Identifying underserved customer needs

Building upon my previous article where I talk about the lean product development process and how to define and articulate problem space, I am going to discuss the key principles in identifying underserved customer needs (based on the book named ‘The Lean Product Playbook’ by Dan Olsen).

As discussed previously, key tools in uncovering underserved customer needs include:

  1. Customer discovery interviews to develop user persona and user stories
  2. Understanding customer benefit ladders to prioritize needs: Key tools include Maslows’ hierarchy of human needs and Kano model

Let’s talk about user personas and user stories:

User persona

The first step in defining the problem space as per the product-market fit pyramid is to identify the target customer segment and visualize a typical customer to help brainstorm key user needs and desires. As a reminder, this is how a product-market fit pyramid as defined by Olsen looks:

A typical user persona contains the following elements:

  1. Name
  2. Representative photograph
  3. A quote that conveys what a user cares about
  4. Job title
  5. Demographics
  6. Needs/Goals
  7. Relevant motivations and attitudes
  8. Related tasks and behaviors
  9. Frustration/pain points with the current solution
  10. Level of expertise/knowledge
  11. Product usage context/environment
  12. Technology adoption lifecycle segment
  13. Other salient attributes

User personas are key attributes of user-centered design and are typically developed through customer discovery interviews also known as contextual inquiry or ethnographic research.

User stories

Once a user persona is developed, user stories are created to define the context of a customer problem and the solution he/she is seeking. A typical user story is defined as follows:

As a [type of user]
I want to [do something]
so that I can [desired benefit].

For example, user story of a customer demanding an automatic car can be:

As a car driver,
I want to drive a car changing gears automatically,
so that I can focus more on the road and traffic and reduce the stress of changing gears manually.

Another user story can be about the placement drive, neutral and reverse controls on the gear-board.

Customer benefit ladders

When it comes to identifying customer needs, it is important to understand that not all needs are the same. Some needs must be satisfied before customers start seeking a solution to another need. Two important models outlining this key principle are Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and the Kano model.

Abraham Maslow presented his eponymous hierarchy of human needs as below:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Overarching learning from the above pyramid is that needs at the bottom of the ladder must be satisfied before other needs start taking shape. More information about this can be found at's_hierarchy_of_needs.

Another useful model to know (derived from industrial operations theories and also useful in prioritizing features and benefits) is the Kano model which looks as follows:

Kano model classifies user needs as follows:

  1. Must-have: These needs are essential for a product to be useful for a customer. If not met, they cause a high level of customer dissatisfaction. For example, a touchscreen on a smartphone.
  2. Performance benefits: These are the benefits that increase customer satisfaction with each incremental improvement in product functionality being able to meet the need. For example, battery capacity in a smartphone.
  3. Satisfaction delighter: These are the underserved customer needs which if met create high level of customer satisfaction and delight and are usually associated with the success of the product in the market.

Among the above, performance benefits and satisfaction delighter are what constitutes the customer value proposition. Thus, it's important to classify user needs in the above categories to define the value proposition and prioritize MVP feature sets.

In the next article, I will talk about how to prioritize user needs and MVP feature sets.



Product Manager at Amazon | UCLA, ISB, IITR Alum

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