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Jobs-to-be-Done & Customer Education: Should You Use It?

Written by Julia Borgini

Published on November 15, 2017

When people find themselves needing a job done, they essentially hire products to do that job for them.

Clayton Christensen, author of the Innovator's Dilemma and Harvard Business School professor.

When you think about your reasoning for buying any product, whether for yourself or your employer, that's essentially the reason you buy it. You're "hiring" the product to do a job for you, such as make it easier to track sales, send emails, move products around your warehouse, or deliver courses to your customers. The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) theory is good for building and marketing any kind of product, including customer education, so how can you use JTBD when you design customer education courses?

What is JTBD?

The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) theory is a new way to think about products and services and using that new viewpoint throughout your organization. Christensen first talked about it in his 2005 paper for the Harvard Business Review titled The Cause and the Cure of Marketing Malpractice.

Instead of thinking about the wonderful features the products have, Christensen suggests gaining a deeper understanding of how and why customers use your products. To illustrate this, think about this quote from Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. This is a perfect example of JTBD theory. Ford focused on why they wanted the faster horses rather than simply the horse itself.

A modern example of JTBD

In his University Of Phoenix Lecture Series talk on Market Disruptions and Online Learning, Christensen told the story of a fast food chain and its milkshakes. The restaurant wanted to sell more milkshakes and so embarked on a detailed analysis of their target market, sent researchers to understand the market's milkshake preferences, and then implemented their findings. The result? No discernable increase in milkshake sales.

Asking the JTBD questions

Using the JTBD theory, Christensen's researchers went in with a different mindset. They wondered what "job" arises in people's lives that caused them to come to the fast food joint to "hire" a milkshake. Standing inside the restaurant for an entire day, they looked closely at the customers. They looked at:

  • The time of day they purchased the milkshakes.

  • Their clothing.

  • Whether they were alone or with others.

  • Whether the customers drank the milkshake in the restaurant or took it to go.

What they discovered was something completely different from the data the restaurant discovered. Nearly half of the milkshakes sold every day were sold before 8am. The customers who bought them were almost always alone, it was the only thing they bought, and they got back in their cars and drove away with them.

Digging deeper into the jobs

But Christensen's colleagues didn't stop there. They went back again the next day and spoke to all the milkshake customers. Instead of asking what "job" they were trying to "hire" the milkshake for, they used plain language to ask them what they were fulfilling in their daily lives by purchasing the milkshake.

Turns out, the customers all had the same "job" for the milkshake: they were bored during their long commutes to work and needed something for their hands to do while driving. Plus, since their morning breaks were several hours away, the milkshake kept them full and not-hungry during that time.

JTBD helps you become more customer-centric

Christensen's story about milkshakes illustrates how asking a direct product questions ("What would make our milkshakes better?") is a quick way to go in the wrong direction. It's too product-centric and really has nothing to do with your customers.

A business should organize themselves around solving the needs of the customers with their products since it's those needs that drive the customer's behavior in the first place. That's why they start researching your products, put you on their vendor short list, or take your customer education courses. They want to know how your product can help them do a job.

By changing your organization's mindset to be a JTBD mindset, you'll ensure that everyone's on the same page and is entirely focused on the customer. Sales and profits will probably increase as customers recognize this shift and will deepen their connections with you. Product development teams can use it to design and deliver product enhancements that better match how customers are using your products. Marketing teams can shift their messaging to be more customer-centric and really focus in on the benefits to your products and how they impact customers.

Does JTBD really apply to customer education too?

Sure it does! Customer education teams can use it design and deliver courses that directly relate to the job the customers "hired" your product to do for them. It's a great way to determine what courses are needed by your customers so they'll be immediately valuable to customers.

Questions to ask

Ask yourself the following questions to see how JTBD can apply to customer education:

1. What does your product actually do for the customer?

List out the benefits of your products and skip the features. To further help with this, look at each feature and then ask "So what?".

E.g. Our product is smaller than our competitor's. So what? That means it fits in more locations in your data center. So what? You'll have more space for other computer hardware. So what? You'll be able to increase bandwidth for your employees because you'll put in more transfer servers. So what? Employees will get more done during their day.

How it applies to customer education: Design courses around customer experiences and the jobs they need done. They will be more apt to take and complete the course if it directly mirrors their own daily experience.

2. Consider Maslow's hierarchy of needs

How does your product fulfill the needs of your customers? Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychology theory that talks about the hierarchy of an individual's needs for health and happiness. You can apply it to your products too to see how many needs your products satisfy. Your best products will satisfy more levels of the hierarchy, since, according to Christenson, most jobs people need or want to do have a social, a functional, and an emotional dimension.

How it applies to customer education: Use Maslow's hierarchy as a guide to what courses to design and where to place them in the customer journey. Are they going to be used to appeal to their safety or esteem needs? Maybe that old course can be repurposed into one that appeals to their social belonging needs?

3. Was another product "fired" and replaced by the current one?

Look closely at why new customers choose your product by reflecting on what they used before they switch to your product; then look at why they switched.

How it applies to customer education: Use the reasons a product was fired to create the marketing for your CE courses. This language will speak directly to your customers, creating the connection and engagement that's needed to move them further down the purchase or customer funnel (depending on where the course is in your customer journey).

4. Will our product help customers get the entire job done or just one part?

People want to avoid cobbling together different products to get their job done (and enterprises want to reduce the number of technologies they have in their stack to the smallest number that get the job done). So if your product can help them get an entire job done instead of simply the first portion, focus on that.

How it applies to customer education: Courses created for the top of the funnel can be used to generate leads by focusing on the one part of the job it will help them get done. But don't forget to offer a more robust course or a series that will help them get the entire job done.

5. Can our product help customers get more jobs done?

Just like your products evolve, so to do the jobs that customers need to get done. JTBD theory tells us that the more jobs a product can help a customer get done, the more valuable it is in the market place.

How it applies to customer education: Further to #4, designing and publishing courses that will help them get more jobs done will move customers more quickly and further down the customer journey/funnel. They'll also increase post-sales purchases like up- and cross- sales. CE teams should collaborate with marketing and product development to ensure they're keeping up-to-speed with courses that match what's coming in the future.

Help customers hire your product

Jobs-to-be-done is traditionally thought of from a marketing perspective, however it can apply to other teams in your organization too. Customer education is in the business of helping customers use their products so they can complete jobs, so it makes sense that we use JTBD there too. By understanding the jobs customers want to complete, you can design training programs that help them complete the jobs using your products. Help them "hire" your products by offering training that speaks directly to the jobs they want to complete.

Webinar: Software Adoption Crash Course for Customer Education Leaders

Maria Manning-Chapman, vice president of education services research at TSIA, will be our guest on our upcoming webinar. She will talk about why customer education is ideal for driving adoption and how to do it. Manning-Chapman will talk about the research she has been conducting, and how you can leverage your customer education progams to drive customer adoption. Sign up now. 

Register Now

Originally published Nov 15, 2017 2:00:00 PM, updated Nov 15, 2017