What problem are you really solving?

The importance of understanding your customer’s needs is something I go on about all the time. In fact, one of my favourite lines is: “tell me in one sentence what problem you are solving for this customer.”

But yesterday I realised that I didn’t understand fully how much thought and diligence it requires to do this well.

Let me explain. Last year we worked with Repacted Youth Group who came up with the idea of Nakuru’s first dating agency. We left in November unsure about if they were going to follow this through. But amazingly on Valentines Day they threw a singles party and over 90 people attended. And then for the next 8 Wednesdays they held similar events to which around 30 people attended each week.

They have even had some interest from one of the major broadcasters in Kenya – KTN – who suggested doing a feature on them. And Carlsberg mentioned that if the events got bigger they could potentially sponsor the nights.

A great start!!!

So this time we decided to pick them up and see if we could give them a loan to scale. But before this we wanted to know a bit more about their customers. Who are they, what do they want in a dating agency, what problem does the dating agency solve?

Easy we thought. Just take the customer segments one by one and do some interviews. So some members of Repacted, working with Felicity, went to Egerton University to interview students, one of the segments they had defined at the events.

But when they began interviewing their assumption, which had seemingly been validated at their singles night, that students want to find a significant other, was shown to be inaccurate.

For the younger students a relationship was often the last thing they desired. Instead they wanted to have fun, meet lots of people and play the field… Some men also said they couldn’t afford to have a girlfriend at their age! However, singles nights still appealed to them for casual hook ups – but only if there were lots of music and dancing plus a few beers!

Against this, many of the older students about to leave university did in fact want a relationship because they felt more ready to settle down. However, they didn’t see parties or clubs as a good way of finding a partner. They stated that bonds struck up in these environments are generally short lasting.

Thus, both younger and older students were attending the dating nights. However, they were there for different things, and the nights didn’t fit any of their desires perfectly. The younger ones wanted more fun with lots of people to meet quickly. The older ones wanted a quieter and more mature atmosphere where deeper bonds could be struck up.

This has made me realise even more how important it is to understand specifically, for a very defined customer segment, what problem they want you to solve. Without this you’ll never create a solution that perfectly fits a customer’s desired outcome. You might provide a 5 out of 10 service for many people. But for no one it will be 10 out of 10. And that’s what we really want to achieve!

With this research Repacted are now thinking of holding separate events that cater more perfectly to the needs of different Kenyans.

So yes, understand what problem you are solving for the customer. But be careful. Don’t group customers into too big segments. And don’t assume that they have the same needs just because they are using the same service.

Dig deeper. Question more. And always challenge your assumptions.