Customer Needs Identification is the process of determining what and how a customer wants a product to perform. Customer Needs are non-technical, and they reflect the customers‘ perception of the product, not the actual design specifications, although frequently they are closely related.

Customer Needs Identification has two major goals:
1. To keep the product focused on customer needs
2. To identify not just the explicit needs of the customer, but also the latent needs

These customer requirements should be independent of any particular product or potential solution. After all, it‘s only after identifying Customer Needs that one can begin to meet them. So with that in mind, the goal is to find out precisely what the customer wants. Here is a four step method for identifying Customer Needs:
1. Gather raw data from customers
2. Interpret the data in terms of customer needs
3. Organize the needs
4. Reflect on the Process

1. Gathering Raw Data
Intuitively, the first step must be to gather data from the customers. Without their input, it would be impossible to identify their needs. Try to learn as much as possible about the customers; the data are there to serve as guidelines for product development.
There are three recommended ways to gather data, and there is one common trap that usually provides deceptively shallow data. First, the four robust methods for collecting information:
1. Demand or ask for formal request or requisitions from the users or consumers of the items
2. Interviews: Interviews are one-on-one meetings with potential customers. Frequently they take place in the customer‘s own environment, as they are more comfortable there and there is a chance to see a problem in action.
3. Focus groups: Focus groups are like expanded interviews. The group is lead in a discussion by an interviewer. It is very common for the group to be watched by some number of unseen observers who take notes on the proceedings.
4. Observation: Seeing someone struggle with a problem is an easy way to get a general understanding of the issue. And frequently you are not the first person to identify that problem, so ―watching customers use an existing product or perform a task for which a
new product is intended‖ is a perfectly reasonable way to identify customer needs, as well as ways in which successful companies are attempting to solve them. Observation can either be passive, where one simply watches a customer work in their natural environment, or observation can be active, where one works side-by-side with the customer and gain and understanding of their problems from their perspective.

2. Interpreting Data
So how, exactly, does one transform what the customer says into something you can work with? Here is a useful process with several helpful constraints and suggestions for expressing the data.

  • Write the needs in terms of what the product has to do, not how it might do it.
  • Express the needs as specifically as the raw data
  • Use positive phrasing
  • Express the needs as an attribute of the product
  • Avoid the words must and should

3. Organizing Needs
After interpreting the data, organize them. Group similar needs together, prioritize them, etc. Decide what is truly important to the customer. Define the ―critical needs,‖ those needs which absolutely must be met before the product can be considered successful.

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