manufacturer of white goods in China, noticed an inordinate amount of problems with washing machines in rural China. Their motors were quickly getting burnt out. Digging in, engineers found that local farmers were using the washing machines to clean their vegetables, clogging up the drain and eventually burning the motors. Instead of attempting to "educate the consumer in the proper use", Haier saw an opportunity. The development team came up with a wash cycle and machine designed specifically for cleaning vegetables. Haier's example is often quoted to illustrate break through thinking based on discovering hidden needs; for example, in Paul Sloan's blog Destination Innovation.
Now, consider the other side of the coin. What happens when companies fail to understand hidden emotions, misgivings and cultural biases? Probably the most well-known of all time is New Coke. Though the new formula fared better in taste tests than the old one – and beat out archrival Pepsi – all the research did not reveal the deep emotional attachment and nostalgia felt by so many people. Fans boycotted New Coke and forced the company to reintroduce the Classic. Other missteps – Colgate Kitchen Entrees (familiarity with toothpaste is not the same as the brand most people associate with food), Clairol's Touch of Yogurt Shampoo (confused folks got sick ingesting the stuff), and Harley Davidson perfume (motor oil, anyone?).
We often get into discussions about representing the “Voice of the Customer”. On these occasions, it is important to keep in mind the two facets; there are hidden treasures – and risks – beneath the surface. An oft
used (somewhat abused?) phrase is “Walk in the shoes of the customer”. As a wise person once said, “Before you can walk in your customers’ shoes, you need to take off your own”. To me, that statement is profound with Zen-like quality. That’s why I made it the title of this blog.
When I am with customers, I focus on a few things (examples are in italics) and lots of notes:
- What is the task at hand? Let's say that Marcia, a busy mom is about to email photos of her daughter’s birthday party to her dad in another city.
- Why, i.e. the motivation? Is it functional, emotional or both? Here it is about the emotion; the joy of sharing.
- What is the ultimate goal? Sharing the memories of her daughter's birthday with her father; but also overcoming the barrier of the physical distance from him.
- What are the pains points and constraints? What if it takes too long for her to upload? What if her father can’t access a PC?
- What are the alternatives? Are there new alternatives if constraints could be removed? Would Marcia have picked email if her father could have been on IM?
So next time you plan a customer visit, take a notebook. And remember to mentally leave your shoes behind when you walk in.