
Everyone influences the customer’s experience with your product or service. Every line of code can impact the performance, every customer contact can influence if you take care of a reported issue or not (when it is communicated and forwarded internally or not).
Therefore, (at TeamViewer) we put the user at the center of all our product decisions. We know that people hire a product to get a job done. We want to address and fulfill the most relevant needs of our customers.
There are various disciplines and focus areas within the service and product development industry. Overall, and first and foremost, it’s about understanding what users think and feel, how they behave, and what they need. Possible solutions consider how the information is organized, how users receive it and how it is published and, in the end, how it is presented structurally and visually. But also, if something is not feasible, we do not need to consider an idea, and if there is no value for the customer nor the company, why should we invest time and resources in building whatever feature has been requested or we are thinking of?
In short, the main question is: What does the user need, is there value for both (us and them) and can we build it?
When we identify (the relevant) customer needs, we are able to solve the right problems and pain points. When we simplify the usage, we can increase productivity, and also decrease training and support costs. We can even avoid building unnecessary features or products, which in the end reduces development time and costs, as well as maintenance costs. In the end it is about saving time, resources, and money to increase customer satisfaction and also to increase sales and revenue for our company.
Whenever possible we try to avoid opinion discussions and want to make decisions based on facts. Usage data from the product, and feedback from customers, help us to make more reliable decisions. Quantitative usage data tell us what users do. Qualitative data and close interaction with the users help us to understand why they behave in a specific way. Combined together, these shall provide us with enough data to make sustainable, valuable decisions.
User Focus Program
Together with an internet agency we developed a tool and a user research database, the TeamViewer User Focus Program (UFP), to closely interact with our customers. We incorporated our personas and persona-related user insights to work on and solve the most relevant and most underserved user needs and to increase the value of our product offering.
We use definitions similar to proto-personas. The four main areas describe (1) general information, (2) some user facts (such as IT skill or product familiarity), (3) behavior and usage related to the respective use case or job to be done, and (4) needs and goals (including frustrations, problems, pain points, and expectations).
Our personas are measurable and representative for a specific group of our users. They provide relevant traits and information (for the product context). We can identify users related to key variables (to validate assumptions). Also, personas and their needs are distinguishable from each other.
With the UFP we can select representative (persona-related) participants for surveys, interviews, test or feedback sessions to conduct targeted research. We combine quantitative and qualitative data, identify pain points and jobs (to be done), and evaluate these with the help of representative customers.
With respective filters we can find clusters, check the relevance of various insights, and prioritize topics based on the results we got. So, we can develop, implement, and offer problem-solving solutions to real, existing (and the most relevant) customer needs.
Participants in the User Focus Program (UFP) provide us with the same traits as we defined with our personas. We can select real existing persona-related customers, or representative prototypical users from our UFP database to evaluate needs and ideas. We can involve these UFP members in surveys and research sessions. That’s how we can gather feedback from “real user” representatives for our personas.
The GDPR-compliant User Focus Program is a tool that supports customer-centric value creation. It provides efficient access to representative users (with defined traits). Customers have the chance to collaborate closely with us. We can gather valuable feedback before implementation. It helps us to understand and prioritize pain points and user needs and to utilize user and customer insights for decision making. We can also check if features and planned improvements make sense. This can lead to a targeted product development in close interaction with our users. In the end it saves money.
Jobs To Be Done and the UFP
We use the UFP application very often to conduct research with users in the JTBD context, both for qualitative research and quantitative evaluation. From qualitative research we extract needs in a specific usage context (or related to a main job, e.g. “remote control” or “IT administration”). We organize and structure the needs in a job map. This helps us to get a first high level overview of the job and to also communicate and discuss the research results with the responsible teams.
All these needs are evaluated and validated with the same approach that I described with the “listen to music” example. It can happen that we do a pragmatic pre-selection of needs in a workshop, so that the needs to be evaluated are not too many and the surveys are not too long.
The result of such a survey shows us which needs are the most relevant ones, based on importance or score (calculated by importance and satisfaction). The results can be viewed and explored in various ways. We can also apply specific persona-related traits filters to find clusters and results related to specific user groups.
Customer-Centric Value Creation
Users have needs (or jobs or goals or problems). The concrete term does not matter on a higher level. I recommend to rather use the term (even if not 100% correct) that is understood best from the ones you talk to.
Users are different (as you can see with various persona definitions). And needs or jobs are also different. There is a big difference between a private user with little IT skills, who wants to share information with someone once in a while, and an IT admin with lots of professional experience and high IT skills who needs to connect to many different devices every day.
☝ ️It is crucial to understand the problem (or need) before we find and develop a solution.
Based on various frameworks* (like the Double Diamond, Aperto’s approach that combines design and agile, or Design Thinking) we created a framework that fits our environment and helps us to introduce and apply this mindset in practice and to build the right solution.
*Note: Blindly following a framework does not guarantee good results and does not make much sense. But a not - too - dogmatic framework or process for orientation helps a lot. And the mindset around the process is even more important than the framework itself.
With the Customer-Centric Value Creation (CCVC) Framework we focus on our customers, uncover, understand and prioritize their needs. We use data, we measure experience and usage to brainstorm, find and materialize solutions in order to continuously create value for them.
The framework in a nutshell
First, we check and define the initial need, requirement, vision, goals, scope (all based on the overall strategy). Then we define the main user(s) and their main job. Next is to understand, prioritize and describe respective and most relevant user needs. A summary of this research phase (which we often provide in the form of various job stories) is the base to explore, design, and develop a solution until it is released and (hopefully) creates value for everyone.
This is an ongoing loop that never stops. As much as design is never done, also product development (with the aim to improve a situation for humans) is never done.
All the circles in the diagram are independent of each other, but at the same time they overlap. At these intersections, information, new insights or updated results are passed on to the other circle. In the end these circles describe Research and Development.
The CCVC Framework in high res
When developing the framework, several established and well-known frameworks were taken into account. It basically fits our requirements and the environment and people set-up in my department, but it is generally also applicable in other environments where some adjustments are likely to be needed.
The CCVC Canvas
The Canvas is based on the Customer-Centric Value Creation Framework. 📌 It is important to define and clarify some basic information like overall vision, goals, requirements and scope, and then also define and align on the Main Job and User. That is the base to start with a project and understand the users and their needs.
Uncovered and prioritized needs serve to phrase the Job Stories which again serve as briefing to explore, ideate, design and develop a solution (that in turn addresses these users and their needs related to the main job). Potential messages for marketing and promotion can be derived from user needs, job stories and the solution (or increment) we are going to release.
I plan to introduce the CCVC Framework, the specific CCVC Canvas we use, and the User Focus Program more detailed in a separate article.
Taking care of the customer’s Jobs To Be Done supports and fosters user-centered design, which in turn supports customer-centric value creation. And that is what we want and the base to do the right things right. Together.
We can also sum it up with a quote of Tony Ulwick:
“Innovation begins with identifying customer needs. It ends in the creation of items they will buy.”
Or in other words: Focus on customers, understand, measure, and prioritize their needs to find and develop the right solutions. In this way, you are able to continuously create value for customers and your organization.
We want to achieve this with the appropriate mindset, Jobs To Be Done, and our aforementioned framework.
5 tips on how to create value
Finally. I promised to give you five tips. 💡 You probably already have them in mind. Here they are:
- Establish a customer-centric mindset.
- Generate and utilize customer-centric data.
- Understand your (most relevant) users and prioritize their needs.
- Collaborate and have UX-related discussions at eye-level to find solutions to these needs.
- Develop and materialize the solutions and create value for customers and the company.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. :-)
If you liked this article, please ❤️ it and share it so others stumble upon it as well! Thank you! You might also read some of my other articles.
Sources and references
The following resources (and many more) inspired me as I worked on this topic. Here is a selection. Very recommended reading.
- UX FTW — Customer-Centric Value Creation with a Jobs-To-Be-Done Mindset (UX Festival by German UPA, 2022)
- JTBD Toolkit
- JTBD Playbook (Jim Kalbach)
- The Statue in the Stone (W. Scott Burleson)
- Edizon Innovation
- Double Diamond (British Design Council)
- The Zendesk Triple Diamond — Visualizing the product design process
- Creating the bigger picture — Die Designvision in agilen Projekten (IAK 2016)
- Design Thinking 101
- Personas vs. Jobs-to-Be-Done
- Flippers aren’t about swimming: Innovating with Jobs to be Done (Sara Conklin)
- Don’t focus on competitors & features focus on users & their need (Joe Leech)
- Escape from the feature roadmap to outcome-driven development (Alice Newton Rex)
- Give teams a problem to solve, not a solution to implement (Jeff Gothelf)