Knowing what your customer is really here to do

This article was first published on trendblog FrankWatching (in Dutch) on 25/05/2020.

From COVID-19 to candy bars, knowing your customers ‘jobs to be done’ helps you set priorities and unleash innovation. At a hardware store, what do you buy an 8mm drill bit for? For the 8mm drill bit? Or the 8mm hole?

The jump from ‘drill bit’ to ‘hole’ is embodied in Jobs to be Done (JTBD) theory. In this article, I’ll explain why JTBD is vital for discovering the real reason people engage with your business and your platform. Through extensive experience with jobs to be done, I’ve seen how it helps focus resources and encourage innovation. Here’s how it may help you.

Let’s begin with an example about buying a candy bar. You can buy the same candy bar for different reasons:

  1. You buy the candy bar for yourself because your sugar level is too low
  2. You buy the candy bar for yourself because you have accomplished something good
  3. You buy the candy bar for someone else to accompany a cup of coffee
  4. You buy the candy bar for someone else to compensate for a mistake you made

That’s one candy bar doing four different jobs. At the surface they all look the same but from a customer perspective these candy bars are completely different. If your team is responsible for the bar’s packaging, its campaign or its taste it is crucial to know the real reason for buying the candy bar. It’s the difference between a happy or unhappy customer. You need to know their real job.

With JTBD you get a clear view of the customer so setting priorities suddenly gets easy. Immediately you know how to allocate your budget and you know how to get your platform really working for your customers.

User research is important in discovering this customer perspective. An important instrument in user research is task analysis. It is the perfect instrument to discover the Jobs to be Done of your customers. 

Where does JTBD come from?

In Silicon Valley, JTBD is common knowledge. It is part of the Value Proposition Canvas specifically the ‘pains’ and the ‘gains’. Jobs to be Done theory was popularized by Clayton Christensen of Harvard, the same professor that introduced the notion ‘disruptive innovation’. 

The highlights of the Jobs to be Done theory: 

  1. Focus on the customer problem, not on the customer 
  2. Look why a problem exists 
  3. Use observations, they contain the key 
  4. Differentiate customer problems from possible technological solutions

Listen to Christensen’s own explanation in this video:

JTBD also made Tony Ulwick famous . His method manages product innovation aiming for high business results with customers. JTBD has become an established domain with a large number of books and blogs.

How can you use jobs to be done? 

Jobs to be Done, or customer jobs, as I like to call them, provide a solid ground for your business, your marketing and your platform. If you know what the real problem is of your customer, this creates a clear picture of where your own added value lies.

Once you have seen the jobs to be done of your customers, you can’t ‘unsee’ them.

Jim Kalbach

 In the last few years I have shared Customer Jobs with many organizations. In all cases, the jobs were understood, embraced and used for internal improvements.

I saw a managing director, an internet editor and a desk clerk immediately understand what the customer jobs were . More importantly, they all saw the same problem, and all came with solutions, from their own expertise and perspectives. 

With customer jobs in mind everyone can contribute solutions from his or her own discipline: marketing, logistics, helpdesk, management.

Customer jobs lay the ground for everyone to work together on the same customer problem.

Discovering customer jobs

 As Christensen says : observations are key. You cannot discover customer jobs from a questionnaire. Many customer needs are important but left unspoken. From many different disciplines instruments are available to research customer needs. In the world of design, it is called ethnographic study. Other disciplines call it Field Study. I call it Task [3]Analysis.

Characteristics of these research instruments are:

  • you are in the field with your customer
  • you dive deep into the world of your customer
  • you collect data to create a picture. You are not there to test a hypothesis or fill in a structured questionnaire 
  • you work in a qualitative research project with low numbers

A 5-step approach for task analysis

1 – Organise the task analysis

First, define the segments of your customers and stakeholders. Usually a task analysis consists of 15 to 20 interviews. For each segment you need at least three interviews.

Be creative when defining the segments. Let go of common ideas of your target audiences much as you can. Preferably use segments that are meaningful for society, n ot just not just your organization. Three segments are the minimum, four is practical but five segments are also possible.

2 – Create profiles of your respondents

Create a profile of the persons you would like to interview. Then try and find the right people fitting the profile. Usually you want to interview experienced customers. They need to be able to talk from the factory floor their decision making should be essential for your organization.

3 – Plan the task analysis

If you organize things well the interviews will be quite intense. They will cost you a lot of energy. Do not plan more than 2 interviews on one day.  

Be clear upfront about the confidentiality of the interview. Without trust there is no truth. Keep the invitation for the interview as generic as possible. If the interview is about a ‘hot topic’ please do not give away this topic before the interview. However, if the hot topic is already common knowledge just be frank about it. 

The kind of person you want to interview usually has a full schedule. Please make the subject of sufficient substance for an 1 hour interview . If you are having a really good conversation sometimes you may end up spending 2 hours. 

4 – Conduct the interviews

What is the most important instrument in a task analysis interview? It is your personal and warm human interest. This may sound “soft”, but after 25 years of experience this is the view I have come to . During a task analysis interview you really have to be there with 100% curiosity for all of the details in the world of the person you are interviewing.

If you cannot manage to find this sincere and personal curiosity within yourself, none of the following tips will help you:

  • First establish contact with your conversation partner. He or she also wants to know who you are. Please ‘bring yourself forward’ when opening the interview.
  • Let the person you are interviewing tell his or her own story. Ask open questions. R epeat what has been said (mirroring), but don’t overdo it . 
  • Steer the conversation gently. Follow up with questions on subjects that interest you. Do not follow up on side tracks or issues that you are not interested in.
  • Ask for examples. Ask for details: time, place and budget. It’s the details that will convince others.
  • Pay special attention to quotes. Usually these are hidden in every good conversation. I call them “star quotes”: short powerful quotes that come straight from the heart. Write them down immediately, they have the power to convince colleagues. They will demonstrate the customer job better than your description will.

5 – Process the results of your interviews

If things go as planned, you will start to see patterns or even customer jobs during the interviews. Write down these patterns. If you notice them during the last interviews of your task analysis you can bring up these patterns in the interview. Describe the patterns and ask people if they recognize them. This shortens these last interviews of your task analysis but also enables a deeper understanding. Customer jobs are usually simple. 

If you discover these patterns and customer jobs after finishing the interviews: ask if you can discuss them later, by phone or mail.

Definition of customer jobs

 If you’ve conducted good interviews you will get the picture quickly. Customer jobs are straightforward problems that everyone understands. A few examples in these times of Corona:

  • Staying healthy
  • Protecting my loved ones
  • Restarting my life or my business 

It’s important that customer jobs do not include words about technology or about solutions. There should be a problem for which your customer has different choices or options. Think back of the candy bar: there are several other ways to get your sugar level up.

Currently there is a lot of confusion about the numbers of the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of this confusion in government communication could have been prevented, if the communication was not about the measurements but about a customer job such as ‘protecting my loved ones’. If you focus on this particular customer job you would have to answer questions like:

  • How contagious am I actually?
  • What are the greatest danger s in meeting my elderly parents?
  • What are the specific measurements around social distancing and how do I apply them?
  • Where can I find the rules of social distancing for my region?
  • How can I safely use face masks?

And yes, as you can see, these are not the easy questions. These are the real questions. They are not the frequently given easy answers that some companies offer as FAQs.

Taking Next Steps with customer jobs

Within the world of Jobs to be Done there are many ways to take the Next Steps with customer jobs:

  • The ODI method of Tony Ulwick offers a way to focus on desired outcomes of customers. With it a company can innovate its products focusing only on the most promising product improvements.
  • You can perform a reality check on your marketing activities. Now you can define your buyer personas and customer journeys with the reality of your task analysis results.

Customer jobs can also be the beginning of a design thinking project. In it you expand your customer jobs, with the questions that customer have around a job, the desired outcomes that customers seek and also the emotional and social context of customer jobs. At ContentKings we use a Customer Job Canvas that contains these topics.

The value of customer jobs

 Customer jobs offer a clear ‘outside- in’ perspective. They help you: 

  • Set clear priorities when allocating budget for campaigns or channels
  • Organize a sprint zero when starting your agile development cycles
  • Provide a solid ground when designing your content strategy

A next step could be a multidisciplinary focus group session with customers. In these sessions the customer jobs will help you to find things like:

  • New ideas for solutions
  • Priorities for new releases
  • Formulas for touchpoints in the customer journey
  • User stories for your backlog

This makes customer jobs the perfect start of every customer-focused project. It offers you unique insights. You cannot experience the raw reality of the customer perspective through the comfortable distance of a questionnaire.

A good task analysis lets you dive deep into the world of your customers. After it you can match your marketing perfectly with the real needs of your customers. If you delved deep enough, the experiences will stay. You will never lose this customer perspective again and your customers will very likely stay too. 

Which insights on the Customer Jobs did you already have? Want to know more or any advice? Feel free to contact Rob.