Take a customer’s function away to satisfy the customer.

As we mentioned in our previous blog “What does a customer need?”:

The best product or service is something that prevents a customer from his current activity.

The most important questions are:

What is your customer doing? Why is he doing this?

To answer these questions and the analysis of the data will bring us to a clear definition of our customer needs. Since this investigation is problem-solving, creative thinking tools should be used.

Let’s describe as an example of how Functional Modeling (one of the effective creative thinking tools) helps us to define customer needs.

Below briefly listed the main building blocks of Functional Modeling:

  • An engineering system consists of components that are connected through functions
  • A function exists between two components if one component changes a parameter of the another component
  • A product (target) is a component that does not belong to the system, but the system designed to change some parameter of the product
  • Supersystem is a component that does not belong to the system but interacts with the components of the system

Just to emphasize the strength of this creative thinking tool we can take a trivial and known case – a car driver.

Functional modeling of basic car

The purpose of this example is to demonstrate how Functional Modeling as a creative thinking tool can help to determine customer needs

  • Customer – car driver
  • First level system – a basic car
  • Second level system – a modern car
  • The subject for analysis – car driver’s function evolution from first to second system level

Below is the Functional Model of a basic car. The car is designed to move a person (driver); nevertheless, for the purpose of this example, we separated the driver and car body. The car body is taken as a product while a driver is considered as a component of the system.

Fig.1. Functional model of a basic car.

If we decided that a driver is our potential customer we should analyze his functions (actions) that are purple colored and written in red.

In order to satisfy our customer’s (driver) needs, we have to eliminate functions or at least make his activity easier. We collected and treated five functions in the table below using the Action Preventing Action (APA) technique :

Functional modeling of modern car

As a matter of fact, the “Customer Needs” described in the tables above are already implemented in modern cars. We can show these improvements in the form of the functional model of a modern car.

Fig.2. Functional model of a modern car

Hence the engine is now connected to cruise control, automatic gear, brakes and steering wheel boosters. They receive less energy from a driver that is compensated by energy from the engine.

The chart below shows the components’ functional ranking for a basic and modern car. The functional ranking defined using the classical method by GEN3. The ranking is based on the “distance” of the component from the “product” and on the number of functions provided by the component.

Fig.3. Functional ranking comparison for basic vs. modern cars.

It is clear that a front-wheel has the highest functional rank in both cases. Clutch pedal disappeared and 4 new components introduced in the modern car. Therefore, the driver’s functional rank significantly reduced while the functional rank of an engine increased in a modern car.

This is the meaning of customer satisfaction: to reduce and delegate his activity (his functions) to another component of the engineering system.

The Fig.4 shows the interaction between a system and a customer after integrating all functions of the system into one subject:

Fig.4. System – Customer-System interaction schemes with and without the supplier.

Customer – System functional interaction is always bidirectional: a customer should provide some function to the system in order to get a useful function from the system as shown in Fig.4.

The main mission of a supplier is to overtake and fulfill a customer’s function in order to satisfy a customer.

We learned one more very important point from this case: Customer satisfaction is a problem; therefore, problem solving tools required for solving this problem.

Ph.D. in Chemistry. Expert in processes design, improvement and problem-solving. TRIZ (Inventive problem solving) specialist (Level 3).