Giving the Customers What They “Really” Want – Implicit Needs and Web Application Design

Best practices and guidelines about online customer experience emphasize the idea of giving the customers “what they want” or “what they’re really looking for”. This is a quick tip to getting it right in most cases. Yet without taking into account who your specific customer is, in the end it will mean exactly nothing. Web experience managers must always carefully evaluate how they can meet their customers’ needs. While explicit needs are easier to point out, the implicit needs are harder to recognize and fulfill. In this post we will discuss what customers’ implicit needs are and how fulfilling them can take your web application to the next level, winning customer loyalty and retention. Hopefully it will give you some food for thought the next time you’re designing a user experience platform.

Let’s start with the obvious; explicit needs. Generally, customers know exactly what they want to accomplish before they sign in to their online account. They either want to browse items, view data, carry out a transaction or make a specific purchase. It’s pretty universally acknowledged that one part of providing a great experience is to help your customers accomplish their goal in as few clicks as possible. There has been an enormous amount of research done on how to accomplish this. We think some of the best practices you will find concerning UX design come from what is being called Lean UX, which uses the ‘lean’ methodology as a way to optimize the user experience.

However, these days though it’s not all about do the transaction, get the conversion and everyone’s happy. Today, brands have to differentiate themselves by offering more than a smooth purchasing process or a slick design. Contemporary online experience managers are aware that the only way to build lasting relationships is to focus on interactions rather than transactions.

This is where the implicit needs come to life. Those needs are the goals the customer wishes to achieve on a deeper level. Needs that are not explicitly required by him verbally. Nevertheless, they are constantly in the back of his mind.

So how do we identify implicit needs of different customers? It goes without saying that in every industry the implicit needs of the customer are quite different.  A few examples of a customer’s implicit needs in different major industries could be something like this:

Banking Give me the tools I need to take control of my budget and plan for my future – I want to know my money is safe with you. I also want to pay less interest on loans, and get more interest on savings.
Investment Make it easy for me to see exactly what’s happening with my money and let me know when something changes – I want to know you’re serious about my money.
Telecom Help me to see what kind of phone plan I need. Advise me if I’m better off buying cheaper bundles or upgrading to a new plan, and I absolutely don’t want overage charges. – I want to know you help me to be as frugal as possible.
Life and health Insurance Always be available, especially when I travel. Make it easy for me to understand my policy and what’s best if I start a family or my circumstances change – I want to know that I’m covered on all aspects for the best price.
Government Help me to communicate with you in a simpler fashion – I don’t want to make any phone call or go to your office. I want to know that you try hard to save me time.

Jajah, long-distance VOIP provider, provides a good example of satisfying customer’s implicit needs in an online environment. Jajah shows customers how much money they have saved by using their service, rather than paying for normal landline calls. While the customer is logged in and making phone calls, he can see on each page exactly how much money he have saved by using their service:

Jajah’s reminder of how much money the customer saved so far by using their service.

Another very practical and useful example is Google Adwords. Their interface’s ‘customer first’ approach attempts to support the everyday challenges that a digital marketer faces: How can I improve the quality of my paid traffic? How can I increase conversions? Adwords accomplishes this by offering the keyword suggestion tool to help the marketers find keywords that they otherwise might have missed; and by prioritizing it on the dashboard, making it a priority:

Google Adwords alerts the user to potential keywords, budget limitations and conversion methods.

Understanding the implicit needs can open vast opportunities to increase loyalty and retention. A telecom provider can promote new data plans, but at the same time can show a visualization of minutes, SMS’s, and data bandwidth used, with a recommendation for a plan that is more suited to the individual client’s usage. Something like the T-Mobile calculator which is  an example of showing your customers how they can save money buying a new plan. The same should be done for existing customers.

So, designing functionality in web application requires thinking about how the implicit needs of the customer can be met. As shown above, in some cases, like with Adwords, it can benefit the business too – With Adwords the user will ultimately end up paying for more paid traffic. However, in the other example, the telecom company that was helping their customers to spend less, meeting implicit needs was punitive to company profits. You may wonder how it can still be beneficial to the company. The short answer is that in today’s differentiated market, anything that benefits the customer benefits the company. This leads us to another important point about meeting implicit needs – putting the customer in control.

Meeting the Needs of the Power Hungry Customer

An additional implicit need of the new Web 2.0 generation or Generation-Y has been brought about by the paradigm shift in the traditional relationship between the business and the consumer. Now it is the customer who is in control and the expectations and demands he places on businesses are higher, and more important than ever. In short, The unlimited information customers now have, gives them a huge amount of power over businesses. Moreover, it is not just the huge amount of choice they have at their fingertips; it’s also the numerous channels through which they can express and share their satisfaction or disappointment that gives them leverage over businesses. At the same time, popular online platforms such as Facebook, Google and others are redefining what superb online experience is, and other businesses have no choice but to keep up to meet customers’ expectations.

What does this shift mean for web applications? NCR 2010 Global Consumer Research, a global study whose aims were to understand customers’ attitudes and preferences, gives a clearer idea of what the new generation wants. According to data, 83% responded they were more likely to do business with retailers that allow them to personalize and control where, when and how they interact through their preferred channel combinations. In addition, 45% would like organizations to put experts online to quickly respond to questions on websites and social media platforms, and 44% would like organizations that use social media to recognize them as individuals with unique preferences.

The constantly evolving and growing implicit needs of customers are no less important than the industry-specific ones. In fact, they complement each other. Imagine a wealth management portal that does not give the customer a clear and simple overview of his investments portfolio, nor the ability to personalize it according to his own goals and priorities. Such limitations harm the customer’s experience and he will feel he is not in control of his own assets. Now think about a bank that might offer the best interest rates for savings accounts around, but doesn’t offer any assistance during the application process, culminating in a frustrated almost-customer and a conversion-less business. The new customers won’t care since they are so confident in their ability to easily research and find a better experience that they will simply move on. In some cases it won’t even matter that the product is inferior or more expensive, not putting him in control will be the deciding factor.

To sum up, we began by asking how we can better understand what our customer wants. Understanding who our customers really are and what they want to accomplish with our application can help us design our web platforms. But, by going beyond the immediate needs of the customer and looking for their implicit needs, those hidden psychological desires of our customers, we can create a truly satisfying and engaging online experience. These needs vary from one industry to another and require thorough, practical investigation by web experience managers. Finally, we looked at how the paradigm shift in the business-to-customer relationship brought about by new online practices has created another implicit need; for the customer to feel in control. Customer expectations are now higher than ever and businesses who wish to succeed must rise up to meet them.