Business Insight – What does the customer want?

What does the customer want?
by Roger La Salle

Is design everything?
In many cases organisations use design or appearance as the means to drive new customer engagement. Many of the auto makers did this for years and only in the last decade or so have they been actively engaged in real breakthrough innovation.

Manufacturers and service providers are now really focused on what the customer wants with design being just one feature.

The real problem is that many customers do not know what they want, and moreover, in most cases they don’t even know what’s possible.

A stunning example!
Many years ago I was general manager of a company where the managing director decided to take a very poorly designed and widely used industrial product of a competitor and completely redesign it to make it look fantastic and have wonderful ergonomic features.

The company spent upwards of a quarter of a million dollars in making the perfect product with submarine gated injection mouldings and colours that set it apart from the design, ergonomic and appearance perspective. A product a little bigger than a large whiteboard marker.

I left the company in disgust at the appalling waste of money all essentially based on design.

Needless to say, this one product soon took the entire market, driven not by its price or utility but by its fabulous design.

So design won – but did it?
I relocated to a new start up business and we took the concept of that product and added just one tiny thing, a stunning new feature. A feature or in fact a new function that the customers did not even know they wanted, nor indeed thought possible. Perhaps this is what we may refer to as “function led innovation”.

Interesting, and to prove a point I deliberately paid little attention to the actual design features. In short our product was very ugly and not at all ergonomic by comparison with the other.

So what was the outcome?
The outcome was clear and decisive. Our product with its one added function, even at a significantly higher price than the perfectly designed competitor took the entire market almost overnight.

How did we do this?
The answer lies again in the use an Opportunity Matrix, the subject of an earlier blog. This matrix asks you to explore your customers and your products in depth. Look at utility with design being just tiny one aspect of the innovation approach. Indeed there are at least 48 individual search tools to be explored apart from design, that’s real innovation and it goes far beyond finding out what the customers say they want.

What’s the message?
In today’s fast moving technology led environment, it really is hard for the customer to even know what’s possible.

Look at the big picture. It’s not enough to simply survey customers to establish their wants and needs. In order to really address your customer, you need to literally in essence become your customer; and we do this by the process of “tracking”. Just asking people is a waste of time that savvy businesses already well understand.

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Roger La Salle, trains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. “Matrix Thinking”™ is now used in organisations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and business development and is the author of four books and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australia and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast. www.matrixthinking.com

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