“It isn’t the customer’s job to know what they want,” said the late Steve Jobs. And he was right. It is our job. The trick, however, is figuring out what they want. That’s where observing customer behaviour in real-life can bring significant insight. Because people often “hack” services, to get what they need, not just what was provided.
In 2009 the VF Corporation, which makes Wrangler and Lee Jeans, started to spend time with customers to understand specific points of frustration. The basis for this was research that showed that women find shopping for jeans the second most intimidating shopping experience. Right after swimwear.
While observing customers at a local department store, the VF team watched as a woman shopped for a new pair of jeans. She wandered around the different displays and picked up pair after pair. The observers were struck by two things: first the number of jeans the woman took to the dressing room and secondly, that she had picked up multiple sizes of the almost every pair.
On confronting her with these observations it turned out that experience had taught the woman that the sizes on the labels had a very limited relation to how the pants would actually fit. In order to avoid going back and forth multiple times, the customer had “hacked the system” and just picked up multiple options immediately.
These and other observations lead VF to focus its innovation on the customer’s buying process. Changing the labelling, improving display mechanisms in-store and an online campaign helped women find the jeans appropriate for them faster and easier. By early 2011 these and related innovations had created $100 million in incremental revenue for VF’s jeans.
Note, that the innovation had nothing to do with making the jeans better themselves.
But rather the customer experience of the jeans. And had VF started with just asking people what they want, they probably would never had discovered the actual problems that could be solved.