The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

Customer needs – Is what the customer says important?

By : Sara Sundström, October 17 2013Posted in: The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

We have all heard the saying, “The customer is always right.” We do, however, sometimes feel like asking the question, “Why should we bother with what the customer says?” The simple answer is because the customer knows what matters to and how things work for him. When customers speak, we listen – but sometimes what we hear bears a significant mismatch between what customers say and what they actually need. It is when we confront this gap between what the customer says and what the customer needs that we recognize the importance of listening not just to what they actually say but also to how they say things. The “how” often reveals more important information about real needs.

How things are said gives us clues – and working with customer needs is all about finding the clues. Clues can be subtle, masked within things like humour, irony or feelings, telling us there is something more to the answer, something hidden beneath what was said during the interview with, for example the anaesthesiologist. An explicit problem is an obvious clue, when the customer has already identified something wrong, while a more indistinct clue might be a workaround. 

As human beings we are adaptable with an amazing ability to accept incorrect things – we just get used to them. Workarounds are a typical example; we make a temporary fix just to make things work instead of solving the real problem. We get so used to the fix that we stop noticing that something was wrong in the first place. We might be reminded when a new colleague steps in and asks questions typical of a beginner, but of course we can explain the rationale of our workaround and soon the fix is accepted… 

One challenge linked to working with customer needs in the O.R. is to get to the heart of the matter, that is – to really understand what the real issue is, what is really bothering the surgeon or scrub nurse, and why. Our normal way of working involves finding out – and understanding – customer needs. One recent example is our focus on ergonomics in the O.R. where studying surgeons’ work-related injuries, such as chronic neck pain, was actually linked to the use of headlamps. A clear customer need was identified that not only created a technical solution in the form of self-lit retractors that offer better wound visibility (e.g., LightMat) but also eliminated the need for the heavy headlamp that was causing physical stress for surgeons. 

When asking a customer a question such as, “What do you want in product X five years from now?”, the answer is not always that easy. Would a surgeon have foreseen, if asked about his discomfort from headlamps, that he needed a different kind of lighting? Just imagine yourself: if five years ago someone asked you, “What do you want to do with your mobile phone in the future?”, would you have answered “tweeting with friends”? Probably not (and perhaps you still don’t, but you get my point). Imagining the future is a difficult task, and while direct questions might not give us the answers, understanding customer needs will.

As a product designer, you are always searching for the hard-to-spot and hidden customer needs because these needs are the key to finding great solutions. The same applies in the O.R. Next time we see each other in the O.R.: bring me a problem, and Ill solve it. Give me something you hate, and I will love it!

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About the blog

The surgical and wound care environment is always changing. The Mölnlycke Health Care blog addresses topics and trends in surgery and wound care. Among these topics are efficiency, health economy, infection control and patient safety. Read more about this blog and how to comment


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