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Understanding Customer Needs

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UNDERSTANDING CUSTOMER NEEDS

Barry L. Bayus
Kenan-Flagler Business School
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
(919)962-3210
cherryflavorine@gmail.com

January 2005
Revised November 2007

prepared for Shane, S. (ed.), Blackwell Handbook of Technology and Innovation Management, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers

The comments of the following people on an earlier draft are greatly appreciated: Sridhar Balasubramanian, Dick Blackburn, Paul Bloom, Ed Cornet, Ely Dahan, Abbie Griffin, Steve Hoeffler, Erin MacDonald, Jackki Mohr, Bill Moore, Vithala Rao, Allan Shocker, and Gal Zauberman.
Introduction

Touted as the “most significant category innovation since toilet paper first appeared in roll form in 1890,” dispersible (flushable) moist toilet tissue on a roll was introduced in the United States by Kimberly Clark in 2001. According to a corporate press release, Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes was a breakthrough product that “delivers the cleaning and freshening of pre-moistened wipes with the convenience and disposability of toilet paper.” Internal market research seemed to indicate that there was a clear customer need for a new product to supplement dry toilet paper. Surveys and focus groups revealed that over 60% of adult consumers had experimented with a moist cleaning method (e.g., using baby wipes, wetting a washcloth, sprinkling water on dry toilet paper) and one out of four used a moist cleaning method daily. Kimberly Clark made the obvious connection that a majority of US consumers found dry toilet paper to be limited for their real needs. Convinced that there was a huge market opportunity for a more convenient product that addressed this consumer need for a cleaner and more refreshing bathroom tissue, Kimberly Clark obtained more than 30 patents on a new product and dispenser and invested over $100 million in R&D and manufacturing to bring their Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes to market. Backed by over $40 million in marketing programs, sales were expected to reach $150 million in the first year and $500 million by six years. Perhaps more important, a significant increase in the $4.8 billion US toilet paper market was anticipated since this innovation was a supplement, not substitute, for existing products. Procter & Gamble also believed that there was a market opportunity for moist bathroom wipes; they quickly followed suit by introducing a similar product, Charmin Fresh Mates, later that year. But, consumers were unimpressed with these new products. Sales were well below forecasts: Procter & Gamble abandoned its product after only two years and Kimberly Clark’s product is confined to a regional market where executives say that sales are so small that they are financially insignificant. Despite their market research, did Kimberley Clark (and Procter & Gamble) really understand their customers’ needs in this situation? The Fresh Rollwipes product was designed to be conveniently dispensed via a refillable plastic container that cliped to the standard toilet paper holder. Careful attention was paid to developing a dispenser that blended in with the consumer’s bathroom. Both companies, however, underestimated the role of consumer embarrassment associated with toileting (e.g., Associated Press 2003). While many consumers already used some sort of makeshift wet cleaning method in the bathroom, they didn’t like others knowing about it. The extra dispenser attached to the holder is right out in the open, possibly causing guests to wonder if there is something wrong with household members since they were using these “alternative” wipes. Although numerous mistakes were made in this case (e.g., Nelson 2002), it seems clear that Kimberly Clark and Procter & Gamble did not completely understand their customers’ needs. Unfortunately, this example is not unique. New product failure rates of up to 90 percent commonly cited in the popular and academic press suggest that successful innovation is the exception rather than the rule (e.g., Power 1992; 1993; Stevens and Burley 1997; Brand Strategy 2003). The road to riches is littered with many stories of new product failure (e.g., Schnaars 1989; Gershman 1990; Kirchner 1995; McMath and Forbes 1998; Franklin 2003). Not surprisingly, many pundits take these failures to mean that it is impossible to truly understand customer needs. Headlines like “Ignore Your Customer” (Martin 1995), “Shoot First, Do Market Research Later” (Elliot 1998) and statements like “The public does not know what is possible, we do” (Morita 1986) fuel this viewpoint. At the same time however, a consistent finding from benchmarking studies on the factors related to successful innovation is that understanding customer needs is a fundamental, although challenging, activity (e.g., Montoya-Weiss and Calantone 1994; Cooper 1999; Henard and Szymanski 2001). There are just as many, if not more, examples in which firms used various traditional (e.g., customer surveys, focus groups) and nontraditional (e.g., ethnography, contextual inquiry, empathic design) research approaches to gain insight into their customers’ needs, and to develop highly successful new products (e.g., Urban and Hauser 1993; Leonard-Barton 1995; Burchill, et al. 1997; Otto and Wood 2001; Shillito 2001; Sanders 2002; Squires and Byrne (2002); Crawford and Di Benedetto 2003; Ulrich and Eppinger 2004). Thus, there is persuasive evidence that it is indeed possible to understand customer needs and that this insight can be used in the innovation process. Rather than ignoring customers, it is more prudent to only ignore customers’ specific ideas on how to fulfill their needs—it is the company’s job to develop new products!
[insert Exhibit 1 about here] Conceptually, understanding customer needs leads to products that are desirable, feasible, and salable (to the mass market). Note that “product categories” are often defined by firms and not by customers (e.g., the SLR camera category, the digital camera category, the disposable camera category); thus product categories typically relate to feasible combinations of attributes that are salable (and hopefully desirable). As suggested by Exhibit 1, ideas, concepts and new products can be classified based on their location in the desirable-feasible-salable space. Thus, highly successful innovations are desirable, feasible and salable. Casual observations indicate that many existing products fall primarily in the feasible and salable region (e.g., Fresh Rollwipes), and that fresh looks at already established categories can lead to more desirable new products (e.g., consider the efforts of Oxo in the kitchen tools market and its greatly acclaimed Good Grips peeler, salad spinner and angled measuring cup). Gizmos and gadgets like the Segway Human Transporter are mainly in the feasible and desirable overlap (e.g., Waters and Field 2003), but are not really salable to the mass market. Many innovations that are mainly technology-driven reside only in the feasible region for a number of years (e.g., directional sound systems for use in automobiles, advertising, and special office-based applications; Schwartz 2004; brain-computer interfaces that allow the direct bi-directional interfaces between the brain, nervous system and computer; Cyberkinetics 2004; Michelin’s Tweel, a single piece airless tire with “spokes” that never go flat; Mayersohn 2005). Astute business analysts note that most firms are still product-driven rather than customer-driven (i.e., firms first determine what is feasible for them to develop; they then fashion marketing strategies to sell the products and services that can deliver; only later finding out that their offerings may not really be desirable). The primary purpose of this chapter is to review the theory and practice related to understanding customer needs. By necessity, this review will be relatively brief as this topic covers a wide spectrum of literature across the marketing, design, and engineering disciplines. This review will provide insights into the challenges associated with identifying and interpreting customer needs, which will lead to a discussion of promising directions for future research.

The Languages of Customer Needs

With respect to innovation and new product development, the language associated with “customer needs” differs across the marketing, engineering, and industrial design literatures. Different terminology is often used interchangeably: needs, wants, attributes, features, requirements, specs, etc. For example, in their review of the product development literature, Krishnan and Ulrich (2001) indicate that a useful representation of a product is a vector of attributes, which they consider to also include customer needs, customer requirements, product specifications, engineering characteristics, and technical performance metrics. Even customers themselves often use these terms interchangeably (e.g., Captain 2004). Customer needs are also context dependent (e.g., Green, et al. 2006), particularly with respect to usage (where and how the product is used), consumer (who will use the product), and market (what competing products are available). Any discussion of “needs” should probably start with Maslow’s (1954) widely known hierarchy of needs theory[1]. According to Maslow, there are five levels of needs ranging from basic needs that are present at birth to more complex psychological needs that only become important once the lower level needs have been satisfied[2]. At the lowest, basic level are biological and physiological needs (e.g., air, food, drink, shelter, sleep, sex, etc.). The next level includes safety needs (e.g., security, order, law, etc.); this is followed by belongingness and love needs (e.g., family, relationships, work group, to be accepted, etc.), followed by esteem needs (e.g., achievement, independence, recognition, prestige, etc.), and self-actualization needs (e.g., self-fulfillment, realizing one’s potential, personal growth, etc.). An important insight from Maslow’s theory is that there are different levels of needs and needs form a hierarchy (that may allow for lexicographic decision processes; e.g., see Olshavsky and Spreng 1996). For example, customers expect products to be safe and useful. Products and services may be bought to perform certain tasks, as well as to be accepted and recognized by others. Products may also satisfy aesthetic, as well as self-actualization, needs. However, as noted by Sanders (1992) customers are not usually very good at expressing their needs, especially higher level needs. Customer needs are a description of the benefits desired by “customers”[3] (e.g., Urban and Hauser 1993; Griffin and Hauser 1993)[4]. Needs are essentially what the customer wants; needs are long-term in nature and can not always be recognized or verbally described by a customer (Burchill and Brodie 1997; Burchill, et al. 1997; Shillito 2001; Mello 2003). Importantly, needs include utilitarian as well as hedonic benefits. For example, customer needs associated with a digital camera might include “reliving fond memories, feeling confident in taking pictures, taking great pictures.” Wants, on the other hand, are things that a customer believes will fulfill a known need, are short-term and temporary in nature, and can be easily influenced by psychosocial cues such as advertising, personal recommendations, and norms (e.g., Hauser 1984; Shillito 2001). For example, consumers may say they want an easy to use digital camera with at least 5.0 mega pixels, 32M internal memory, and video capability. (Problems are simply wants or needs expressed in negative terms; Shillito 2001.) Needs are concerned with “what” is desired by customers, whereas attributes, features, requirements, and specifications deal with “how” a need is satisfied by a specific product or service. In the economics literature, product characteristics are defined to be the properties of a product that are relevant to consumer choice; characteristics are quantitative in nature, can be measured objectively, and are universal (e.g., Lancaster 1971; Rosen 1974; Ratchford 1975; Geisfeld, et al. 1977). Product attributes are more abstract and generally fewer in number than product characteristics, and are based on the perceptual dimensions that consumers use to make purchase decisions (e.g., Kaul and Rao 1995)[5]. From the engineering and design literatures, requirements are the engineering and technical solutions to meet a customer need and specifications (specs) are the specific metrics associated with requirements (e.g., Shillito 2001; Otto and Wood 2001; Ulrich and Eppinger 2004)[6]. As implied by this discussion, product characteristics, attributes, requirements and specs are closely related and overlapping terms. For example, product characteristics for a digital camera might include the number of mega pixels, the available megabits of image storage, battery life, and the number of automatic modes; product attributes could include the ease of use, image quality, well-known brand, and battery life; customer requirements may include usability, reliability, image quality and battery life; and product specs can include a 4x optical zoom lens with 0.2x digital zoom, Li-Ion rechargeable battery, 5.0 mega pixels, 12 scene modes, etc. [insert Exhibit 2 about here] To better grasp the challenges involved in understanding customer needs, consider the example in Exhibit 2 (see also Woodruff and Gardial 1996; Ratneshwar, et al. 1999). As discussed in Shillito (2001), there are at least three levels of customer needs that are increasingly more abstract in scope: features, consequences, and desired end-states. Features are often the words a consumer uses to describe a product or service (e.g., a digital camera has an optical and digital zoom lens, auto flash and scene modes, a long lasting battery, an easy interface to share photos, etc.). Features are concrete, short-term in nature, and easy to influence. Incremental changes only result from focusing on new products with improved features. Consequences come from possession and/or use of the product or service. For example, “a digital camera is simple and easy to use, gives me confidence, I feel like an expert.” These expressions typically describe what the customer wants to have happen and are frequently more emotional in nature. Designing new products to satisfy consequences often leads to more creative and novel changes in existing products. Desired end-states are the customer’s underlying purposes and goals (e.g., Pieters, et al. 1995; Austin and Vancouver 1996; Huffman, et al. 2000). As such, they are long-term and more abstract in nature (e.g., “a digital camera allows me to relive fond memories”). Developing innovations with these end-states in mind can result in creative and radical changes since customer-oriented product-market structures may be very different than traditional industry defined competitive boundaries (e.g., Day, et al. 1979; Ratneshwar and Shocker 1991; Shocker, et al. 2004). As implied by Exhibit 2, customers typically map many discrete and continuous features onto fewer higher-level benefits (consequences and desired end-states) through a process of cognitive abstraction (e.g., Johnson and Fornell 1987; Reynolds and Gutman 1988).
[insert Exhibit 3 about here] Exhibit 3 summarizes the discussion so far. The digital camera example illustrates some of the ambiguity inherent in the language of new product development. In some cases, needs, wants, attributes, features, requirements, and specs refer to the same thing. In other instances, these terms capture very different information about what the customer really desires. Highly successful innovations come from a deep understanding of the utilitarian and hedonic benefits that customers desire, i.e., what is widely referred to as customer needs. Importantly, customers cannot always recognize or describe their needs in terms of consequences or end-states. Remember that customer needs are not a particular “solution” (product or service), or a specific set of attributes, specs, etc. As a result, a customer needs hierarchy almost always has to be interpreted from the “raw” data of a customer research study. Several general approaches for identifying customer needs will be discussed later in this chapter.

Customer Needs in the Innovation Process

Exhibit 4 outlines the major steps involved in the “fuzzy front-end” of the innovation process (e.g., Otto and Wood 2001; Ulrich and Eppinger 2004). Understanding customer needs is a key input into what has become known as the voice of the customer (VOC). Originating in the total quality management movement, the voice of the customer and quality function deployment (QFD) enable marketing, design, engineering, R&D, and manufacturing to effectively communicate across functional boundaries (e.g., Hauser and Clausing 1988; Griffin and Hauser 1992; 1993; Shillito 2001; Dahan and Hauser 2002a; Akao and Mazur 2003). This cross-functional communication is crucial to ensure that development efforts focus on innovations that are feasible, salable and desirable (see Exhibit 1). The voice of the customer includes identifying a set of detailed customer needs, as well as summarizing these needs into a hierarchy where each need is prioritized[7] with respect to its customer importance (e.g., Griffin and Hauser 1993; Iansiti and Stein 1995). Prioritizing customer needs is important since it allows the cross-functional development team to make necessary tradeoff decisions when balancing the costs of meeting a customer need with the desirability of that need relative to the entire set of customer needs. The voice of the customer is then translated into requirements and product specs, which in turn are translated into specific product attributes that can be bundled into concepts and prototypes for further testing with customers (e.g., Dahan and Hauser 2002a; Pullman, et al. 2002; Ulrich and Eppinger 2004). Design researchers identify three research platforms (Squires 2002): (1) discovery research (an open-ended exploratory effort to learn about customer culture so as to develop the foundation for “really” new products and services), (2) definition research (which assumes there is already a product concept, and thus define the products by identifying the customer implications associated with specific designs, products, and marketing strategies), and (3) evaluation research (which assumes there is already a working prototype, and thus helps refine and validate prototypes, design usability, market segments, consumer preferences).
[insert Exhibit 4 about here] Practicing designers, as well as the sociology and anthropology literatures, tend to emphasize methods for understanding the complete range of customer needs. For example, many articles discuss ways to uncover embedded customer needs, including empathic design methods (e.g., Leonard-Barton 1995; Leonard and Rayport 1997), user-centered design (e.g., Norman and Draper 1986; Norman 1988; Abras, et al. 2004) and contextual inquiry (e.g., Holtzblat and Beyer 1993) as well as ethnography and nontraditional market research approaches (e.g., Beebe 1995; Patnaik and Becker 1999; Wasson 2000; Kelley 2001; Squires and Byrne 2002; Kumar and Whitney 2003; Masten and Plowman 2003). Used to develop the highly successful Mazda Miata Roadster[8], Kansei engineering has also been proposed as a way to expand customer needs information to include customer feelings and other hedonic benefits (e.g., Nagamachi 1995; 2002). And, researchers have suggested ways to incorporate aesthetics, emotions and experiential aspects into the identification of customer needs (e.g., Patton 1999; Schmitt 1999; Desmet, et al. 2001; Desmet 2003). Some research also addresses the topic of determining priorities, including the use of direct rating scales (Wilkie and Pessemier 1973; Griffin and Hauser 1993), the analytic hierarchy process (Saaty 1988), conjoint analysis (e.g., Green and Srinivasan 1990; Green, et al. 2001), Borda counts (Dym, et al. 2002) and fuzzy/entropy methods (Chan, et al. 1999). The engineering, quality, and operations literatures consider a new product to be a complex assembly of interacting components for which various parametric models are built to optimize performance objectives (e.g., Otto and Wood 1998; McAdams, et al. 1998; Krishnan and Ulrich 2001; Aungst, et al. 2003). According to Michalek, et al. (2005, p43), “engineers generally use intuition when dealing with customer needs, emphasizing the creativeness and functionality of the product concept and working toward technical objectives such are reliability, durability, environmental impact, energy use, heat generation, manufacturability, and cost reduction, among others.” Given a set of customer requirements and product specs, as well as related information on priorities, optimal values for key design variables can be determined using various standard techniques (Papalambros and Wilde 2000). Michalek, et al. (2005) describe how the analytical target cascading method can be used to resolve technical tradeoffs by explicitly recognizing designs that are costly and/or impossible to achieve. By and large, the marketing literature does not directly deal with understanding customer needs (e.g., Tauber 1974; Sanders 1992; Eliashberg, et al. 1995); instead, it either implicitly or explicitly focuses on the concept generation and testing stage in the innovation process (see Exhibit 4). To facilitate communication between marketing and engineering, the marketing literature generally considers a new product or service to be a bundle of “actionable” attributes and characteristics (e.g., see the reviews in Kaul and Rao 1995; Krishnan and Ulrich 2001). However, as noted by Shocker and Srinivasan (1974; 1979) this approach is only “useful for locating ‘new’ product opportunities which may not be substantially different from current alternatives” (Shocker and Srinivasan 1979, p164). Most of the extensive marketing research dealing with product positioning and conjoint analysis assumes that determinant attributes have already been identified (e.g., see the reviews in Green 1975; Shocker and Srinivasan 1979; Green and Srinivasan 1990; Urban and Hauser 1993; Kaul and Rao 1995; Srinivasan, et al. 1997; Green, et al. 2001), although novel applications are still possible (e.g., see the work of Moskowitz-Jacobs in developing new foods and beverages). Moreover, marketing generally does not completely appreciate the complex interactions and constraints among product specs in developing a fully working product; marketing also usually underestimates the fact that some designs are totally infeasible (e.g., Aungst, et al. 2003; Michalek, et al. 2005). The discussion to this point highlights that different research streams separately emphasize each of the critical steps in the innovation process in Exhibit 4. Moreover, the engineering and marketing (and related economics) literatures typically deal with product characteristics and attributes rather than a broader set of customer needs as defined in this chapter (see Exhibits 2 and 3). Since it is very challenging to systematically develop new products that are feasible, salable and desirable without completely understanding customer needs, the relatively large number of failures reported in the press should not be that surprising (see Exhibit 1).
Identifying Customer Needs One widely cited approach for determining the types of customer needs is the Kano Model of Customer Satisfaction (Kano, et al. 1984)[9]. Kano developed his model by adapting the ideas of Fredrick Herzberg on the asymmetry of the factors related to job satisfaction and dissatisfaction (i.e., job satisfaction is related to “motivators” like achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, whereas job dissatisfaction is related to “hygiene” factors like company policy, relationship with supervisor, work conditions, salary; Herzberg, et al. 1959; Herzberg 1968). In the 1970’s, Kano was working with the Konica camera company to develop some highly differentiated new products (e.g., Scholtes 1997). Konica’s sales and research groups found that customers only asked for minor improvements to the existing camera models. Kano, however, believed that really new innovations did not come from simply listening to what customers were verbally saying, but the development team had to develop a deep understanding of customer’s real (latent) needs. Consequently, Konica staffers went to commercial photo processing labs to investigate the actual prints taken by customers. They found many mistakes and failures: blurry images, under and over exposure, blank film rolls. Addressing these latent needs led to features such as auto focus, built-in-flash, and automatic film rewinding that are widely available in cameras today.
[insert Exhibit 5 about here] The key concepts in Kano’s model are summarized in Exhibit 5. The horizontal axis in this diagram indicates the degree to which a particular customer need is addressed in a (new, existing) product or service, ranging from completely absent to completely addressed. The vertical axis in this diagram indicates how satisfied the customer is for a specific implementation of a customer need, ranging from delighted to disgusted. Within this two-dimensional space, three different types of customer needs can be defined[10]. The bottom curve, labeled basic needs, represents needs that are taken for granted and typically assumed by the customer to be met (i.e., these are needs that “must be” satisfied). “The camera works out of the box, the camera is safe, the battery can be recharged by plugging into any outlet” are examples of basic needs for a digital camera. These needs are the “order qualifiers” and thus must be of high quality; these needs are needed to simply be in the game. Completely meeting basic needs cannot greatly increase customer satisfaction, but if they are absent or below par customers will not react favorably. The middle curve, labeled performance needs, represent needs for which customer satisfaction is roughly proportional to the performance exhibited by the product or service (i.e., these needs are “linear” in that “more is better’). For example, longer battery life in a digital camera and more internal memory for image storage are preferred. These needs are frequently requested by customers during the course of traditional market research studies, and are typically associated with predictable product improvements (i.e., the “features” in Exhibit 2). The upper curve, labeled exciting needs, represent needs that the customer does not expect to be satisfied. Thus, if this need is completely addressed the customer is delighted but if not, the customer does not really care. These needs are the “order winners” for customers. For example, side airbags, global positioning systems, air-less tires that never get flat for automobiles might be exciting needs today (e.g., Mayersohn 2005). The underlying message of the Kano model is simple, yet powerful. Customer needs are dynamic in that an exciting need today will eventually migrate to being a performance need and will become a basic need tomorrow (e.g., automobile air conditioning was a delighter in the 1950’s but is a basic need today; more recently anti-lock braking systems and cup holders that were once exciting needs have become standard equipment in most automobiles). Thus, customer expectations increase over time and, consequently, firms must continually strive to better understand evolving customer needs in order to stay competitive.
[insert Exhibit 6 about here] Exhibit 6 summarizes the current theory and practice for understanding customer needs. Interpreted needs (i.e., the voice of the customer must be “translated” into a needs hierarchy) consist of articulated and unarticulated needs. Articulated needs are those needs that a customer can readily verbalize, if asked appropriately. Unarticulated needs are needs that customers cannot easily verbalize. It is important to keep in mind that there are many reasons why customers say things (e.g., they believe it is what the researchers want to hear; see Tourangeau, et al. 2000) and many reasons why they don’t say other things (including they didn’t remember, they didn’t want to tell, they didn’t know how to tell, etc.). Articulated needs generally involve information dealing with “what customers say.” Traditional market research methods such as focus groups, personal depth interviews, surveys, email questionnaires, and product clinics can be used to collect data on articulated needs (e.g., Urban and Hauser 1993; McDonagh-Philp and Bruseberg 2000). Well-known market research methods include conjoint analysis, perceptual mapping, segmentation, preference modeling, and simulated test markets (e.g., see the reviews in Urban, et al. 1983; Green and Krieger 1989; Urban and Hauser 1993; Kaul and Rao 1995; Urban 1996; Urban, et al. 1997; Green, et al. 2001). Information on articulated needs can be obtained using category problem analysis (e.g., Tauber 1975; Swaddling and Zobel 1996); see Exhibit 7 for an example. Other techniques include repertory grids (Kelly 1955), Echo procedures (Barthol 1976), verbal protocols (Ericsson and Simon 1984), laddering and means-ends analysis (Reynolds and Gutman 1988), as well as projective techniques like product personality profiling, having customers draw their ideal product, hypnosis, and archetype analysis (e.g., Shalit 1999).
[insert Exhibit 7 about here] Unarticulated needs generally involve information dealing with “what customers do” and “what customers make” (see Sanders 1992). As suggested by Sanders and Dandanate (1999), to deeply understand customer needs we need to learn about their memories as well as their current and ideal experiences. To accomplish this, we can listen to what customers say, we can interpret what customers express and make inferences about what they think, we can watch what customers do, we can observe what customers use, we can uncover what customers know, we can reach toward understanding what customers feel, and we can appreciate what customers dream. Participant observation, applied (rapid) ethnography, and contextual inquiry are the primary methods to find out what customers do. Common characteristics of these methods are that they take place in the customer’s natural surroundings and that they are open-ended in nature. For example, “listening” to what customers say can be accomplished by taking notes of conversations and audio taping interviews; “observing” what customers do is done by watching behaviors, making notes and mapping patterns of behavior, sketching relationships between stakeholders, photographing or video taping the general customer environment, using web cameras to watch activities; “observing” what customers use can be performed by watching for unobtrusive behavior traces (e.g., wear and tear on artifacts and objects), watching or photographing or video taping products and services being used, using web cameras (Sanders 2000). As example of observing what customers do and use, see the series of photos in Exhibit 8. These photos depict customers using barbeques at tailgating events before the big game. Key unarticulated needs discovered by the development team included a need for the capacity of a full-size grill, portability, comfort while cooking, safety, as well as quick cool down and clean up. This ethnographic fieldwork, along with other market research, led to the introduction of Char-Broil’s highly successful Grill2Go portable propane grill (see Grill2Go 2004).
[insert Exhibit 8 about here] In addition to traditional ethnographic methods, it is possible to have customers engage in self-reporting (e.g., studies involving diaries, beepers, daily logs, disposable cameras, self-videotaping, web cameras; see Sanders 2002), have the development team “be the customer” (e.g., collect currently available advertising and point-of-purchase displays, analyze service and pricing options, visit retailers, talk to a salesperson, visit company web sites, call customer support, etc.; see Griffin 1996; Otto and Wood 2001), and/or conduct an artifact analysis of existing products and services. Human factors and ergonomics research are other approaches to better understand what customers do (e.g., Salvendy 1997). Participatory and collaborative design between the development team and customer is the primary method for discovering what customers know, feel and dream through what they make. Techniques include lead user analysis (e.g., von Hippel 1986; von Hippel, et al. 1999), the use of customer toolkits (e.g., Thomke 2003; von Hippel 2001; Franke and Piller 2004; Urban and Hauser 2004), metaphor elicitation (Zaltman 1997; Christensen and Olson 2002), “serious play” using LEGOs (Roos, et al. 2004), as well as making collages, cognitive image mapping, and Velcro modeling (Sanders 2000; SonicRim 2004). The discussion in this section indicates that a variety of traditional and nontraditional market research approaches can be used to gain a rich understanding of customer needs. Indeed, as recommended by Sanders (1992) multiple methods should be used to have a complete coverage of the underlying needs. The information that can be captured from these approaches differs quite a bit. In particular, the degree to which customer needs must be interpreted from the original “raw” data increases as interest moves from learning what customers say, to what customers do, to what customers make. However, in all cases the customer “voice” must be translated into a hierarchy of needs. A detailed discussion of techniques for translating data from these approaches into interpreted needs is beyond the scope of this chapter. Excellent coverage of approaches that have been successful in practice, including the use of the KJ analysis and affinity diagrams to sort the huge amount of data generally collected into a needs hierarchy, are in Burchill, et al. (1997), Burchill and Brodie (1997), Scupin 1997; Otto and Wood (2001), Shillito (2001), Mello (2003), and Ulrich and Eppinger (2004), among others.
Future Research Directions It is clear that innovation and new product development are challenging activities. Innovations, especially those involving new technologies, are increasingly more complex with many hundreds (if not thousands) of parts, involving dispersed development teams of hundreds of people, and costing several million dollars in development before market launch (e.g., Ulrich and Eppinger 2004). In addition, firms are under increasing pressure to shorten their development times (e.g., Bayus 1997; Bayus, et al. 1997; Reinertsen 1997; Smith and Reinertsen 1998). And, the costs of studies to understand customer needs are high[11].
[insert Exhibit 9 about here] Under these conditions, it is not surprising that a lot of effort has been, and should continue to be, on developing new methods for understanding customer needs. Naturally, practicing design firms will continue to develop novel methods for understanding customer needs (e.g., see Exhibit 9 for a selected summary of IDEO’s Method Cards). Academic research is also engaged in this activity. For example, Uran and Hauser (2004) describe a relatively cost effective method for “listening in” as customers search the Internet for information and advice about automobile purchases. Using a custom designed web-based (virtual) advisor, customers can generate a large number of preferred combinations of features, and, importantly, they can also reveal their needs for “new” combinations not currently available. Dahan and Hauser (2002b) report several other “virtual customer” methods: interactive web-based conjoint analysis, concept testing of virtual prototypes, fast polyhedral adaptive conjoint estimation in which large numbers of product features can be quickly screened and importance weights estimated, interactive web-based environments where customers can design their ideal virtual prototypes, the “information pump” that allows customers to interact in a web-based game with incentives for customer to think hard and to verbalize the product features that are important to them, stock-market-like securities trading where customers interact to identify novel and winning concepts. Finch (1999) discusses how information from customer product and service postings to Internet newsgroups gleaned from Usenet can be used to understand customer needs. Fuller, et al. (2004) describe a method to harness the innovative ideas within online communities, along with a virtual product development lab, to generate information on customer needs. And, Nambisan (2002) proposes a framework of how virtual customer communities can facilitate new product development. Since information on needs must ultimately be obtained from customers, an important direction for future research is to incorporate findings from the consumer decision making literature dealing with “constructed preferences.” As reviewed by Bettman, et al. (1998), a large body of research dealing with consumer decision making argues that: (1) preferences among options critically depends on the customer’s goals, (2) preferences depend on the complexity of the decision task, (3) preferences are highly context dependent, (4) preferences depend on what is specifically asked of customers, and (5) preferences depend on how the choice set is framed (e.g., losses loom larger than gains; see Kahneman and Tversky 1979; Laibson and Zeckhauser 1998). The idea that preferences are often constructed “on the fly” implies that the information available from customers is highly sensitive to how the concept is communicated as well as context—customers find it difficult to develop well-defined preferences and customers often bring multiple goals to any decision problem (Bettman, et al. 1998). This line of research provides a possible explanation for the inadequacy of traditional market research methods in uncovering customer needs, as well as the success attributed to empathic, ethnographic and the context specific approaches advocated by designers, sociologists, and anthropologists. Other relevant research includes work on choice bracketing (Read, et al. 1999), construal processes (Fischoff, et al. 1999), choice deferral (Dhar 1997), contingent valuation (e.g., Kahneman, et al. 1999), economic modeling and rationality (McFadden 1999), and measurement methods (Payne, et al. 1999). Relating work on the difficulty customers have in making trade-offs seems particularly promising to enhance understanding of customer needs. For example, research finds that consumers are resistant to trading off some quality to get a better price and prefer paying a higher price to get higher quality (e.g., Dhar and Simonson 1999; Nowlis and Simonson 1997; Luce, et al. 1999). Other researchers argue that some product attributes are more difficult to trade off than others (e.g., Tetlock 1992 calls these “sacred” values; Baron and Spranca 1997 discuss “protected” attributes). As also suggested by Bettman, et al. (1998), continued research on the properties of customer needs (attributes) and the effects of these properties on trade-offs is in order. Finally, an especially interesting direction for future research is to develop a comprehensive theory around what I call customer roadmapping. As discussed by Sandia National Laboratories (2004), technology roadmapping is “a needs-driven technology planning process to help identify, select, and develop technology alternatives to satisfy a set of product needs.” Similarly, customer roadmapping is a customer planning process to help identify and select key customer needs to be used as input into the innovation and product development process. An important component of customer roadmapping is a theory of “universal” customer needs dimensions that can be used as a reference point for methods that collect needs information, as well as a starting point for the construction of a hierarchy of specific needs for a particular context and segment of customers. A set of universal needs dimensions would be an important input for planning purposes since it would allow comparisons and benchmarking over time across products, categories, and markets. If systematic patterns of evolution within these universal needs dimensions can be established, customer roadmapping can be a useful forecasting tool[12]. As an example, consider the following four “universal” customer needs dimensions that might be associated with a product or service: (1) functionality (e.g., performance, reliability, compatibility, flexibility), (2) form (e.g., aesthetics, durability, portability, maintainability, uniqueness), (3) usability (e.g., ease of use, complexity), and (4) cost (e.g., acquisition, use, disposal). Future research might establish the validity of these four dimensions, and then develop a set of customer needs for the next level down. For example, detailed “maps” of product functionality (McAdams, et al. 1999) and usability (Jordan 1998; Han, et al. 2001; Babbar, et al. 2002) have been proposed, as have universal “utility levers” for services (Kim and Mauborgne 2000) and scales for uniqueness (Tian, et al. 2001). Reverse engineering of products can also be used to construct the evolutionary path of product attributes (Otto and Wood 1998; McAdams, et al. 1999).

Conclusion

Understanding customer needs is a crucial input into the innovation and new product development process, and at the same time, it is a very challenging endeavor. This chapter has attempted to review the literature relating to customer needs that spans several disciplines. As the discussion in this chapter implies, much of the published research related to customer needs has been concerned with the cross-fertilization of ideas and concepts across disciplines (see Exhibit 10). Consequently, progress in fully integrating a deep understanding of customer needs into the innovation process has been slow. But, this review also indicates that the boundaries between the various functions are coming down. There will always be a tradeoff between the expediency and cost efficiency of practical methods for understanding customer needs versus methods of obtaining a deeper understanding of needs that involve more effort and resources. There also seems to be several directions that academic research can explore in the future. In all cases though, the challenge will be to integrate across multiple disciplines. But, this is what makes this topic interesting!
[insert Exhibit 10 about here]
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Wilkie, W. and E. Pessemier (1973), “Issues in Marketing’s Use of Multi-Attribute Attitude Models,” Journal of Marketing Research, 10 (Nov.), 428-441.

Woodruff, R. and S. Gardial (1996), Know Your Customer: New Approaches to Understanding Customer Value and Satisfaction, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Zaltman, G. (1997), “Rethinking Market Research: Putting People Back In,” Journal of Marketing Research, 23 (Nov.), 424-437.

Exhibit 1

The Innovation Space

Exhibit 2

An Example of Customer Needs for a Digital Camera

Desired End-States Consequences Features

Exhibit 3

The Languages of New Product Development

Exhibit 4

The Fuzzy Front-End of New Product Development

Exhibit 5

The Kano Model of Customer Satisfaction

Exhibit 6

Approaches for Understanding Customer Needs

Exhibit 7

Example of Category Problem Analysis for Sandwich Bags

Exhibit 8

Example of Ethnographic Fieldwork at Tailgating Events
(source: Char-Broil)

Exhibit 9

Selected Method Cards from IDEO

1. Extreme User Interviews Identify individuals who are extremely familiar or completely unfamiliar with the product and ask them to evaluate their experience using it.

2. Rapid Ethnography Spend as much time as you can with people relevant to the design topic. Establish their trust in order to visit and/or participate in their natural habitat and witness specific activities.

3. Behavioral Archaeology Look for the evidence of people’s activities inherent in the placement, wear patterns, and organization of places and things.

4. Social Network Mapping Notice different kinds of social relationships within a user group and map the network of their interactions.

5. Error Analysis List all the things that can go wrong when using a product and determine the various possible causes.

6. Predict Next Year’s Headlines Invite clients to project their company into the future, identifying how they want to develop and sustain customer relationships.

7. Camera Journal Ask potential users to keep a written and visual diary of their impressions, circumstances, and activities related to the product.

8. Cognitive Maps Ask Participants to map an existing or virtual space and show how they navigate it.

9. Empathy Tools Use tools like clouded glasses and weighted gloves to experience processes as though you yourself have the abilities of different users.

10. Activity Analysis List or represent in detail all tasks, actions, objects, performers, and interactions involved in a process.

11. Cognitive Task Analysis List and summarize all of a user’s sensory inputs, decision points, and actions. 12. Unfocus Group Assemble a diverse group of individuals in a workshop to use a stimulating range of materials and create things that are relevant to your project.

13. Draw the Experience Ask participants to visualize an experience through drawings and diagrams.

14. A Day in the Life Catalog the activities and contexts that users experience throughout an entire day.

15. Cultural Probes Assemble a camera journal kit (camera, film, notebook, instructions) and distribute it to participants within one or across many cultures.

16. Scenarios Illustrate a character-rich story line describing the context of use for a product or service.

17. Experience Prototype Quickly prototype a concept using available materials and use it in order to learn from a simulation of the experience using the product.

18. Bodystorming Set up a scenario and act out roles, with or without props, focusing on the intuitive responses prompted by the physical enactment.

19. Try it yourself Use the product or prototype you are designing.

20. Behavioral Mapping Track the positions and movements of people within a space over time.

21. Role-Playing Identify the stakeholders involved in the design problem and assign those roles to members of the team.

22. Behavior Sampling Give people a pager or phone and ask them to record and evaluate the situation they are in when it rings.

23. Card Sort On separate cards, name possible features, functions, or design attributes. Ask people to organize the cards spatially, in ways that make sense to them.

24. Shadowing Tag along with people to observe and understand their day-to-day routines, interactions, and contexts.

25. Historical Analysis Compare features of an industry, organization, group, market segment, or practice through various stages of development.

26. Still-Photo Survey Follow a planned shooting script and capture pictures of specific objects, activities, etc.

27. Narration As they perform a process or execute a specific task, ask participants to describe aloud what they are thinking.

28. Personal Inventory Document the things that people identify as important to them as a way of cataloging evidence of their lifestyles

29. Character Profiles Based on observations of real people, develop character profiles to represent archetypes and the details of their behavior or lifestyles.

30. Be Your Customer Ask the client to describe, outline, or enact their typical customer’s experience.

Exhibit 10

The Cross-Fertilization of Research on Customer Needs

[pic]

-----------------------
[1]Another interesting technology “hierarchy” proposed by Farrell (1993) consists of shelter, health, communication, tools, packaging, raw materials, and transport.

[2]Maslow’s original theory has been modified by other researchers to include cognitive needs (e.g., knowing, understanding, etc.), aesthetic needs (e.g., beauty, symmetry, etc.), and transcendence needs (e.g., helping others to achieve self-actualization).
[3]“Customer” is a general label that refers to the entire set of important stakeholders including the buyer, user, seller, and any others that are influenced by the innovation (e.g., Hauser 1993; Gershenson and Stauffer 1999; Karkkainen, et al. 2003; Molotch 2003). In other words, needs for the complete “customer chain” should be considered. For example, although buyers generally hate the “impervious” blister plastic wrap for small consumer electronic products, this clamshell packaging was actually designed to satisfy retailers’ need for theft reduction (Saranow 2004).

[4]Some consultants and strategy researchers prefer to think of needs as being the “jobs” customers are trying to get done when using a product or service (e.g., Christensen and Raynor 2003; Ulwick 2005). This is related to Griffin’s (1996) statement that needs are the problems that a product or service solves.
[5]Shocker and Srinivasan (1974) call product attributes that are meaningful to consumers and actionable by firms “actionable attributes.” Product features are generally concerned with specific attribute levels (Green 1974) or characteristics that can be specified in physical, chemical or financial terms (Johnson and Fornell 1987).

[6]Ulrich and Ellison (1999) further propose that requirements vary in the degree to which they are “holistic” (i.e., more holistic requirements are increasing in component complexity and the fraction of components on which performance depends). In related work, Martin (1999) develops a Generational Variety Index (a measure for the amount of redesign effort required for future product designs) and a Coupling Index (a measure of coupling among product components).
[7]There are several methods available for determining priorities, including subjective scoring by the development team as well as customer rating approaches and conjoint analysis (e.g., see Pullman, et al. 2002).
[8]In the early 1990’s, Mazda wanted to develop a brand new sports car for the young adult market. As part of the Kansei process of videotaping and photographing young drivers maneuvering, steering, and controlling cars, the project team concluded that “unification of driver-machine” was the key desired end-state. As part of the design specifications, a particular sound of engine thrust was highly desired by the target customers. After extensive simulations and study of low frequency sounds with odd cycle combustion noise, a special exhaust pipe was developed that closely matched the desired sound. See Nagamachi (2002) and QFD Institute (2004).
[9]Other categories of needs have also been proposed. For example, Sanders (1992) identifies “observable needs” (that are displayed in action and can be determined through observation by experts), “explicit needs” (that can be expressed in words by customers), “tacit needs” (conscious needs that customers are unable to express in words), and “latent needs” (subconscious, possibly dormant, needs that customers are unable to express in words). Otto and Wood (2001) define “constant needs” (needs that are intrinsic to the task of the product; e.g., the number of exposures for a camera, whether implemented on film or the number if digital images that can be recorded), “variable needs” (needs that might disappear; e.g., digital photography eliminates the need for long film storage life), “general needs” (needs that apply to every customer in the population; e.g., the need for a camera to have a portable power source), and “niche needs” (needs that only apply to a relatively small segment of the population; e.g., underwater photography).
[10]Other types of needs can also be defined based on the reverse of the curves in Exhibit 5, as well as needs for which the customer is indifferent (along the horizontal axis). See Center for Quality of Management (1993) and Matzler and Hinterhuber (1998) for a detailed discussion of methods to collect customer information that can be used to classify needs into these types.
[11]Urban and Hauser (2004) report the typical costs associated with different customer needs studies in the automobile industry. For example, qualitative/ethnographic interviews (5-10 groups of 5-10 customers each) covering 50-100 features or needs cost $40-50,000; tailored interviews for segmentation studies (800 personal interviews) including 73 scales cost $80,000; activities, interests, opinions studies (100,000 mailed questionnaires) covering 114 features or needs costs $500,000; conjoint analyses (300 on-line or in-person interviews) covering 10-20 features or needs costs $50-100,000; product clinics (300 central-facility personal interviews) covering 40-50 features or needs costs $500,000.
[12]For example, consider the work of Christensen (1997) and Christensen and Raynor (2003) on “disruptive innovations.” Although it does not seem to be based on rigorous research, they suggest a buying hierarchy in which customers want (in order): functionality, reliability, convenience, cost.

-----------------------
Desirable

Feasible

Salable

Highly

Successful

Innovations

Desirable

Feasible

Salable

Highly

Successful

Innovations

“I like my pig well done!” (Customers use full-sized grills, transporting them to and from the game.)

Portable grilling can be very uncomfortable!

Current grilling methods can be unsafe (people drinking before the game, vehicles, fire hazard).

“I gotta get to the game! I hope nobody steals my grill.”

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