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Customer Needs. Understanding and Identifying Customer Needs. Considering the customers’ desires is essential in the product’s success and it will pull product development into a better and more focused direction.

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understanding and identifying customer needs
Understanding and Identifying Customer Needs

Considering the customers’ desires is essential in the product’s success and it will pull product development into a better and more focused direction.

Technologist’s Problem – product development undertaken with no basis for market acceptance, very common in engineering community.

Akia Morita (1986), founder of Sony Corp., “our plan is to lead the public to new products rather than ask them what they want. The public does not know what is possible, we do”

MAE dept.

customer expectations

Customer Population

The customer is a statistical concept.

The design team should define the customer population using the product.

Customer Expectations

Customer expectations increase over time, it is very important to stay in touch with customers and to understand their preferences. The more customer expects, the harder it is to keep delighting the customer.

Example, automobile: cup holder, antilock brake system,

CD player, airbags, GPS, ….

Example, Bicycle; racing bike, mountain bike, recreational bike

MAE dept.

types of customer needs
Types of Customer Needs

General categories based on how easy the customer can express them and how rapidly they change.

Example: Digital Camera

  • Direct Needs – customers have no trouble declaring those needs they are concerned about.

Cost, good pictures, ease of operation

  • Latent Needs – not directly expressed by the customer without probing.

Obtaining prints, easy viewing on PC, deleting pictures, viewing pictures

MAE dept.

types of customer needs1
Types of Customer Needs
  • Constant Needs – these needs are intrinsic to the task of the product and always will be. When product is used, this need is always there.

Nighttime picture taking, number of digital images, …..

  • Special needs – apply only to a smaller market segment within the entire population.

Under water application, rapid picture taking

MAE dept.

the process
The Process
  • Collecting raw data from customers
  • Interpreting the raw data
  • Grouping the needs into primary, secondary, … needs
  • Establishing the relative importance of the needs
  • Documenting the results for the entire design team

MAE dept.

the goals of the process
The Goals of the Process
  • Ensure that the product is focused on customer needs
  • Identify all needs, explicit and hidden
  • Make sure that no critical need is missed
  • Creating a comprehensive list of the needs for the design team

The idea is to create a high-quality information channel between the customers in the target market and the developers of the product.

MAE dept.

gathering customer needs
Gathering Customer Needs


– Discuss the needs with a single customer, one at a time in the customer’s environment where the customer uses the product and feels comfortable

Guideline for interviewing

Select the actual users of the product to interview and introduce

yourself and state the purpose of the interview.

  • When and why do you use this product?
  • Walk us through a typical session using the product.
  • What do you like about the existing product?
  • What do you dislike about the existing product?
  • What issues do you consider when buying this product?
  • What improvements would you make to the product?
  • What would be a reasonable price tag for the product?

MAE dept.

guideline for interviewing

Use visual stimuli and props –

Bring models of new product, competitor’s products.

  • Suppress preconceived notions about the product technology –

do not bias the customer with any concept or technology. Uncovering a need that is independent from the solution used helps in concept engineering.

Gathering Customer Needs

Guideline for interviewing
  • Go with the flow –

Wherever the customer takes you, follow along, and ask why and how questions

MAE dept.

guideline for interviewing1

Be alert for surprises and latent needs

– pursue any

surprise answer with a question.

  • Watch for nonverbal information

– look for facial

and body language.

Gathering Customer Needs

Guideline for interviewing
  • Have the customer demonstrate

– don’t just ask about the product, observing the customer in action provides helpful information.

MAE dept.

gathering customers needs

Focus groups

– a moderator facilitates a session with a group of customers in the product developer’s environment. The design team may observe the session behind a two-way mirror. Very common in food industry. Look for facial and body expressions.

Gathering Customers needs

Questionnaires –use the same guideline as for the interview to develop a list of questions. Prepare the questions carefully. Then organize the responses provided. Make the list short.

MAE dept.

comments on gathering customers needs

Focus groups

are more to attain the same amount of information.


most efficient

Conducting is the way of gathering quality information. Hauser (1993), reports that interviewing nine customers for one hour each will obtain over 90% of the customer needs that would be uncovered when interviewing 60 customers in a focus group.


Comments on Gathering Customers needs


lowest quality

provide the of information. The responses only pertain to the questions asked, not necessarily what the customer wants to tell the design team. Low percentage of returns.

MAE dept.

example electric wok
Example: Electric Wok

An electric wok redesign is desired. Current electric woks are inadequate and do not satisfy the demands of customers to conveniently cook authentic Chinese food. The original wok is a six-quart electric wok. A competitive wok is a traditional wok, used over a gas flame.

MAE dept.

product feel industrial design
Product “feel” – Industrial Design

In addition to the activities of a product, it is also important to capture the desired “feel” of a product. Industrial designers emphasizes the important human qualities of comfort, safety , and aesthetic appeal.

Semantic Inquiry

MAE dept.

organizing customer needs
Organizing Customer Needs

The design team reviews the interpreted needs and sort them into a list - Affinity DiagramMethod

MAE dept.

determining need importance

Interview Data Method

(performed by the design team) The subjective importance ratings (Must, Good, …) are converted into numerical equivalents. Then the importance is calculated using the average equation.

Questionnaire Method

(based on customer surveys) A questionnaire is sent to customers asking for the importance of each need. Costly but more accurate.

Determining Need Importance

There are two basic approaches to determining the relative importance of the needs.

MAE dept.

determining need importance1
Determining Need Importance

Interview Data Method(performed by the design team) The subjective importance ratings (Must, Good, Should, and Nice) are converted into numerical equivalents.

Must (9) – used when a customer absolutely must have this feature, should be used very sparingly.

Good (7) – a very important customer need should have a Good importance rating.

Should (5) – If the customer feels the product should satisfy this requirement, its important for the design team to consider it.

Nice (3) – this is for the needs that would be nice if the product satisfied them but are not critical (added product functions)

MAE dept.

homework assignment 3 due wed sept 20
Homework assignment #3 Due Wed. Sept. 20
  • For the individual product selected, interview 5 potential customers, record the comments (original hand written) using Likes/Dislikes template.
  • Complete the interpreted Need column in the template.
  • Organize a customer needs list, use the Affinity Diagram Method.
  • Determine the needs importance, use the Questionnaire Method.

Turn in all your raw data.

MAE dept.

cluster analysis method
Cluster Analysis Method

In previous methods the importance ranking of each customer need resulted in a constant weight. This assumes that the needs have statistically independent importance.

  • Construct a preference structure over the values. For example, noise generated by a product and price (decibels vs. dollar).
  • Construct a preference structure not over the values of the needs but rather over the different product configurations. Show customers different prototypes and include customer needs in the design.

It may be desirable to obtain a correlation between needs.

MAE dept.






Large button: 5 (39)

Small button: 14 (64)

Cluster Analysis Method Blender Face









Best: 1(23), 5 (39), 12 (39)

Worst: 17 (147), 4 (126), 7 (108)

MAE dept.

comments on customer needs process
Comments on Customer Needs Process
  • The process of identifying and evaluating customer needs is not an exact science.
  • The knowledge, intuition and experience of the design team is important.
  • The result of the customer needs process is used to establish product specifications.
  • The process ensures that the product is focused on customer needs.
  • The results should be organized and documented for the design team to use.

MAE dept.