Quick links

Defining Customer Needs

NIC Document

Summary

Success in business is linked to a clear and accurate understanding of the needs of your customers. This guide highlights the importance of communicating with your customers, defining markets and identifying trends and drivers.

In Brief

This document contains the following sections:

  1. Talk to your customers
  2. Defining the market
  3. Strategic approaches
  4. Quality standards

1. Talk to your customers

Customer satisfaction is a key aspect of the success of every innovation. It is essential to clearly define who your customers are and understand what they want and how you can deliver it at a price they are willing to pay. For your company to have the best chance of success, you need to focus on addressing what has been described as ‘a customer’s pain’ – that crucial need that is holding back their success – and providing an effective remedy.

Each of your customers will have buying drivers which you need to investigate and understand in order to present a successful business case. Speak with your customers to gain up-to-date information on their priorities, likes and dislikes and identify emerging opportunities and market trends. Focus groups, interviews, or simply talking to your customers can give you invaluable information on product strategy, development, and competitors.

If you are already selling to the medical device market, your most valuable resource is your salespeople and they should be tasked to report back on anything that may give your company an advantage in the marketplace. The key to success is to always to talk directly to your customers, maintain a longer term, strategic view and be prepared to update your assumptions regularly.

2. Defining the market

Professor Phillip Kotler has defined a market as the ‘set of all actual and potential buyers of a new product or new service’. A successful organisation will be actively involved in assessing its own market share and the size and growth of that market. It will be aware of all current and potential competitors and will have a strategy for growth within and beyond the sector, by diversification, or demographic expansion.

It is important not to focus solely on products or services that meet a specific current customer niche. Thinking about customer needs first – and then identifying the products that meet those needs – is the best way to define a market.

3. Strategic approaches

As markets mature and develop, and new ones emerge, it is important to be systematic in your approach to product innovation. A business strategy should provide clear views of customers’ and potential customers’ current and future needs and help to identify the distinctive capabilities that will give you a competitive advantage. A key tool in this area is known as roadmapping. This approach seeks to identify the links between market drivers and technology and associate them to provide a map of the potential development of a concept, product, or market.

Developing a roadmap covers the entire spectrum of product development from fundamental R&D to after-sales service and follow-up. It is essential that you gain input from key individuals at each stage. Your roadmap should give you a timeline for new products, linked to all the features and innovations needed to support them.

4. Quality standards

Quality is now a key part of gaining and retaining market share. ISO, the International Standards Organization, is responsible for the ISO 9001 standard system. The appropriate quality management system for medical device development is ISO 13485, which is based on ISO 9001. Companies also use quality processes such as Six Sigma – a disciplined, data-driven methodology that strives for near perfection by eliminating defects; and Total Quality Management (TQM). The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) also operates the approved codes of practice mark scheme which aims to help consumers identify better businesses and to encourage businesses to raise their standards of customer service. You can find out more by visiting: http://www.oft.gov.uk/business-advice/business-codes