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How can the jobs-to-be-done approach benefit CX?

13th May 2022
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The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) approach is best known for its application in product development and innovation projects. However, although this has been its primary use, using a JTBD lens can provide an alternative and potentially broader mindset when applied to Customer Experience and other insight projects. Why?

"People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill,” Theodore Levitt, editor of the Harvard Business Review, economist and professor at the Harvard Business School, famously said. “They want a quarter-inch hole!”

Providers of products and services that help people carry out certain tasks and activities may come and go, however, the underlying problems or goals that need to be resolved or achieved do not. People ultimately buy products and services to complete a job that needs to be done.

Tony Ulwick pioneered ‘Jobs-to-be-Done Theory’ based on this premise. He also took it further with Outcome-Driven Innovation ® (ODI), a strategy and process that promises that a company’s marketing efforts could be far more effective and innovation efforts far more predictable and profitable by starting with a deep understanding of the customer’s job-to-be-done.

A different lens

The benefit of observing customers through the ‘jobs-to-be-done’ lens is that it enables us to view customer experience – their needs, different customer segments and your potential competitors – from a new perspective. The unit of analysis is no longer the customer or the product, it’s the core functional ‘job’ the customer is trying to get done. In Levitt’s example, the job is drilling a hole in wood or metal (not buying a drill), but this can easily be translated into what the customer wants to achieve at any touchpoint with your organisation.

Ulwick created several tenets through which to think about jobs-to-be-done in a marketing and innovation sphere. These tenets though, can be applied to most situations as it opens your mind to the customer and their needs, and what they are trying to achieve or do, rather than be thinking about the features and functions of your product or service.

To put this into the realm of customer experience, let’s take something as relatively mundane as updating your address. This is something that should be a hygiene factor, that should be quick and easy, but it’s also something that could go wrong if the address is incorrectly or incompletely updated. It could cause huge customer frustration and erosion of trust.

When jobs go wrong

When I moved house a few years ago, I tried to update my address with my bank. It took months. Months of hassle, calls, emails, branch visits and it still didn’t get done. The right hand wasn’t talking to the left hand. I was passed from pillar to post and became increasingly frustrated, because this should be a simple request, right?

I couldn’t update my details online because I had to take proof of address into a branch. I couldn’t go to a branch easily because I moved to a village and the nearest branch was only open in working hours (when I was at work). I couldn’t phone up because they needed to ‘see’ my address. When I did go into a branch, they could not access the system they needed to update my details. (And told me I should phone up.) Round and round we went.

How to get the job done better?

The above is just one example of many where applying a different lens to customer experience would help to expedite the ‘job-to-be-done’ and make life easier for all involved for a variety of reasons.

  1. Customers aren’t buyers or users; they are job executers. We should start thinking about customers in terms of what they are ultimately trying to achieve, rather than what solution they’re using or the steps taken to get a job done. Customers aren’t ‘contacting customer services’, they are trying to update their address with the minimum of fuss. How they do that will vary by customer preference (call, email, online chat, web portal) but can identify where in the job execution process, a step is failing.
  2. Customer segments aren’t based on demographics; they are based on how a customer wants to achieve a job. Rather than thinking about customers in terms of age, gender or location, it can be more revealing to break down a job-to-be-done by customer preferences. Does a customer want to call or email customer services? Or are they in the self-serve bracket and therefore have different needs? Understanding how a customer wants to complete a job can create a solution that gets a job done right.
  3. Markets aren’t defined around products; they are defined as groups of people trying to get the same job done. Jobs to be done defies borders. Solutions that work in one market can also help in another. Customers around the world at some point need to update their address. Thinking more universally around jobs-to-be-done can introduce efficiencies and best practice within global organisations.
  4. Competitors aren’t companies that make products or provide services like yours; they are any solution being used to get the job done. Customers aren’t loyal to companies; they are loyal to the best solution to get a job done. If another company offers a faster, easier, more reliable means of updating your address (self-service for example), then customers may switch for easier job execution.
  5. Customer needs aren’t vague and unknowable; they are the metrics customers use to measure success when getting a job done. Customers don’t know what solution will get a job done best: but they do know what job they are trying to get done, independent of the solution they are using or what alternative solutions are available. The desired outcome of the job-to-be-done (not the process) therefore defines the customer need. The customer needs to be able to update their address quickly and easily and with confidence that the update will be put in place. If the address is updated correctly, the job is a success from the customer perspective.

Defining the jobs to be done

By exploring and considering customer needs and the jobs that customers are trying to do, organisations can identify where and why customers may struggle in doing business with them (often measured in CX by Customer Effort Score – CES) and get the job done. From this, real strategies to improve outcomes for customers and to make jobs easier to execute can be tested and put in place to improve the overall customer experience.

In other words, by opening your mind to the jobs your customers are trying to do, you’ll ultimately be able to put yourselves in your customers’ shoes in a much more meaningful way and get the job done.

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