How to (really) understand customer needs.

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Unlocking Customer Needs holds the key to Building Meaningful Customer Relationships

Many businesses and brands don’t have insights into customers at a granular enough level to build meaningful relationships, generate customer loyalty and turn customers into passionate advocates. Specifically, gaining an actionable understanding, from both a functional and emotional perspective, what customers truly value, what propositions will resonate and what will move them to purchase, renew and return.

As always, perennial customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands have a “secret weapon” – they turn to behavioral science and  ethnographic practice of Needfinding to help answer “how do we understand our customers better”, “what are their unmet needs?”; and “what jobs-to-be-done are going unfulfilled?”  In the Experience Economy, getting the answers to these types of questions enables winning businesses and brands to unlock the keys to delivering exceptional service and customer experience (CX).

Make the fuzzy front-end of customer relationships less fuzzy through Needfinding.

Drawing from the sciences and working at the fuzzy front-end of customer relationship management, “Needfinding” is a proven research methodology built on the idea of problem finding vs. problem solving. Differing from conventional market research or focus groups, Needfinding helps brands uncover the sentiment, desired outcomes, service and experience gaps, patterns and market dislocations that characterize unmet needs. In the context of customer customer service, customer journeys and customer experiences, Needfinding promotes inquiry into customer problems independent of trying to solve them. This essential discipline helps brands avoid making incorrect assumptions or drawing premature conclusions, leaving the full spectrum of ideas, options and choices open for consideration.

The three elements of Needfinding.

1.   Customer needs:  A cornerstone for building relevance and customer relationships in a changing world.

In a marketplace that is noisier and more competitive than ever, brands must cut through the noise. Simply put, this means being more relevant to customers. Perennial customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands have shown that relevance comes from engaging at a human level to address the functional and emotional needs that customers truly value. Crucially, needs are more enduring than specific product or service solutions – smart phones come and go, but the need to communicate on the move endures – making them more reliable representations of commercial opportunity.

2.    Unmet customer needs:  Catalysts for authenticity and deeper emotional connections with customers.

Beyond simply addressing existing needs better, cheaper or faster, it is imperative that brands look beyond the obvious to discover the unmet needs of their customers and prospects. While unmet needs take many forms, characterize them as the “Six-Uns” — underlying, unarticulated, undervalued, unconsidered, unsatisfied or unknown needs. Orienting customer service delivery and customer experiences around these unmet needs offer authentic opportunities to demonstrate customer empathy and serve as powerful catalyst or brand preference, buying urgency, loyalty, and passionate advocacy.

3.    Jobs-to-be-done:  A consistent framework for service design, customer journeys and experience strategy.

Customers can’t always express their expectations and needs adequately or in ways that are actionable. Following the thesis that “customers don’t buy products and services, they hire them to do a job”, emotional or functional needs and associated problems are best discovered using the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework. In the context of a customer persona or segment within a customer journey or customer experience, expressing needs as JTBD statements allows brands to systematically break down jobs into discrete steps and desired outcomes. Ultimately, the JTBD framework provides a consistent method for customer needs and a common language in the design of exceptional services, customer journeys and customer experiences.

To learn more about the power of service excellence culture, leadership operations, customer experience culture, memorable customer service and employee engagement read more articles by Wayne Simmons of Opptiv – The Service Excellence Company on CustomerThink:

Super-charge the Journey to Customer-Centric Culture.

When touchpoints become painpoints, it’s time for a Muda, Mura and Muri intervention.

Winning through customer experience: Make your HR & CX organizations BFFs.


This article was informed by personal experiences as the Global Head of Service Delivery at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center and working with businesses and brands on their must urgent customer and service challenges.

About the Author:

As co-founder and Chief Experience Officer of Opptiv, Wayne Simmons was previously the Global Head of Service Delivery for The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.  As a thought leader, change agent and an expert experience strategy consultant, he led a team dedicated to delivering the legendary ethos, practices and systems of the Ritz-Carlton brand for client organizations across industries. Wayne leverages the principles of Horst Schulze, Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and creator of that brand’s legendary reputation for service excellence and customer-centric culture. As a Trusted Advisor working at the intersection of HR, CX and C-Suite leaders, Wayne coaches, trains and consults with businesses and brands on their journeys to maximize customer growth, loyalty and attain competitive advantage through service excellence and customer experience culture, leadership and operations. The Service Excellence Company, dedicated to helping brands turn service into competitive advantage.

About Opptiv:

 What to learn more?  Check out our services page.

Opptiv is the Service Excellence Consultancy. We help businesses and brands win through service excellence culture, customer-centricity and exceptional customer experience. Unique in the industry, we take a playbook approach to help clients achieve business outcomes at enterprise scale. We start by applying Design Thinking to activate leaders and engage frontline talent in the co-creation of purposeful culture platforms and unique service propositions that all levels can understand, embrace and hold each other accountable for. We then create brand-aligned playbooks to document the underlying elements of the culture as actionable guidance, practices and function-specific “plays”. Finally, we use these playbooks to inform the internal communications and tailored training needed to align, integrate, reinforce and sustain service excellence across all parts of the business.

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