Society & Success

Focus on clients key to making quality products

A mother and her daughter shop at a Nakumatt outlet in Nairobi. View customers as real people with emotional and rational needs as you develop products for them. PHOTO | FILE
A mother and her daughter shop at a Nakumatt outlet in Nairobi. View customers as real people with emotional and rational needs as you develop products for them. PHOTO | FILE 

I recently went shopping for a headphone cable. I strolled through town and saw attractive headphone cables at a seemingly decent electronics shop. I requested the attendant to provide me with a durable set.

He showed me a sample that appeared strong and even spiralled — which seemed to mean that it could stretch longer. Pleased with what I saw I bought it.

Unfortunately, the cable did not live up to my expectations. It did not stretch. Instead it remained tight and curled and at the same length as in the packaging.

I had to hold my head within 20 centimetres of my laptop in order to listen to music. This hurt neck my neck. The cable did not serve me well so I stopped using it. I now avoid that electronics shop.

In developing innovative and creative products and services, how can you avoid making mistakes like those made by the manufacturer of my dismal headphone cable?

Eliminate the risk of poor product and service development through design thinking. What is design thinking? Product development experts utilise design thinking as a systematic approach to problem solving.

It starts with customers and their ability to create a better future for themselves. Design thinking begins with empathy.

Develop products and services with a deep understanding of your target clients. View customers as real people with emotional and rational needs and wants.

Design thinking ensures that clients’ deepest needs are met and encompasses inventing a better future for them.

First, start the product development process with empathy. Empathy entails the ability to figure out consumers’ needs from their own point of view in contrast to the conventional way which looks at client needs from the organisation’s viewpoint.

If companies adopt design thinking products and services will resonate more emotionally with customers and will dramatically improve their experiences.

It was clear in my headphone cable story above that manufacturers did not figure out consumers’ emotions.

Did they make and test a prototype? Did the cable makers ever consider how consumers would use the product? Durability must be merged with functionality, in this case customers enjoying music through headphones while sitting in comfortable positions.

How can you as a business executive know your customers’ core needs? Apply the following two techniques. Ethnography, the branch of anthropology that deals with human cultures, entails observing consumers from different societies as they interact with your products.

Journey mapping involves mapping out a product or service user’s activities throughout the day to observe their pains and gains.

Improved sales

Procter & Gamble, for example, enrolled a number of customers to use a mobile app to upload photos and videos that brought them pleasure. They were asked to write down what the images meant to them.

The research enabled the firm to understand its consumers’ journeys and led it to develop new products which resulted in improved sales.

After understanding the target customers’ needs, their journey, their pains and pain relievers, the next step includes building prototypes and experimenting with them to gain more insights.

The experiments help in testing the proposed solutions and signal whether they are compatible with users’ desires and routines or not.

A prototype is a learning platform. Repetition is a crucial part of experimenting, where you keep adding or removing features to refine a product until you achieve a superior user-desired product or service.

There was no prototype and experimentation in the headphone cable story above.

Had the manufacturer experimented on the cable and asked some potential users questions important lessons concerning the length of the cable and comfort of the user would have been learnt.

Famously, Thomas Edison experimented over 1,000 times on the light bulb before it was finally patented in 1878.

After successful experiments on a product, the next step is launching and testing a high fidelity prototype in the market.

The ideal target market should be the lead users. Lead users are people who need the product most. When Apple launched the Macintosh computer its lead users were programmers. Apple targeted them with features that made programming more exciting.

Due to the product’s success with programmers, millions of other consumers wanted the computer for its superior performance and not necessarily to use it for programming.

Consumers want to be associated with the best user experiences. The same case applies to mobile phones. Some of the features that make them superior may never be used by everyone.

However, people still buy superior phones because of their quality and the fact that experts view them as such.

Following the design thinking process is a powerful tool that will push you towards better solutions.

The three-step approach; empathy, experiment, and launch will enable you create high quality products ad services which are also appealing to users.

Gichobi is a Strategy Analyst working with WYLDE International.