Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 6/19/2003
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What Do Your Customers Really Want?
Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [email@example.com]
It is critical that your company deliver what your
customers really want. But how do
you know what the customer really wants?
Most people are familiar with the cartoon showing a
tire swing in its various realizations thorough the design process by various
groups within a company, versus what the customer really wanted (shown below,
or see http://www.uoregon.edu/~ftepfer/SchlFacilities/TireSwingTable.html
if you can’t see the cartoon directly).
It is all too easy for the customer’s needs to be subsumed by the
desires of others within a company who interpret the customer needs through
their own prism. What you often
end up with is not what the customer wanted at all.
In sales-driven companies, product requirements
often reflect a shopper’s mentality. Sales
people see what customers are asking for today, that other companies are already
providing, and say that’s what their customers want.
This is really like driving by looking only through the rear-view
mirror. You see where you’ve
been, but have no idea of where you’re going, or should be going.
When you deliver what sales has requested, not only is the customer
disappointed, because they have already been able to get that product from
others for some time, but by the time it’s delivered the sales people
themselves are disappointed, because the view through the rear-view mirror has
changed by then, and what they asked for is no longer what they want now.
In engineering-driven companies, what gets built is what the engineers think
the customers want, shaped by the engineers perceptions and pre-conceptions.
Engineers often are not really in touch with their customers.
In fact, sales people often actively discourage putting the engineers
in direct contact with their customers because they’re concerned that
engineers will make blunt or impolitic comments to their customers, which may
cast sales in an unfavorable light. So,
engineers in most cases don’t really have a good perspective of what the
customers really want. Further,
engineers are generally enamored of the technologies they are using and
designing, and want to be able to showcase their technology to the world to
say, “Behold world, see what I can do!”
The result is very often a severe disappointment for the customer,
giving them a product far more complex than they really want with lots of
bells and whistles they don’t need.
In marketing-driven (not market-driven) companies, what gets defined is
marketing’s view of what the customers want.
This is generally a mix of sales-driven and engineering-driven
information, with marketing’s own twist on these perspectives, and may often
be better than either one alone. However,
it often does not reflect a true customer-driven component, and, like the tire
swing cartoon example, reflects a distorted view of what the customer really
What is required is for the company to be market-driven.
That is, the company must actively talk with current and prospective
customers about what they will want by the time the product will come out.
Not what they want today, although that information is certainly
valuable. Not what they will want
in 3 to 5 years, although that information is also valuable.
But what they will want in the timeframe it will actually take to
develop and produce the product. You
want the product to address current needs, and to be able to evolve easily to
future needs, so current and future needs should be reflected in the design
efforts. In fact, if some of the future needs can be incorporated
sooner, so much the better. But
what is really critical is to be able to address the needs the customer will
have when the product becomes available.
You want to deliver what your customer really wants.
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