How innovators understand the unmet needs of customers

Most breakthrough ideas are born when we have a deep understanding of the customer.

When the world changes unexpectedly as it has in the last 18 months, customer needs change, and as business leaders we must find a way to address them. Of all the techniques available to an innovation practitioner, entrepreneur, marketer or business leader none is more important than getting out on the field and observing people in their domains.

One of the key discovery skills that makes up the ‘’ is the detailed observation of human behavior. It’s no secret that being deeply empathetic and getting under people’s skin can drive insight into their needs and frustrations.

The problem most businesses have about understanding unmet customer needs, is that they rely on the popular survey or focus group to get these insights by asking their customers what they want or need. Most of the time, the things people say and what they do are not always the same. In-context observations are often useful for getting beyond what people say to understand what people do and feel.

In-context means being with people in their real settings, doing the things they normally do. The stories that emerge from these encounters in the field show us new opportunities and inspire innovative solutions.

Some companies such as P&G have used the power of observational research to discover customers unarticulated needs even calling it ‘Day in the life’. By going to various countries to watch how people clean their bathrooms, they developed Mr. Clean Magic Reach.

So where do you start?

How to understand the unmet needs of customers

First you need to accept that you really don’t understand your customers. It’s a difficult barrier to break, but you have to fight it because your customers have needs you’re probably not even aware off, and if you’re not going to satisfy them someone else will.


To experience your customers needs and frustrations you must become them, and put yourself in their shoes. Get in their zone, spend time with them, do the things they do. Live their life!

This isn’t easy, but luckily there are a few things you can do that come natural to most humans. Observe!

What should you look for in observation?

  • Things that prompt shift in behavior.
  • Work-arounds and adaptations.
  • Body language.
  • Thing people care about.
  • Anything that surprises you.
  • Anything that questions your assumptions about how the world works.
  • Anything that you find irrational.

Do you agree with this? What method do you use to uncover your customers unmet needs?