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Innovative Customer Education Focuses on Customer Jobs-to-be-Done

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on October 30, 2017

If you look back through our blog posts in October, you will notice a theme about building new customer education team capabilities and individual skills. In this final blog of October, I want to introduce a new capability that I think will be the number one most critical capability customer education professionals will develop to set themselves apart from other leaders in the organization. That capability is to implement jobs-to-be-done theory in everything customer education does. 

Although jobs-to-be-done theory is not new, it has started to become more popular in the last 12 months, since three books were published: Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, by Clayton Christensen, Jobs To Be Done: Theory to Practice, by Anthony W. Ulwick, and Jobs To Be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation, by Stephen Wunker and Jessica Wattman (listed in order of publication). 

What is jobs-to-be-done?

According to Clayton Christensen, jobs-to-be-done is not an all-purpose catchphrase (although it sounds like it is) because jobs are complex. The definition needs to be simplified, but also dynamic enough to handle the complexity of "jobs." Christensen defines "job" this way: "What an individual really seeks to accomplish in a given circumstance." I like this definition because it is flexible enough for me to deal with the question, "What job is my customer seeking to do today?" This definition works for me, but it may not be specific enough for some. In his book, Ulwick gave us a little more on the definition, writing that the jobs-to-be-done theory provides a framework for categorizing, defining, capturing, and organizing the six types of customer needs.

According to Ulwick, these six types are:

  1. The core functional job-to-be-done
  2. Desired outcomes on the core functional job
  3. Related jobs
  4. Emotional and social jobs
  5. Consumption jobs
  6. Financial desired outcomes

This list is good because it shows more concretely the different types of jobs our customers are doing.

It's about the customer's job not the product 

You may be asking yourself what this has to do with customer education, especially since the jobs-to-be-done theory is targeted at executives and product management professionals. After all, in anything you read about this theory, it is about innovation, and it is about designing products that address customer needs (jobs-to-be-done). Both of these are the domain of company executives and product developers (not always, of course, but mostly).

So then, what does this have to do with customer education?

Look at the list above.

It is a list of six types of jobs (needs) that our customers have. It shows that customers are hiring our product to do a job (pause and think about that statement for a moment). The interest is not in our product features any further than the product's ability to help customers do one or more of these jobs listed above. Let's just take number four (emotional and social jobs) as an example to make the point. I choose this job type because it seems the most out of place and when you understand it, the entire jobs-to-be-done theory makes practical sense for customer education leaders.

Consider one of your customers.

Do you help your customer look good in front of other people at work?

One thing they probably want to do is look good in front of others in their company. One way to do that is to use your product to show how great they are at their job. If your product is marketing automation and your customer is a marketing manager, the emotional and social job is to to demonstrate that one can get great marketing results. Maybe it is to create a dazzling report that shows how much a marketing program attributed to new pipeline revenue or maybe it is to speak up in a meeting and say, "I know how to run a campaign like that and automate it." If that marketing manager has the confidence to do these jobs, they leverage their emotional strength to speak up and the social strength to work with others to do these jobs well and get results. 

Ask yourself this question: "How can customer education help this marketing manager achieve the emotional and social jobs described above?" 

If your product managers have learned jobs-to-be-done theory they are certainly asking themselves: "How can we design our product so this marketing manager can achieve the emotional and social jobs described above?"

That is the essence of jobs-to-be-done theory, and why customer education leaders should care. 

Are you beginning to see how this may change how we look at designing our customer education strategy, and more specifically how we design learning experiences for our customers?

I hope so. And if you are, then I suspect you are asking yourself, "How?"

How can I apply jobs-to-be-done theory to customer education

There is an entire chapter in Ulwick's book, Jobs To Be Done: Theory to Practice, that describes the skills and process one must master to apply jobs-to-be-done theory and to become a practitioner of the theory. Those are (as listed in the book):

  1. Initiate a project
  2. Uncover customer needs (read: conduct needs analysis)
  3. Gather quantitative data
  4. Discover hidden opportunities for growth (read: find the unmet needs, needs the product is not specifically addressing or needs a customer doesn't know the product does address) 
  5. Formulate the market strategy (read: develop your customer education strategy and how you will get that to your customers)
  6. Formulate the product strategy (read: figure out what learning experiences you will developing)

The book goes into detail on each of these. I would like you to take away from this list three things:

  1. There are a lot of similarities between this list above and what an instructional designer or customer education leader does to design training programs.
  2. Because there are overlaps, the jobs-to-be-done framework could be a means for you to escape the gravity of always developing training that is feature focused, which is what most of us are used to and what our product teams often demand.
  3. This framework could provide you a common language you can use with your product team to communicate why your new education programs will not be focused on features but on the customer job-to-be-done.

Know your customers' jobs-to-be-done

I hope you can see now some urgency with which you should pursue learning about jobs-to-be-done theory, and how to apply it to your customer education programs. I believe customer education leaders can leverage this framework to make a much bigger impact on customers and on our companies. 

There will be more to come throughout November on how to apply jobs-to-be-done in our education programs. For now, I recommend you read at least one of these books (or at a minimum, this article). If you do, I believe you will be hooked. Whether you are or are not, I'd love to hear about it. Comment below what you think about this theory and how you might apply it. 


[ Blog] Escape the gravity of developing feature-focused training programs

It is so easy to get caught up in creating training programs that dive right into features. That's what our customers scream for, and that is what our product managers demand from us. The problem is, as you know, feature training often lacks context. This can leave customers wondering, "Great, I see how that feature works, but why do I care?" In this blog post, If You Stop Teaching Features, Your Customers Might Actually Learn Something, we offer an alternative view to developing feature-focused training. Maybe even training on the customer's jobs-to-be-done.

Read the Blog