Products of Survival: Shifting Customer Needs in Uncertain Times

October 27, 2020
5 minute read
A guest post by Joanna Tivig 


Product owners must serve the needs of their main stakeholders, their customers. Understanding the needs of customers means you need to assess the level of certainty in the environment. Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be a great tool to guide through the process redefining the needs of your customers based on the level of certainty around them. The more certainty customers have in the environment around them, the more confidence they have to position themselves at the top of Maslow’s pyramid. On the other hand, the more uncertainty exists in the customer’s environment, the more they will descend to the base of Maslow’s pyramid, in the search to meet their need for stability and security.

So how are the customers of today different from the customers of tomorrow? What changed and what didn’t? And most importantly, does your product have the features to meet the needs of your customer of tomorrow?

The customers of yesterday, while they couldn’t be certain of hot summer weather, they could make long-term vacation plans and could envision a flourishing economy, a stable job based on reliable data predictions. The customers of today, while they may still be hoping for a hot summer, they are experiencing the anxiety of short term planning. There is no predictable data that can show them whether the economy as well as the entire business sector will be doing well in a few months. In addition, customers are fighting the risk of getting sick with a deadly virus. Stability changed to unpredictability and what seemed to be a great year for summer vacation has transformed into a year of uncertainty where people are worried about toilet paper, food supply, and fear of close contact.  The customers of yesterday were open to opportunities; they could dream big and achieve anything they desired. The customers of today are focused on instincts of survival, earning enough money to have safe accommodation, food, and their health; they observe and take in the events as they come and they feel vulnerable most of the time. 

Your customers are suddenly going back to physiological and safety needs and enter the survival mode. So what do you do as a product owner? Here are five tips for you:

  1. Build confidence with your customers. Highlight those features that focus on supporting your customers and the use of your product, and then wait patiently for customers to make additional decisions. 
  2. Give more for less. This is the time for helping your customers make decisions by giving them incentives or discounts on your products; make less profit, but keep your customer base.
  3. Make changes only if absolutely necessary. This is not the time for more uncertainty for your customers unless those changes can reduce uncertainty for your customer’s basic needs.
  4. Listen to the sources of information. More than ever understand the public messages to understand your customer’s gains and pains and show empathy.
  5. Stay close to your customer. Engage with your customers as often as possible, reminding them that there will be a time when everything will be certain and safe again; a time they can dream about and they can start creating plans for. 

Here is a challenge for you. Map your customer’s needs to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and build your product log with this in mind. Continue to monitor where your customer needs are trending based on the information you receive from your customers. Be the product owner who cares about your customers. Be prepared. Be engaged. Be passionate.


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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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