Economy development and success depends on the right relationship between customer and supplier through customer satisfaction. Customer needs are typically defined as goods or services a customer requires to achieve certain goals, that a customer accepts and ready to pay for. Since the definition of customer needs is the key point to supplier success, this issue has become a subject of detailed investigations.
A customer does not like to do what he does. Therefore preventing the customer from his current activity is a way to achieve customer satisfaction.
We can rephrase that to simplify: A customer needs goods or services that will allow him to avoid or ease his activity.
System – Person (Customer) functional interaction is always double-sided: a customer should provide some function to the system in order to get useful function from the system:
The highest level of customer satisfaction is to get a
function from a system without providing of any function from a customer to the
As a matter of fact, the primary mission of a supplier is to take over a function currently performed by a customer to satisfy the customer:
Nevertheless, to define customer needs and to provide customer satisfaction is an innovation/problem-solving process that should be managed with relevant creative thinking tools.
Especially, we elaborated a method Action Preventing Action (APA) that helps to identify customer needs. The tool is currently available in the PRIZ Innovative Platform.
So, how does our APA tool work?
#1 Who is your potential customer?
First of all, you should be an expert or at least be able to get hold of all the necessary information about your potential customer. Refrain from “jumping” into areas that are out of your professional scope. Otherwise, you will not be able to achieve customer satisfaction.
#2 What is your potential customer doing?
You can describe your potential customer activity based on your experience, or you can send a survey to your potential customer with one simple question, “What keeps you busy?“
Hence, it should be described as an actual activity at the moment. For instance, the answer could not be “I am solving a problem, or innovating or improving yield, or reducing cost, etc. ” Only actual specific actions (functions) should be described as “I am reading/writing emails“ or “creating a data table“ or “reading/writing instruction“, etc.
#3 Why is your potential customer doing this?
Describe why your potential customer is doing it, which problems he is solving with his actions.
Again and again, it should not be something abstract as “Looking for new customers“, “increasing profit“, etc. Instead, it should be real purpose as “Getting/sending information“ or “updating a document“ or “looking for correlations“, etc.
#4 How can you solve his problems? How you can prevent customer’s activity?
Obviously, this is where creative thinking begins. Read the answers to the two previous questions. Think and describe what can you propose to your customer in order to prevent his current activity or at least to make this activity easier. Create and describe your Action Preventing Action (APA) – your action to prevent your customer’s current action.
#1 Potential customer:
Engineers at a hi-tech production facility.
#2 What is the customer doing?
We came up with the following:
Fetches and analyzes a data
Checks Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts
Reads or writes emails
Reads or writes a specification (Spec)
Fills in the safety document
#3 Why the customer is doing this?
The purposes of the actions above are:
Support equipment troubleshoot
Report to a manager
Support a new project
Validate process health
Request for actions
Update a documentation
Ensure technicians are up to date with their knowledge
It is important to mention, that the same actions were taken for different purposes and the same purposes sometimes were achieved with different actions. Moreover, we collected statistics of the results in the table in order to graph the data and to be able to rank the actions. As a result, we can identify the customer needs that are the most promising for the development and proposal of new goods or services.
In total, we collected 413 responses. The results are shown in the table below:
As one can see, the same actions are performed for different purposes. The chart covering Purposes within Actions is shown below:
Overall, following the data, the chart of Actions breakdown is shown below. In the light of the data below it is clearly seen that engineers are mainly busy with Pulling and analyzing data, Checking of Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts and Reading/writing emails:
As a matter of fact, the action “Filling in safety document” has the lowest share within the total activity of engineers. Hence, this indicates that the company has no problem with safety. On the other hand, engineers are very busy with three main actions:
Pulling and analyzing data
Checking SPC charts
Reading or writing emails
Hence reducing these actions is an excellent opportunity for a supplier to satisfy a customer.
In addition, different purposes achieve the same action. An additional possibility to satisfy a customer is to reach the purpose without any specific action of the customer.
Besides, below is the chart of Purposes breakdown:
Furthermore, there are three purposes with a significant share:
Validate process health
Report to manager
Indeed, if we succeed in assisting our potential customer to achieve the purposes, therefore he won’t need to make his current actions.
#4 How can we solve the problem of our potential customer?
This step is last but not least. The table below represents the most frequent not only actions but also purposes. Furthermore, the right column contains the customer needs.
To summarize the results, there are two main directions for customer satisfaction based on the completed investigation:
First of all, provide the customer with the system assisting to solve problems as well as provide relevant training. This will prevent the customer from unnecessary data fetching/analyzing and checking of SPC charts.
Second of all, provide a system of automatic emailing or/and dashboard to update managers. This will prevent the customer from his activity dedicated to reports to managers.
So, in this article, we have described a different approach that can help us to identify customer needs and ensure customer satisfaction. Generally speaking, the case study is only one of the infinite possibilities and use-cases that one can think about.
PRIZ Innovation Platform already supports APA as one of the tools as general availability for everyone to use for free. We can’t wait to see what next big thing you’ll come up with for your customers.