Identifying And Solving For Customer Pain Points

Steve WunkerDecember 10, 20203 min

Although customers may be reluctant to part with certain current approaches, they are consistently looking to alleviate pain points. Pain points are problems that inhibit a customer’s ability to get a job done. They are things that customers find inefficient, tedious, boring, or frustrating.

While some pain points are obvious and can be quickly captured through common sense or conversations with customers, others are less apparent and are better captured through journal recordings and observations (e.g., process complexity, points of confusion or indecision, accepted workarounds). This phenomenon occurs even in the most rational-seeming environments. For example, a medical technology company we worked with interviewed dozens of surgeons to understand what was challenging about particular surgical procedures. It then hooked up heart rate monitors to those surgeons during the procedure, and the data told a very different story. Surgeons got frustrated when doing repetitive tasks, when they couldn’t do their job due to having an obstructed view of the surgical site, and in many other situations that they often took for granted as inevitable parts of conducting an operation.

Every pain point creates room for innovation. Kimberly-Clark, a global consumer goods company, observed that a number of adults suffering from incontinence were adopting compensating behaviors—from wads of toilet paper to frequent wardrobe changes—to combat a variety of physical and emotional pain points. It designed its Depend Silhouette and Real Fit Briefs to help alleviate the need for those workarounds while also solving key underlying jobs in a socially palatable way. In doing so, Kimberly-Clark captured substantial sales volume from adults who previously suffered for months or even years before buying an incontinence product.

Solving For Customer Pain Points

One of the hardest parts about alleviating pain points is making sure you are solving for real pain points—not your personal dissatisfactions, not pain points of customers in other industries, and not artificial pain points that just happen to be the counterpoints to your product’s newest features. One way to help do this is to quantitatively assess the validity of your identified pain points in a large sample. Even though real customers may have pointed out several pain points, it does not necessarily mean that the larger population shares those same issues. Using a quantitative survey, you can map pain points to particular customer segments, ultimately ensuring that you are solving pain points for customers you actually wish to target.

You can also use such surveys to identify priorities among pain points, potentially through a technique such as conjoint analysis. This approach calls for having customers weigh trade-offs. Would you prefer a laptop that has two hours more battery life or that weighs half a pound less? Would you prefer that its keyboard be more resonant or that it be five millimeters thinner? Making trade-offs concrete helps to get at customers’ true preferences—the ones you will ultimately see reflected in their buying behavior.

More of this approach is featured in my book JOBS TO BE DONE: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation.

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