What the Customer Needs – Annalise Irby

Anjali M. and Isha P. discuss the mechanical stress that an elliptical machine (below frame) places on the foot. Though we didn't buy anything, our walk through the sports store Play It Again did give us valuable insight and inspiration.
Anjali M. and Isha P. discuss the constraints of an elliptical machine (below frame), including pedal size and machining cost. Though we didn’t buy any products, our walk through Play It Again Sports Store did give us valuable insight and inspiration into the specifics of customer needs. Photo taken by Annalise Irby.

This week, JetSet delved deep into the mind of our consumer, the high altitude traveller – not such a mysterious place, considering that all four of us have flown on airplanes ourselves. Of course, we can’t rely solely on personal experience from such a homogenous group (adolescent girls); so before our first memo was published, our team had already conducted customer interviews with nine very different respondents. We collected their answers to over a dozen questions in one enormous document; now, our task was to simplify their different ways of phrasing each answer into a list of customer needs.

These turned out to be short, simple words and phrases describing the variables most important to our customers. Our list included ease of integration, compactibility, adjustability, range of motion, durability, and cost. (Adjustability and range of motion might seem similar at first glance. However, adjustability is the device’s ability to adjust to different anthropomorphic sizes – for example, a person with longer legs and wider feet than the norm – while range of motion refers to the degrees of freedom offered by different simple machines within the device, the same for each user.) The handy Interpreted Needs template provided for us was also helpful because it forced us to think through several issues surrounding our customer needs that we would have overlooked otherwise.

For example, we had to justify each need with at least three quotes from our customer interviews (discussed here). This ensured that we didn’t latch onto a single customer’s opinion and get carried away with an inaccurate analysis. For example, one person was opposed to yet another clunky object attached to their seat (aka, our entire idea). We chose to interpret that complaint as a customer need: compactibility, or minimal size. Instead of being discouraged by this comment and changing our idea, we combined it with other comments on storage space under seats to find a more constructive idea.

Also, we were required to rank each need from least to most important. This helped me a lot – beforehand, I had been overwhelmed by the number of constraints – like size and cost – that all seemed to be essential to our device. I felt pressured to find a perfect material or flawless design that would solve every problem perfectly (mostly after I looked through this materials engineering reference). However, after ranking range of motion first in order of importance and cost last, I could breath easier because I knew where our priorities were. It might seem naive that our group ranked cost as least important, but we know that we are catering to a somewhat affluent market (those who can afford airplane tickets often) and those people are willing to pay for comfort, as long as it actually works for them (wide range of motion).

While scouring Target, Savers, and other stores, Isha P. found a lightbulb on an idea...
While scouring Target, Savers, and other stores, Isha P. found a lightbulb on an idea…

On Thursday, our team went on a field trip to Target, Harbor Freight, Play It Again sports store, and discount stores including Savers and the Dollar Store. We didn’t buy anything, but instead took photos – visual notes of items that could help us in our analysis and brainstorming. During our trip, we focused on how each simple product solved a customer need of ours – for example, almost all the products had a low cost of less than $5, except the expensive elliptical machine. A counterexample was their poor durability; many products were manufactured from weak plastics that almost seemed destined to break. Since our device must be able to support the weight of a wide range of people, we can’t afford to build with an unstable, unreliable material like these plastics.

Isha P. can't contain her excitement after finding so many insights in cheap, easily available products that offer customers different advantages! Photo by Annalise Irby
Isha P. can’t contain her excitement after finding so many insights in cheap, easily available products that offer customers different advantages! Photo by Annalise Irby

Fly safely!

Annalise Irby

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