Understanding Customer Needs
Firms use various traditional i.e. surveys and focus groups, as well as nontraditional research i.e. ethnography, contextual inquiry, empathic design etc. approaches to gain insight into their customers’ needs in order to develop highly successful products (desirable, feasible and salable). Unfortunately, most companies are still product-driven rather than customer-driven. The hierarchy of needs composed of five levels from the bottom – biological/physiological, safety, belongingness & love, esteem, self-actualization. However, customers are usually not very good at expressing higher level needs. Needs are ‘what’ is desired by customers, whereas attributes, features, requirements, and specifications are ‘how’ a need is satisfied by a specific product/service, while products characteristics are rather quantitative but attributes are more abstract and are based on the perceptual dimensions that consumers use to make purchase decisions. Requirements are the technical solutions to meet a customer’s need, and specifications are the specific metrics associated with requirements. Note that in some cases, all of terms mentioned can either refer to the same thing, or capture different information about what customer really desires. There are at least three levels of customer needs that are increasingly more abstract in scope: Features, are often the words described by consumers, and 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 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-state are the customer’s underlying purposes and goals, and can result in creative and radical changes because customer-oriented product-market structures may be very different...
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