Customer Research

Learning from the customer is one of the most important tasks for a new product development team. The following deliverables will help to ensure that the "Voice of the Customer" (VOC) is heard throughout all stages of your development effort.

For the methods, use what you heard in the customer research lectures and what you read in Ulrich and Eppinger Chapter on identifying customer needs.

There are three stages to the customer research, each resulting in a report. One is due in the Fall, the other two are due in the Spring

Submitting the Assignments

Email (PDF format) to your company contact and to your faculty mentor. Upload (PDF) to the course Canvas site. Only one member of the team has to upload to Canvas.

Report Format

For content of the reports, refer to the customer research lecture by S. Kimmel. You can format your reports as traditional documents or as PowerPoint slide decks that are designed to be read, not presented.

If a slide deck format is chosen, use a plain white background and remember that it should be as complete as a traditional-format document.

Reports should be complete, but not overly lengthy. The report should be a stand-alone document. Someone should be able to pick up the document and immediately understand the purpose of the document, its genesis and evolution, the important conclusions contained in the document and how those conclusion arose. Start with a cover page that, at a minimum, contains the title, project name, authors and contact information, and date.

1. Customer Needs Report (VOC 1)

Using the procedures outlined the Kimmel customer needs lecture and in Ulrich and Eppinger Chapter 4 as a guide, conduct, analyze and report on in-depth interviews and observations. Interviewees can include prospective users of the product as well as individuals outside the company who may influence the purchase and use of the proposed product. The purpose of this round is to determine customer needs rather than to determine what customers think of possible solutions to the need. If uncertain about the distinction, consult lecture notes and the textbook. A sample report is provided in the lecture handout from the Kimmel lecture.

The report should open with a brief description of the project and project objectives, written for an audience that is new to the project.

The report should describe the objectives of the research and should describe the research methods you used. Include information on who you interviewed and how many you interviewed. The report should state the results of the research, describing what was being said and why, including highlighting differences in opinion.

The report should have a clearly marked section that provides 3-5 core needs statements that are derived from your research. The point of VOC1 is to understand what the needs of the customer are and this is the section where you state those needs. The format of your needs statement is not prescribed, but you may want to follow the format provided in the developing needs lecture or the one provided in the Kimmel lecture or the formats suggested in the textbook. After stating the need, add the why, which again should be based on your customer research. Note that the needs should be based on customer research, either yours or your clients, and not based on the intuition of your client or on your team's intuition.

In an appendix to the report, include a table with an entry for each interview (job title or role of intervieee, when, where) and the interview guide that was used.

To preserve the anonymity of the interviewees, do not include names in the report, unless your company client states otherwise.

You do not have to follow the textbook or lecture methods exactly. Consult faculty and company resources, or other market research material to customize your methods as needed.

2. Concept Reactions Report (VOC 2)

Continuing the interviewing and observation initially described in your first customer research report, report on interviews with and observations of individuals (including those in your previous report) likely to influence purchase and use of the proposed product. This time,focus on getting reactions to your proposed concept. Describe and support choices of individuals and research procedures.

The report should open with a brief description of the project and project objectives, written for an audience that is new to the project.

A summary of data, interpretations and conclusions should appear in the body of the report while raw data goes in the supplemental document.

Do not be surprised if your conclusions now differ from those in your earlier report.

Include details of the methods used to gain the data.

Outline and justify your plans for additional research into users and other stakeholders through out the remainder of the course, including obtaining stakeholders' reactions to prototypes.

3. Prototype Reactions Report (VOC 3)

Describe the reactions of customers and other stakeholders to the prototypes you have created, including any user-testing results. Evaluation is often most effective if prototypes are compared to particular alternatives, especially those currently used by evaluators. Reactions should be documented for each individual, whether the evaluation occurred in a group or individual setting. Describe the methods used to gather reaction data, and the individuals chosen to evaluate prototypes. Justify your choices.

As in prior reports, summary statements of data interpretation should appear in the report; raw data, in the supplemental document. Your report should indicate what redesign (if any) is to be undertaken as a result of the evaluation. If serial evaluations were used (i.e., a series of evaluations, each followed by design modification), describe the evaluators at each stage and design modifications from each stage to the next. Your report should outline further steps to obtain input from prospective users and other specified stakeholders, including an approximate schedule for so doing. Some of these steps will be taken during the course of the project; others will be left for the sponsoring company after the course.

Tips: Check that the data you report supports the insights, conclusions and summary statements you make. A general suggestion is to consider including "illustrative" quotes and examples from the interviews. Stories are remembered and can illuminate the conclusions. Be careful that the quotes and stories you use represent general opinion and are not the outliers. You do want to summarize & organize, and that means some abstraction & interpretation. But in reporting your findings (here and in the final presentations) you also want to strive to leverage the depth and richness of the customer reactions you collected.