The Milkshake Solution to Your Product Development Puzzle

In the harried pace to stay ahead in product development, how thorough is your research phase? Are you confident you’re onto the next big thing that your customers actually want or need? Seth Godin says, “Don’t find customers for your product. Find products for your customers.

Product Development - The Milkshake Theory

They want it faster, shinier, first, or free – or do they?

Chasing market share in product development often becomes a competitive quest for being faster, being first, having a whiz-bang feature, or coming in cheaper. Yet, only an evidence-based understanding of your customer can temper the confirmation bias of product development, says a Medium article, explaining the maxim ‘We only make products for ourselves.’ “This is one of the reasons why so many products fail to resonate. They’re created with a hypothetical customer or with no customer at all.”

Key takeaway: Engage your customers in product development. Are there caveats to consider? You betcha!

Henry Ford said it best when he claimed, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Gaining feedback directly from customers about their needs and wants is essential. However, the thinkers and dreamers in UX, product development and marketing are the ones charged with casting a vision of what could be, of finding meaningful ways to be different, and discovering new ways to delight customers.

What delights today may come to be expected tomorrow. When first introduced, cup holders in cars may have been a “wow” feature.. Are you impressed by them now or do you expect them as standard?

Key takeaway: Anticipate and exceed customer expectations, constantly.

Stay curious about your customers

Whether it’s faster horses, the next great cup holder, or the proverbial sliced bread, it’s necessary to go beyond product research in the development of products and services. Stay curious. Explore customer behavior! What makes them tick? (Hint: Look beyond customer demographics.)

We are humans, fueled by feelings, motivated by a myriad of influences from physical (hunger, pain) to emotional (nostalgia, peer pressure). Engineering a product without taking into account the world your customers live and work in to help you understand how and why your customers engage with your company is short-sighted.

Clay Shirky wrote in his book, Cognitive Surplus, about a team of researchers hired by McDonald’s. The subject? They wanted to improve sales of their milkshakes:

“Should the shakes be thicker? Sweeter? Colder? Almost all of the researchers focused on the product. But one of them, Gerald Berstell, chose to ignore the shakes themselves and study the customers instead. He sat in a McDonald’s for eighteen hours one day, observing who bought milkshakes and at what time. One surprising discovery was that many milkshakes were purchased early in the day. Berstell also garnered three other behavioral clues from the morning milkshake crowd: the buyers were always alone, they rarely bought anything besides a shake, and they never consumed the shakes in the store.

The key to understanding what was going on was to stop viewing the product in isolation and to give up traditional notions of the morning meal. Berstell instead focused on a single, simple question: “What job is a customer hiring that milkshake to do at eight A.M.?”

Key takeaway: Ask new questions. Embrace new insights.

Explore the role of customer behavior and feedback in your product development. Look beyond the features and attributes of your market offering and consider ‘what job are your customers hiring that product/service to do?’ What you learn may seem unusual or even run contrary to what you thought you knew about your products and your customers. Don’t deny what’s different. The unusual can be a clue to uncover your next competitive advantage and the key to unlocking greater customer delight!

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