Chapter 4 Identify Underserved Customer Needs (Step 2)

Now that you have determined your target customers—or at least have a set of hypotheses about them—you should focus on identifying what needs they have that your product could satisfy. The goal is to build and validate your knowledge of the problem space before you set out to design a solution. Since customer needs can seem somewhat fuzzy when we talk about them, let's start off by clarifying our terminology.


I use the word “needs” to refer to what customers want or value. I also use the term customer benefits interchangeably with needs. Sometimes customers can tell you what they want, but a need does not have to be something about which the user literally says, “I need [ _____ ].” There are unarticulated needs—those that the customer has but doesn't express in an interview. Unknown needs can arise as well; this happens when a customer doesn't even realize they value something until you interview them about it, or expose them to some new breakthrough product. Customers are generally not skilled at discussing problem space; they are better at telling you what they like and dislike about a particular solution. Good interviewers excel at listening closely to what customers say, repeating statements back to ensure understanding, and asking additional probing questions to illuminate the problem space.

You've probably heard some people speak of customer desires or wants as distinct from needs. Though ...

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