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Customer Context Table in action

If you attended a public QFD Green Belt® course recently (or a QFD Black Belt® course), you recall the power of the Customer Context table to help product developers uncover ways to excite customers with solutions to problems they cannot articulate or even imagine.

Due to the strategic capabilities of this tool, most applications are still confidential, but the examples used in the public Belt courses are illustrative of its potential. image of bagelsOne of our case studies is the airport bagel service from Host Marriott [1996 QFD Symposium Transactions - Marriott bagel case].

During that project, the Customer Segments Table was examined to explore other consumers of the bagel. In the study, we observed emerging generational differences among customers where younger people were replacing or delaying a traditional family (marriage, children) with a new family structure with pets.

The sociological and psychological interpretations of this phenomenon are beyond the scope of this newsletter, but people are having children later in life, and are often enjoying the companionship of a pet instead. What if the bagel consumer was a pet -- what new contexts could we explore for ways to please the pet owner and the animal? The Customer Context table helps structure this analysis.

One context might be the pet owner buying a gift for a pet. One sub-context could be bringing a gift to a friend's pet. It is tradition that when visiting a friend or family member, a traveller brings a small gift for the children. Usually inexpensive (unless the visit coincides with a major gift-giving occasion such Christmas or a birthday), it is a token of affection for both one's friend or relative (I care enough about you to remember your children) as well as to the children (I love my "aunt" because she always brings me something).

image of a sleeping puppyBut what if instead of (or in addition to) children, our friend or relative has a beloved pet? Can we bring a gift to the pet as a token of affection (I care enough about you to remember your pets)? (The cognitive awareness of the pet of being gifted is also beyond the scope of this newsletter.) Another sub-context could be bringing a gift to one's own pet to compensate for being away.

As the Host Marriott selling venue is the airport, can we offer pet gifts for this purpose? In the bagel case, this suggested a "doggy bagel," a hard, over-baked ring of dough perfect for gnawing. Normally, an over-baked bagel would be scrap, but why not make these purposefully, tie them with a pretty ribbon to make them gift-worthy, and sell them at a gift-appropriate price? Recently, I've noticed many airports have added pet stores that offer an expansive set of pet gifts for such travelers.

With the Customer Context table, we can continue to explore. To paraphrase (and with apologies to) Sir Isaac Newton, "what goes in must come out." Change the context location from traveling to home. Are there other child-rearing related products or services that might have pet potential, such as diaper service?

One expanding franchise, DoodyCalls, will come to your home and remove pet waste, including cleaning, deodorizing, and sanitizing services. Combine the two contexts, and the service could come to the home of a pet owner on vacation to both feed and clean up after a pet (a pet "babysitter").

Keep analyzing the context and what other new products or services might come have value? And since this is QFD, various customers (pet, owner, neighbor, etc.) and their needs can be derived, prioritized, and then translated into new functional requirements that will excite and delight customers. These functional requirements can then be deployed to assure the quality of the product or service.

Come learn more about the Customer Context Table at the next QFD Green Belt® Course.

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