Tell Me What You Want. What You Really, Really Want

[Tutorial Tuesday]

When you are developing software or providing any service often the customer will have an idea of what they want. The idea of what they want is often different from what they REALLY want. If you give the customer what they say they want, you might technically have success, but your customer won’t feel like they have won. If you can provide a result for your customer that meets their true need, you will have a customer who will be happy to return to you.

Here are three techniques that you can use to make sure that you meet your customer’s real needs.

Determine What Outcome The Customer Needs

Ask: “What would it do for you if you solved this problem?” [Bernie Roth]

Find out what outcome the customer is searching for. Then solve the problem for that outcome, not for the described solution.

If your customer says, “We need an interface that is as easy as Facebook.” Ask, “What would it do for you if your interface was as easy as Facebook?”
If the answer is, “It will increase our customer engagement.” Then you know that you are trying to solve a customer engagement problem, not a user interface problem.

Dig Down Into The Why

Similar to determining the outcome, go much deeper into the reasons that the customer needs this change. Dig deep into the reason that the customer wants to solve the problem by asking why repeatedly until you get to the real reason why the change has to happen.

“We need an interface as easy as Facebook.”
“Because they keep users on for a long time.”
“Why do you need that?”
“Because we want to advertise to people.”
“Because that is how we make our money.”
“Because we didn’t want to spend too much on marketing to people who would be willing to buy our product.”

— The questioning can continue. At this point, you can find out if your customer needs an interface as easy as Facebook, or functionality and content that people would be willing to pay a fee to subscribe to.

Build A Prototype

To find out if people want what they are describing, build a prototype. It doesn’t have to be high-tech. Paper prototypes can be extremely informative.

“We need an interface as easy as Facebook.”

“So if I lay out the user interface like (show with paper UI widgets) would it feel right to you?”

It’s a great conversation starter.

Your Customer Isn’t Dumb

I want to make one thing very clear: your customers aren’t dumb. You are not some magical saviour who is going to uncover the ‘real’ needs of your customer. You are working to make sure that YOU have the right understanding. When a customer says that they want their site to be as easy as Facebook: they want their webpage to be as easy as Facebook. It is your job to figure out what that means to your customer. What aspect of Facebook does your site have to rival? If you move forward with your assumptions about what ‘as-easy-as-Facebook’ means then there is little chance that you will be working on the right thing.

It is your job to make the right thing. It is your customer’s job to know what their business needs. Talk to your customer, hear their needs, bring your expertise, and build what will have the healthiest outcome for your customer.