Business analyst techniques for uncovering customer needs

by Kirsten Eriksen on 03/08/2016 10:00

Service blueprint for Service Design panel by Brandon Schauer, used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Image: Service blueprint for Service Design panel by Brandon Schauer, used under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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In my last article The future of IT business analysis – moving from ‘what the business needs’ to ‘what the customer needs I positioned that the business analyst role needs to evolve for digital transformation projects where the focus is on ‘customer systems’ rather than ‘business systems’.

In that article I mentioned a number of techniques (some from other disciplines) that could be used by business analysts to gain insights into customer needs. I explain a few of these techniques in more detail here to help you transition to becoming a better business analyst for today’s customer focused change projects.

The 3 G’s

This is a lean manufacturing technique, that is also very useful for gaining a genuine understanding your customer’s need. Often a customer can’t articulate what it is they want or need. This technique, is about observing the customer in their own environment doing the ‘thing’ that you want to have an impact upon or the topic you are considering for change.

The 3 G’s are:

  • Gemba – The actual place. This is where the activity takes place and ‘value’ is created for the customers. Value in this context can be identified as the reason the person is doing the activity. Normally there will be a goal in mind.
  • Gembutsu - The thing. This could be a piece of equipment, a product, a process, etc. It is the activity that you are wanting to impact or that you are analysing.
  • Genjitsu - The facts. What is happening. Both in terms of the physical, and the non-physical, so the outcomes, difficulties they experience, product produced, etc

A key underlying mindset for this technique is "genchi gembutsu" or "Go Observe" (or as Steve Blank would say “Get out of the building”). This means that you would go observe an area of opportunity or where a problem might be occurring. By doing this, you gain first-hand knowledge, which can be translated in to insight rather than anecdotal or second hand information that might have been filtered.

Heuristic Evaluation

A heuristic is a technique that humans automatically fall back on when they are faced with a problem, using strategies derived from experience with similar problems. The most fundamental of these is trial and error and other examples include rules of thumb and educated guesses.

You might use heuristics in various parts of your analysis. One useful area would be in creating a user interface that is intuitive and easily useable by customers and other users. In 1990, Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich came up with 10 heuristics (which were then refined by Nielsen in 1994) that could be applied to ensure a usable interface is produced. Heuristic Evaluation is the objective consideration of each of the identified heuristics to assess whether the interface developed is genuinely usable.

Examples include providing feedback on customer actions, use of consistent words and actions, and expressing error messages in plain language. The point of this is to make the product or service easy for your customer to use. Find out more in Jakob Nielsen’s article 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design.

Service Blueprints

A Service Blueprint is a map that displays all the touchpoints (ways a customer has direct interaction) with a service or product, as well as the key internal processes involved. Service Blueprints help you both visualise the path customers follow across multiple channels and identify how you can improve the flow, or change their experience for the better. Service Blueprints are often used in conjunction with Customer Journey / Experience Maps, but they can also stand on their own.

An example Service Blueprint, prepared by Brandon Schauer, is included at the top of this post.

You can see other example case studies of Service Blueprints being used on the Service Design Tools website, which is also a great resource for other Service Design tools and techniques.

Situational Analysis

This one is actually a marketing technique, but, like the 3 G’s above, techniques from other disciplines can be used to understand your customer and their needs. Techniques such as this provide intelligence that can be analysed to create insight.

Situational Analysis refers to a collection of methods that managers use to analyse an organisation's internal and external environment to understand the organisation's capabilities, customers, and business environment. For example, changes in consumer and social technology may help you understand how customers will expect to interact and transact with you.

Situational Analysis consists of several methods of analysis: The 3C’s (sometimes called the 5C’s), SWOT, PESTLE and Porter five forces are all Situational Analysis Techniques. Find out more about Situational Analysis.

Applying the techniques to uncover customer needs

Transforming to be more customer centric is a great direction for any organisation. As a business analyst you have an important role to play in this transformation. There are many techniques out there to better understand customer needs and I have only covered a handful in this article.

It is also highly likely that your organisation already has a wealth of intelligence that you can tap into to understand your customers better. In addition to the findings that you gather yourself make sure you utilise existing information available about your customers.

Use the insight you gain through these and other techniques to make changes that satisfy your customer need. This can only be a good thing for an organisation.

Kirsten Eriksen is a Senior Consultant specialising in business analysis, based in Equinox IT’s Wellington, New Zealand office.

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