Understanding the Wants and Needs of Customers

In their chapter titled “Innovation for the BoP: The Patient-Capital Perspective,” Robert Kennedy (University of Michigan and WDI) and Jacqueline Novogratz (Acumen Fund) give a real-world example of why a social (or any) enterprise should be willing to learn from their customers on what their wants and needs are and be ready to tailor their services appropriately.

Human-centric design begins with attempt to understand the wants and needs of customers—and well beyond what a typical market researcher might find useful. The point is to better understand the way people think, feel, and live at the BoP before, during, and
after designing products or services.

An example of human-centric design is WaterHealth International’s (WHI) experience with home water delivery. WHI is discussed in more detail in a later section, but one insight is worth noting here. WHI builds and operates village-based water purification systems. The standard model is to operate a WaterHealth Centre in a central location, where villagers can come to purchase water and transport it home. In an early effort to generate incremental revenues, WHI experimented with a home delivery service. The thinking was that WHI could charge rich households a premium for delivery (approximately two times the price of the water) and use these fees to subsidize water for the poor.

The service was an immediate success, but somewhat surprisingly, day laborers were the customer group most likely to use the service. It turns out that rich households had servants and perceived no incremental cost to sending them to transport water. But the day laborers put a high value on their time. They needed water in their homes and couldn’t spare the time to pick it up—but they were willing to pay for a service that was vital to them. Immersing itself deeply into the local community and listening carefully to its customers allowed WHI to develop an important but counterintuitive understanding of its target customers.

From Innovation for the BoP: The Patient-Capital Perspective in the book Next Generation Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid: New Approaches for Building Mutual Value.

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