Required Reading: Searching for Jobs to Be Done

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“Jobs to Be Done,” a term coined in 2003 by Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen, is based on a simple idea: Rather than ask customers what they want, study their behavior to uncover what they didn’t realize they needed. Today, the concept is most often associated with figures like the late Steve Jobs, who famously anticipated that users didn’t need to own physical copies of music, or that smartphones don’t require keyboards. But this type of thinking dates back even further, to car pioneer Henry Ford, who once said, “If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Stephen Wunker, co-author of Jobs to be Done and the managing director of New Markets Advisors, chatted with Associate Editor Oren Smilansky on how the framework applies to customer-facing professionals.

CRM: Why was now the time to release this book?

Stephen Wunker: The virtue of [the] Jobs to Be Done [concept] is it’s very broad—anybody can use it. But the flipside is that the mechanism for application has to be robust. Something has to work in selling bank accounts, and managing IT services, and understanding what your supply chain needs from you, and that’s tricky. I ended up writing a blog post as a very short form of this book back in 2012, and I’m surprised at how consistently it gets several hundred viewers a month. There’s a hunger for taking this well-known, but not precisely articulated, concept to something that could be used as a road map.

Can you explain how the framework can be applied to improve customer relationships?

Let’s take as an example a large bank in an emerging market we worked with recently. They were losing share in their small-business banking sector, and used Jobs to Be Done to try to understand how they could grow again. They had been focusing on targets like average processing time of loan applications, the number of contact points with customers, the number of documents requested from customers—all of which were valid, but not actually what customers cared about the most. When you talked to them—open-ended, not closed-ended—what emerged was that for a small-business owner, an overriding Job to Be Done is predictability. Lack of predictability causes crises in small businesses. So by all means, process my loan application in three weeks instead of four, but tell me how many days it’s going to be. And if I get rejected, tell me why I got rejected, so I can do something about it. And communicate that to me in a personalized way.

Do customer journey maps fit into this context?

Customer journey maps go astray when you look too narrowly at the journey. If I ask you about the last time you had an ice cream, you might give me a very specific story. “I was out with a friend, I hadn’t seen that person in a long time, we wanted to experience New York together, and we felt that just stopping into an ice cream shop, spur of the moment, would be an experience.” Whereas, if the question was, “Tell me about how do you typically buy ice cream,” I would have gotten none of that. A lot of journey mapping is done at that average level, which is convenient for a CRM professional but misses so much of what can be done.

What should companies focus on to get sharper insights?

Context is important. Understanding how people come to you, and why, allows you to ask appropriate questions about why they’re with you. We looked at a website for a large retailer recently, and it had this belief that the store locator was the most used part of its website. But what was intriguing was that a lot of usage of this website was occurring between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., when not a lot of people go to its stores. They were researching the availability of long tail items in their local stores, or in other locations. Sometimes they just wanted to get the specifications, and they left and never came back. Our hypothesis was that they then just went to Amazon or some other online means of finding these items, because we didn’t do a particularly good job of communicating that the store was a good place to get that, or that the online site was a good place to order that. Nobody had ever said, “How do the web searches differ between regular working hours and the evening?”

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