Building Models Based on Customer Insight

Henry Ford said that if he asked customers what they wanted, they would say a faster horse. Gathering customer insight is not about asking the customer about what they want, but talking to customers about their daily challenges and developing a deeper understanding of their needs.

Another challenge is knowing which customers to listen to. Sometimes new ideas come from customers on the periphery. Take Zip Car for example.

Zip Car wanted to understand the issues of city dwellers. Most city dwellers do not have a car because there is nowhere to park, traffic is generally horrendous, and there is ample public transportation to get them around town. These reasons make car ownership in the city impractical.

However, after listening to city dwellers and their needs, Zip Car discovered that most city dwellers felt confined by the city’s transit system. They also thought that it was difficult to exit the area serviced by the public transit system.

While city dwellers could take public transportation and pick up a rental car for longer trips, they also needed a way to get to locations outside the public transit area. For example, they needed a way to make trips that only lasted a few hours or trips where taxis were impractical. What they expressed was a desire for a simple way to gain access to a car for just a few hours. Moreover, they didn’t want to deal with insurance or having to find a gas station to fill up the vehicle after only a twenty-mile round trip. The result was Zip Car.

Don’t ask, “What can we sell our customers?” Instead ask, “What jobs do our customers need done and how can we develop a solution to help?”

What process do you use to understand the needs of your customers?


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