15.821 | Fall 2002 | Graduate

Listening to the Customer


ASSN # Topics

There is no assignment for the first class. After the class, you might check out the Inc. article (from 7/1/98) on qualitative methods “The New Market Research,” available at:

You can also read “Spend a Day in the Life of your Customer”.


Assignment 2 Due (PDF)


Guest Lecture: Robert Klein, President, Applied Marketing Science, Inc.

Mr. Klein heads a leading market research company, which has developed a very successful proprietary Voice of the Customer methodology (Vocalyst™). He will discuss this in class. As preparation, read the HBS reprint “Understanding User Needs,” and the article “Puritan - Bennett - The Renaissance Spirometry System,” which uses Vocalyst™.

Check out their site: http://www.ams-inc.com/

Vocalyst is described at: http://www.ams-inc.com/npd/vocalyst.asp

Note - the interview guide for the VOC exercise is due in class (1 per team). In preparing your guide, you can take a look at a ‘professional quality’ interview guide in the course packet (submitted by three former students). Your guide doesn’t need to be as elaborate.


Individual Assignement: Conduct and write-up a one-on-one customer interview, as described in Consumer Behavior Exercise (A-F). There are six different version of this exercise (A,B,C,D,E,F), and everyone should have received one particular version in September. The exercise will (a) give you a chance to practice interviewing before you do it for the project; (b) give examples of good discussion guides; (c) give you a feel for typical content that might be explored in an interview.

The class will be devoted entirely to the discussion of what you have learned in the interviews.

Project Group Assignment: Interview guide due.


Guest Lecture: Jim Ferry, President, Boston Innovation Group (or BIG).

Mr. Ferry is one of the leading practitioners of exploratory market research in the Boston area, and is also a professional focus group moderator. You can check out his website at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boston-Innovation-Group/128336444012128?sk=info&tab=page_info

We will do several exploratory research/idea generation exercises in class.


Focus groups are the most widely used (and abused) qualitative market research method. We will spend the hour discussing the pro-s and con-s of focus groups.

Read the case Boston Fights Drugs (A). Think about the following questions for class discussion:
What did you think of the team’s “model” for drug abuse?
What do you make of the design of the pre-screening questionnaire and the focus group interview protocols?
Are there data in the exhibits to support the team’s conclusions on p. 10 of the case?
Should they have used one-on-one interviews instead of focus groups?

For a neat extension of focus group methodology, read “Focus Troops.”


Observational methods. Read the article “The Future of Marketing Is Looking at You” from Fast Company, on its website: http://www.fastcompany.com/27683/future-marketing-looking-you

The article describes E-labs, an innovative consulting company that mostly relies on observation and ethographic methods (they have recently been acquired by Sapient).


We will spend the class translating customer voices into requirements. The basic method is given in Voices into Choices Step R16. Each team member should come to class with their voices on Post-It notes. We will provide flip-chart paper and magic markers.

Project group assignment: Interview transcripts due.


We will look at how the customer’s voices can be used to generate ideas and concepts for new products, and view a short video on the IDEO design company.

Read “Spark innovation through empathic design,” and skim Voices into Choices Steps 18 and 19. You might also look at articles on IDEO from their website, http://www.ideo.com/.

“For a Seller of Innovation, a Bag of Technotricks” NYTimes, 2/1/99 (bottom of page).
“A success in design minus the capital D " From the London Times

“Innovation for Fun and Profit.” Upside Magazine, March 10, 2000.


The Customer’s Voice on Pricing. This is an area of special research interest to me. We will discuss what customers “really” want from pricing structures and arrangements.


Final Presentations


Final Presentations
Project Group Assignment: Project Report Due (PDF)


Problem Set (PDF)

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2002
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes