Customers didn’t ask for many of the things that have been invented. Customers didn’t invent photography, cars, computers, and so on.

However, in many innovations (for example, cameras, the Sony Walkman etc) customers were central to the final product design; the innovators studied how people used the product and sought to make it easier to use from the customers’ point of view. For example, fool-proof cameras came from studying what customers did with their cameras: looking at what was in the developing tray.

In service organsiations a good understanding of customer needs and, in particular, how the customer uses a service – what it does for them – is often central to service design. For example in health and social care we can improve services by focusing on what an individual needs to live a good life, rather than focussing on ‘what we provide’.

But even in services the customer will not know what he or she needs in two or five years time. Only by keeping strong relationships with customers do we stand a chance of knowing how their needs are changing.