by: Sigurd Rinde

A customer initiated conversation:

"I've got a problem!"
"What's the problem? Can we help?"
"My advisors are too slow, I need some sort of program that pesters them after a week of non-response!"

In a nutshell, the kind of close-to-the-customer market research that we're supposed to do. Asking the customer directly "what do you need?", and then go home and make it.

Now Ken argues in his "User triangulation: how to listen to customers" that we should be a bit more careful when we do.

I agree completely.

Actually I would go one step further and say "never accept a customer need as true, ask questions - what for? why?".

Now, that would be real cluetrain. Real conversation instead of easy listening.

When asked "what do you need" or "what is the problem" we all too often jump to conclusions and offer a solution in the light of known parameters.

In the example above, "reminders" is what we're used to. But is it truly the best solution, or basis for a product spec?

I did not think so.

"Why are they slow?", "what for do you need the speed?", "why do they accept being slow?" and other offhand "why"s might create some ideas:

  • Make the advisors a part of your process. Add delivery and service dependent pricing.
  • Become a part of his process and help him out in delivering. Get direct access.
  • Shape up your own process to leave more time for the slow ones. Order the services at an earlier stage.
  • Increase the number of advisors. Order in parallel with cut-off dates for the slack ones when the first responds.
  • Make the process transparent, let others see how fast or slow they are. That'll give them something to think about (my favourite).

Better than pestering? Maybe, maybe not yet... but at least a method to produce some ideas worth looking into. Ask "why?" and "whatfor?" until you have a good solution. Or until you're sure there is no better.

Sony's market researchers got a clear and negative response to their first Walkman tests: After all, music was listened to in the living room, and this little tinny box could not compete with a nice hifi!

(Lucky for us, the instincts and tenacity of their big boss overruled that first result and gave us our first real portable music player.)

If the researchers had followed up with a "why do you want to listen to music in your living room only?", they could have uncovered the old habits as in "it's because that's where I have my gramophone player, duh...", and taken it from there.

Now try; why do I need a word processor?

Then try; "what for do I need a word processor?" :)

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