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Shifting Thinking

Understanding Customers to Create Value - Part 2

Dale Koerner
Published by: Dale Koerner

At its core, Jobs to be Done takes a look at what customers are really trying to achieve or accomplish in a given set of circumstances. Your customers are looking for solutions that address their specific problems... and they will hire the solution that they feel does their ‘job’ the best.

By looking at the 'why' behind the ‘jobs’ our customers are hiring for, we can get a better understanding of their needs and uncover insights into what drives their decisions… the motivations that drive them to purchase, repurchase, and promote our products or services.

However, staying on track can sometimes be a challenge and there are some common pitfalls that you may encounter along the way.


Becoming a ‘Jobs’ Sleuth: 4 Common Approaches that Can Mislead

In today’s world, we tend to rely on the ideas and practices taught to us by modern science when we begin looking for information. This can often lead us to take an overly systematic and straightforward approach to problem-solving which can often restrict us to ‘in the box’ thinking, limiting our search for ‘why’ and keeping us from seeing the big picture.

This can lead to a kind of short-sightedness, where we look at information without the proper context, and can prevent us from looking deeper and truly understanding our customers’ jobs to be done. Instead, we need to constantly be asking ‘why’… and to keep asking it… until we get to the very foundations that form our customers’ perspective, giving us the all-important context that we need to properly assess their jobs to be done.


"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it) but 'That's funny...'"
– Isaac Asimov


Similar to science, our investigation into our customers’ Jobs to Be Done should be driven by continual curiosity. Observation alone will not lead to true understanding. Don’t limit your search. Constantly question.


1. Overlooking assumptions and biases

As individuals, we all have our own set of attitudes and biases that colour our thinking and perspectives relating to the world we live in. Businesses are no different; they carry their own preconceived ideas and notions, not only about their products but also in relation to customer behaviours and decision-making.

It is easy to look at customer jobs through the lens of what our product is or does, instead of what job a customer is actually hiring it to do, leading to assumptions that can be misleading. It is easy to muddy the waters if you give these assumptions free reign, skewing your conclusions.



It is easy to apply logic that is rooted in your assumptions about your product or how your customers use it…. or to frame any question you ask within the context of your own values and experiences, even when you are not part of your target market.

Product-focussed assumptions can limit your thinking to what already exists, instead of uncovering the opportunities that are revealed by looking at everything from the viewpoint of your customer. They can also contribute to the flawed practice of pulling together solutions to fit your existing product instead of finding new solutions that fill your customers’ needs and create value.

Therefore, in order to get to the root of your customers’ jobs, it is critical to be objective, to approach the investigation with a ‘beginners mind’ in order to get a fresh look at their needs, values, and drivers towards purchase. Don’t fall into the trap of subjective thinking that encourages you to embrace solutions and conclusions that confirm your own biases. Otherwise, you run the risk of missing opportunities to uncover the real job to be done and grow your business. Keep asking ‘why’.


2. Relying on data alone

Turning to customer data for insights has legitimate value and is a valid pathway to gaining understanding. However, there are hidden pitfalls that can lead to inaccurate conclusions if the data is not considered objectively and within the appropriate context.

As statisticians are prone to point out, correlation isn’t causality.

Looking at the connections between data points without insights into ‘why’ is destined to lead to inaccurate conclusions. Data in and of itself – demographics, profiles, and correlations between segments - does not capture the actual reasoning behind a customer’s purchase, or explain who is the most likely to buy.

Gender, age, income, height, shoe size, choice of automobile… all of these are customer characteristics and attributes… but none of them caused someone to go out and buy the newspaper today. There might be a correlation between these things and the likelihood that a customer will buy the paper, but the traits themselves are not why they chose to do so.



It is easy to look at obvious but possibly invalid correlations, similar to the one above, and make assumptions about cause. However, these correlations don’t explain ‘why’. For instance, if you jump out of a plane there is a correlation between the speed of your fall and the distance you cover as you descend. However, that correlation doesn’t explain why you jumped in the first place… for the excitement? To overcome a fear of heights? To exert your independence from your parents because they told you not to?

Focussing on data in isolation can lead us into taking a one-size-fits-all approach to customer jobs. Data tends to look at averages and not the outliers or points of difference… at static personas, and not at customer individuality and the variations in their lives. It doesn’t look at the underlying drivers, occasions, or circumstances that caused a purchase. Context matters.



Also, data can only address things that have already happened. By its very nature, it shifts our perspective backwards, leading us to look at the past instead of forward to discover future customer behaviour. Just because customers were looking to hire for a specific job yesterday, doesn’t mean that tomorrow’s customer jobs or reasons for the hire will be the same.

This can remove our frame of reference and give rise to a tendency to look at only the initial point of purchase, the ‘big-hire’, instead of the consumption by the customer, the ‘little hire’… the ongoing value delivered by the use of the product beyond the initial purchase. We look at a single point in time as a metric of success instead of observing whether the customer continues to hire that product over and over again to complete their job.

While the point of purchase is an important piece of information to your business it doesn’t show what happens next. The product could be returned… or used once and then shelved because it doesn’t adequately fulfil the objectives of the customers’ job, the ‘little hires’ the customer made. This could cause a sense of false confidence that misleads you about the true jobs that your product or service is performing and the value being delivered to your customers.


"Data and data sets are not objective; they are creations of human design. We give numbers their voice, draw inferences from them, and define their meaning through our interpretations."
– Kate Crawford, Microsoft Research


Not every piece of information has equal importance, nor does every job, and data often fails to take this into account. It doesn’t look at the difference between the small jobs and big jobs that a customer is trying to hire something to do. This can lead you to solve for the wrong job. Find the jobs that your customers need to have done the most and deem most important, then provide solutions to fulfil their needs and complete these ‘North Star’ jobsKey jobs that are important yet unsatisfied in the eyes of the customer which can act as a North Star to guide your decisions..

Data can obscure as well as reveal; it can fool us into thinking that we have all the answers, leading us to become ‘masters of description but failures at prediction’. Ultimately, it is up to us to look at the big picture and determine which parts are needed, how they relate, and how they can be used to create better solutions for our customers.

Remember… data is only one piece of the puzzle.


3. Focussing solely on function and features

Focussing on your great idea for a new feature to the exclusion of all else can blind you to what your customers really value, the ‘why’ of their jobs to be done. If you start with an assumption about the perceived value of your existing product then you are not truly innovating to meet your customers’ needs but are instead altering what you have already created to support your own vision… not the jobs of your customers.

The shiny allure of new technology and the sparkle of rich features can distract you and lead you to chase that ‘latest and greatest’ innovation in order to be first to market with features… features that your customers may not actually want or need. While being ahead of your time might earn you a place in the history books, if you aren’t correctly centred around your customers’ jobs to be done you are unlikely to receive a return on your investment.

For example, in 1993 Apple launched the Newton, a personal digital assistant, an early precursor to today’s iPhone and iPad. The goal was to revolutionise personal computing by offering a tablet computer at a similar price to the desktop computers of the day, opening up a new market in personal devices.



However, Apple failed to look at their customers' jobs to be done. One of their original use cases was the “Architect Scenario” where they imagined architects would use the device when meeting with clients to work quickly and sketch and modify two-dimensional house plans. While this was feasibly beneficial to architects, it wasn’t truly doing a job that they were looking to hire for at the time. Apple had focussed on the features that they deemed important, choosing to ignore their customers’ needs - despite having conducted important market research – and push ahead to beat their competitors to launch.

The Apple Newton flopped… partially because it was ahead of its time, anticipating needs that did not yet exist, but also because even though the technology was forward-thinking, it did not meet identified customer needs and fulfil their jobs to be done.

It’s not always about being first.

Your customers’ circumstances are more important than the characteristics and attributes of your product. Understanding the context surrounding their jobs to be done is more essential than incorporating the latest technologies or trends.

When investigating Jobs to Be Done, you need to approach your search with an open mind and look at the big picture. Look at the niche you are filling and the job you are helping your customers to do. If you sell cars are you in the car business? Or are you in the transportation business?



Not taking an honest and wide view of where your product or service fits can lead you to not only focus on the wrong things, but can lead you astray, causing you to miss the full scope of everything else that is competing for your customers’ jobs. Are you looking only at other cars? What about buses, bicycles, trains… walking?


"I went in thinking we were in the business of new-home construction, but I realized we were in the business of moving lives."
– Bob Moesta


Jobs are not just about function; they have powerful social and emotional dimensions that are often overlooked. Realistically, no definitive set of features has been so valued that it has sparked a buying decision on its own.

While social and emotional jobs can be hard to quantify, asking the right questions and digging into the context that surrounds your customer’s motivations and the resulting decisions is a necessary step in the process. Adding features onto your product in the hopes of appealing to your customers doesn’t address these emotional and social elements.

This kind of innovation doesn’t look at ‘why’; it doesn’t look at what hasn’t been offered, the jobs that are not being addressed, or at what customers have to give up to hire a solution… or the anxiety that giving them up can cause.

Focussing on functional features without looking at context – at customers’ social and emotional pains, gains, and jobs – can lead you into a vicious cycle where you are constantly spending time and energy amending your offerings without any hope of actually addressing your customers’ jobs to be done and attracting their business.


4. Taking what customers say at face value

When looking for insights into customer jobs we often turn to asking our customers in the hope of opening a window into their behaviours and motivations. Surveys, questionnaires, and focus groups are organised and the results are analysed and dissected.

While this is a sound idea in theory, in practice we often limit ourselves to asking customers what they want instead of why they want it. We ask leading questions that are framed within the context of our existing product or service… or that are based around the new features we think will interest customers. Would you like more options? More colours? Cheaper? Smaller?

Even when you dig deeper and ask your customers the right questions, those that expose the circumstances and personal drivers that motivate them, their motivations are complex and what they say doesn’t always match what they do.

If you ask someone if they want to eat healthy, wholesome foods they are likely to say that they do. Yet, if you actually looked in their cupboards, the contents might tell a different story. This contrast between what customers say they value and reality can usually be traced back to the trade-offs that they are willing to make in a specific set of circumstances.

For example, even though I may truly value my health, ultimately, I am going to weigh the option of eating an apple vs a bag of chips based on a slew of criteria… many of which revolve around my specific circumstances and emotional or social needs.



How much time am I going to have to eat? Where am I going to eat? Do I need something that is easily transported? That I can eat with one hand? How does it make me feel? Is it a comfort food? Does it make me happy? Do I have fond memories that relate to it? Would I feel different depending on where I ate it? On who observed me doing so? Will I feel guilty?

Words do not always match actions and our questions often overlook the context that informs our customers’ decisions. They fail to address our obstacles, our tendency to inertia and inaction, or the trade-offs that we are willing to make.

They don’t take into account that people don’t always know how to express what they want or need, or that this can change depending on the circumstances. We don’t define the context, or better yet let the customer define it, in order to uncover the true basis of cause. For instance, unpredictable jobs are likely to have different requirements and trade-offs than regular jobs. They are likely to change depending on whether someone needs that job done sometime next month, or within the next hour.

For example, if you have a severe leak in your plumbing that is threatening to flood your house you are much more likely to trade the requirements you normally value in exchange for speedy service. Yet, if you just want to get a drippy faucet fixed you might pay more attention to things such as reputation, quality, and price.

That’s why when turning to your customers in the search of ‘why’, you need to pay attention to their circumstances and the social and emotional dimensions of their struggle. Seek out the true motivations and drivers behind cause, identify the obstacles to their progress, and continue to ask ‘why’ until you get to the very root of their jobs to be done.


Up Next:

Understanding Customers to Create Value - Part 3
Where to Look: 5 Opportunities for Insight

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