Discovering Unmet Customer Needs: What is Their “Rock”?

 Photo by:  RawheaD Rex

Photo by: RawheaD Rex

One of the best presents I’ve ever received was a $6 cable that connected my car to my phone (before the days of bluetooth). I already had a cable, but it took several minutes of every morning for me to rig it up just perfectly so that it would work. When I first bought it it was fine, but over time it required more and more finagling. I was the frog in a pot of boiling water. I came to think of this annoying charade as part of my morning routine. 

My husband witnessed me doing my fanciful rigging with perfect clarity of how ridiculous it was. He didn’t say it then, he just let me do my thing, but a few days later a new and functional cable arrived in the mail. The first day I used it, it struck me just how much it would improve my mornings. It also struck me that in the age of Amazon, ordering a new cable would have taken a fraction of the time it took me on any given day to make my old one work. But for whatever reason, I just never did it. 

As my former colleague, Jan, would say, “If every day you find a rock in your path and choose to walk around it, one day you should think about moving that rock.”

Design research is somewhat about hearing your customer’s needs as they explain them to you, but it’s much more interesting when it’s about stumbling upon needs your customer doesn’t even know they have. What is the “rock” in your customer’s path? Can you envision a product or service that could move the rock for them? Or at least paint it so that it becomes a source of joy instead of a source of frustration? 

And if while reading this, you’ve thought of someone in your life who has a rock in their way, surprise them with something that will clear their path. It’ll be the best present they’ve ever gotten.


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