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Shifting Thinking

Understanding Customers to Create Value - Part 3

Tracy Hall
Published by: Tracy Hall on 12 July 2019

Truly understanding your customers can be difficult… where do you even begin?

Fear not... all is not lost. Jobs to Be Done theory can give you a good starting point that can help you to understand what your customers are trying to accomplish… the ‘jobs’ that they are trying to do, and the solutions that they ‘hire’ to do them.

…and while there are approaches that can lead us astray if we aren’t paying close attention, taking a thoughtful approach as we investigate our customers’ jobs can light the way and help us to avoid these potential pitfalls.


Where to Look: 5 Opportunities for Insight

Though they may seem hard to find, there are paths that can help guide us through the wilderness. There are routes that can clear the way and lay the foundation for understanding our customers… their hopes, fears, values, and motivations… and ultimately their jobs to be done.


1. Personal experience

Looking close to home can be a useful tool that can help you uncover your customers’ jobs to be done.

By understanding the unresolved jobs you have in your own life… the ones that you can’t complete… and the obstacles that you face as you try to get them done, as well as the pains and gains that you encounter along the way as you try to make progress, you can gain useful insights into the needs of your customers and the values that might guide them on their journey.



After all, if it matters to you it likely matters to others and you are in a unique position to evaluate the gaps that can be filled, the obstacles that can be overcome, and the pains and gains that emerge during the process.

…all from a perspective supported by an understanding of Jobs to Be Done.


2. Non-consumption

A commonly missed opportunity for gaining wisdom about our customers’ jobs to be done lies within the vast depths of non-consumption.

In order to ‘hire’ your product or service to do a specific job, the customer must first ‘fire’ something… whether it is a behaviour they have adopted to compensate for the lack of a perfect solution or another solution that just isn’t ideal. By looking at what they are firing you can uncover additional insights into what they are hiring instead… and why.

We often don’t realise that we are not only competing against our direct competitors, but that we are also competing against ‘nothing’ for these jobs.

If our customers cannot find a solution that adequately addresses their job to be done, they can decide to hire ‘nothing’ rather than pursuing another option. We often do not even consider ‘nothing’ when we look at competitors… it’s not something we typically think about… and our existing data won’t bring it to light either. By its very nature data is focussed on what customers do so isn’t going to show us where to look for what they don’t.

Ultimately, if a solution fails to measure up, if it doesn’t provide enough value, or if the trade-offs the customer has to make to hire it are too difficult then ‘nothing’ becomes a real option.

For instance, if you are interested in taking a holiday you have a bunch of options to choose from when you consider destinations, modes of travel, activities, and more. However, if none of the available options do your job (relax, have fun, enjoy time with family, learn about the world) or if you are unwilling to make the trade-offs required to hire them (too expensive, too much time away from work and loved ones, too difficult to arrange) then you may decide to not even go at all, putting it in the ‘too hard’ basket.



By looking at these customers, the ones that are not hiring, you can learn just as much about the jobs to be done as you can from the customers who are. Non-consumption opens the door to understanding and can help you uncover unseen demand and discover opportunities for new growth.

For instance, when Airbnb entered the market, 40% of their guests said that without Airbnb they wouldn’t have a made a trip at all and almost all of the hosts said they would never have rented out their spare room or home. Airbnb was competing with nothing and used this understanding to open up a whole new market within hospitality.

So, if you look at a market and feel that there isn’t any room for growth, this could be a sign that you haven’t defined the job to be done… or have defined it poorly. Step back and take another look, making sure to include non-consumption in your analysis.


3. Workarounds

Looking at customers who are struggling to complete their jobs to be done can yield a treasure trove of information that will help you identify areas open for innovation.

When customers are looking to complete a specific job and fail to find a workable solution, they often become frustrated with the existing options (or lack thereof) and reject them altogether. They adopt compensating behaviours and put together makeshift solutions as workarounds to try to solve their problem.

This is a signal that the job they are trying to do is important enough, or provides a value that is significant enough, that they are willing to give up hiring any of the existing options, including ‘nothing’. Instead, they are willing to make the effort to create their own solution in order to address their job to be done.



By identifying these jobs, and the customers who are struggling to complete them, you put yourself in a prime position to seize opportunity and offer them a high-value solution.

For example, as computers, smartphones, music players, and other electronic personal devices, became more popular, desks and workspaces began to become cluttered with a wild tangle of cables. Customers found that the jumble of cables got in the way and was unattractive, so they started using twist ties from existing packaging to organise and tidy up the mess.

This led to the development of a range of products meant to solve the job of removing this clutter… including cable zip ties, reusable Velcro ties, clips, clamps, and conduits. Now there are even all-in-one charging stations where you can conveniently charge multiple electronic devices in a single location, eliminating the worry about cabling while looking good at the same time.

Identifying makeshift solutions can also give you the opportunity to locate influential customers that are willing to adopt and test a product prior to release. They have a problem and are actively looking for a solution, put together their own solutions, have a budget, and are willing to take risks. These customers often go on to advocate the solution to their family, friends, co-workers, and other social networks.

By identifying workarounds, you can identify these ‘earlyvangelists’ so that you can bring them into the fold and start building an ideal customer base for new innovations.


4. Unusual uses

Like workarounds, unusual uses for existing products can give you important insights into jobs that are not being done, or not being done well.

For instance, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) was originally created to fulfil the job of acting as a leavening agent when baking. However, customers found many unintended and unique uses for the product, including eliminating odours in the refrigerator, whitening teeth, cleaning and freshening carpets, and deodorising cat litter, just to name a few.

These jobs weren’t new, they just needed to be discovered. Arm & Hammer used the insights gained from these unusual uses of their product to develop a range of new and improved products tailored to do these various jobs. Today, the original baking product only accounts for 7% of their total business.



Additional examples:

  • The Mac Mini was originally designed as a compact computer, but people were using it to stream video to their televisions. Apple added an HDMI port to the device to make video streaming easier, and this likely led to the later development of the Apple TV which was specially designed to fill this niche.
  • Cell phones were originally consumer communication devices that were modified over time into small portable computers in order to solve for new jobs and address the changing way people connect with each other. However, when customers found themselves unexpectedly in need of light, they would use the screen of the phone as a light. This led to the development of apps that used a white screen to maximise the amount of light created, and later to the inclusion of a ‘flashlight’ feature built into the device itself by using the built-in camera flash as a light source.
  • Shampoo bottles are designed to store and dispense shampoo. However, the industry soon noticed that customers were storing the bottles upside down in order to get that last bit of shampoo out of the bottle. So, they redesigned their bottles to naturally rest upside-down, adding the value of convenience for their customers.

By looking at how customers actually use your products, at these kinds of unusual and unintended uses, you open the door to innovation. You can create new solutions or improve upon current offerings to better fulfil your customers’ jobs to be done and win their business.


5. Things people don't want to do

Finding the jobs surrounding the things that customers don’t want to do, the ‘negative jobs’, can often lead to some of the best opportunities.

Everyone has things that they would prefer not to do, things that they avoid tackling because of negative experiences or associations. Combined with the things that act as a barrier on their path to progress, these negative jobs can help you find areas that are ripe for innovation… those where you can solve their job while overcoming obstacles and minimising their pains in the process.



For example, in most cases, no one wants to go to the doctor. It can take time out of your busy day – you may have to request time off, you often spend more time waiting than being seen, and you may have to follow up to go get tests done or make a trip to the pharmacy for your medication. This is all disruptive to your day and is not a ‘positive’ job.

CVS, a US pharmacy chain, joined with partners to create CVS Minute-Clinics which provided a walk-in service where patients could immediately see nurse practitioners, get prescriptions for routine medication, and pick up that prescription… all in one place at one time. This solved the negative job of losing time and going through the hassle of seeing a doctor for minor ailments. Job done.

Also, when you are competing with ‘nothing’, do not overlook the power of inertia… of our aversion to change. Change can be difficult and disruptive. It challenges the status quo and it is often easier to continue doing nothing, rather than going to the effort of finding a solution. Recognising where this tipping point lies, the point where customers will trade-off the comfort of inaction for the perceived value of progress, can be an important insight. One that helps you develop solutions that will positively influence the outcome in favour of your product or service.

By eliminating obstacles and making your customers’ journey easier (or faster or more convenient) you can build loyalty and gain long-term advocates for your business.


Coming Soon:

Understanding Customers to Create Value - Part 4
Customer Behaviour: 6 Elements That Drive Decision

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