What are unmet customer needs in a digital age?

hierarchy of needs illustration

What are unmet customer needs in a digital age?

It’s easy to become fascinated by modern innovation with new and exciting products rearing their head every day, each designed to give us something special and unique that we hadn’t imagined before.

The realm of the innovators has grown incredibly in recent times; no longer are they limited to physical products but to incredible digital solutions too.

We now live online almost as much as we do in the real world, constantly connected to friends, family, brands, and products, each potentially adding to our quality of life with each click and tap.

“There’s an app for that” was one of Apple’s leading campaigns from 2009, and they weren’t kidding. Now, a quick hop, skip, and a jump of a decade later, Google, Apple, and a plethora of creators distribute digital solutions for pocket-size devices. As a result, we now use all kinds of tech to shop, sell, and learn, to monitor our health and our finances, to connect with our friends and strangers, to bolster existing relationships and make new ones, to find new ways to organise our homes and entertain ourselves, and so much more.

But what compels us to engage in those apps, websites, and digital products? And what drives the designers and developers to make them in the first place?

What is a customer need?

Let’s break this down to its most basic definition.

An unmet need is a problem without a solution.

Creating a product that solves a problem is the goal of designers and developers worldwide, yet that’s only half the battle. The other half is making it desirable at a profit.

Discovering unmet needs and monetising them will shape your brand, UX, sales messages, marketing, and your company voice, so they’re obviously a big deal in business operations.

Unmet needs are just as relevant to the solo start-up as to the existing corporate giant. So whether you’re looking for a way to take more control or how to turn more significant and better profits from a current market and customer base, it’s all about finding new ways to sell solutions to everyday problems.

Today, we’re looking into identifying those unmet needs, their manifest solutions, and how not to get stuck in the same old routines. After all, if the witticism touted as Einstein’s was right, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”, designers may have to look both inside and outside the box for the most ingenious uses of their skills.

Customer needs come in all shapes and sizes

When it comes to expansion and growth, new business is vital. Selling more products to existing customers is one option, and selling the same products to new customers is another.

  • Meeting existing customers’ needs
  • Developing new customers’ needs

Upgrading your existing customers’ experiences requires researching how they behave, the problems they see in your products and their dream scenarios that will help you discover the profitable innovations you can deliver.

For growth into new markets, you’ll have to explore what would convince potential new customers to engage with your product, providing something they need that isn’t already part of your product line-up or feature sets.

Another essential part of fulfilling customer needs is delivering the attributes each product must include:

  • Functionality – It’s easy to operate to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Convenience – The solutions are available precisely when they need them.
  • Cost – The price must fall in line with the user’s gain.
  • User experience – A poor UX will deter engagement—a well-delivered UX will sell itself.
  • Efficiency and reliability – The solution must operate as specified, streamlining the process.
  • Performance – Any pain points or problems during its operation must be eliminated.
  • Compatibility – It must be compatible with the user’s existing tools.

Identifying unmet customer needs

One route to identifying unmet customer needs is to monitor how people operate in existing markets; they can be work or pleasure, lifestyle, or anything else that causes annoyance or obstacles to our schedule.

The real innovation, however, often happens when designers look to the future to try and predict what we’re all going to need before we need it and provide the groundbreaking sites and applications that make them a reality.

To identify unmet customer needs, you must ask the following:

  • Are they currently catered for or unrecognised?
  • Are they a high or low priority?
  • Is it a highly competitive or niche activity?

The answers to these questions will take your journey in different directions. For example, an unrecognised customer need creates an opportunity for a brand-new innovative product. In contrast, a recognised need could provide an opportunity for a unique upgrade that will sink your competitors.

Competitive sectors may have the most significant and established markets, but niche activities could command higher subscriptions. You’ll find examples of unmet customer needs and valuable opportunities to expand existing products or innovate into possible new lines.

Competitive analysis helps to plug the gaps you aren’t seeing

Reinventing a better wheel is always an option; if you can do something your competitors do, but better, there’s a market opportunity.

Monitoring your market and competitors for additional features, trends, and breakthroughs can enable you to build an alternative list of unmet customer needs and opportunities to create advanced models with different uses or applications that customers will prefer.

Look to the future – predicting the disrupters

How do you predict the unpredictable? One way is to monitor the changes in society and another in technology. With new ways to carry out old processes, how can you, as an innovator, use them to improve your industry?

For example, look at how blockchain technology has impacted thousands of markets and processes, despite its earliest appearance as the platform for cryptocurrencies. Could programmable NFTs and smart contracts disrupt your industry and take your operation to new heights?

Determine new markets for existing products

In typical UX research and marketing situations, we use ideal customer personas to maximise the likelihood of sales, playing to the user’s expectations.

However, untapped markets could be better identified by exploring untapped users’ needs. With social media and brand engagement being a staple goal of marketers and sales teams, why not ask them about the most unusual or off-piste activity they used your app or product for or what’s missing from its ultimate operation?

Understand existing customers’ pain points

Unmet customer needs research often includes journey mapping as a standard method of identifying and illuminating pain points during a product experience. Determining bottlenecks and reoccurring issues provides insights into additional opportunities than just ironing out hiccups in a current process.

Explore customer behaviour through data

Understanding users’ triggers, pain points, drivers, and barriers will help identify the customer needs that lead to better performance.

How will your product change their lives? What don’t they like doing? What drives their decision-making? And what prevents them from engaging in new options?

Listen to your customers

Continual feedback and testing are staples of UX research. Each round of changes introduces new interactions, each with its own possible advantages and pain points.

You will only ever truly understand what your users or customers need by interacting with them; this is no time for guesswork or assumptions. Qualified data is essential.


How to meet customer needs

Observation and relevancy: Most of the time, your customers won’t realise they’re the key to the next big thing; it’s up to you to gather that information from them.

Knowing how to ask the right questions is imperative. In many instances, monitoring behaviours and feelings will reveal what they truly need that they may never be able to put into words.

For example, monitoring what users are looking for or trying to do when operating websites or applications and how it makes them feel will uncover the problems they don’t even realise they’re facing.

Opportunity and value: There are opportunities to uncover and rectify issues and unmet needs at every step of your operation, from design and development to sales enquiries and customer service and feedback. Once you recognise an unmet need, your next considerations are whether they have any financial value and how much effort it would require to develop.

Why do customer needs go unmet?

Sadly, a great deal of the time, it’s because the people who have that need are unable to articulate what they want from innovators or don’t have the opportunity to make a request.

How many times have you said, “I wish my phone had an app that could…” followed by your dream app description, but you never did anything about it? We might not think we’re the innovators and inventors sitting on the next UberAirbnb, or Instagram, but it’s from those tiny acorns that oak trees grow.

There are thousands of unmet customer needs examples and solutions right under our noses. Cumbersome GPS coordinates gave birth to What3Words app. Amazon’s failure to look after its merchants gave rise to Shopify, now a billion-dollar business. And new technology designed to monitor health factors produced wearables that do so much more than keep an eye on our fitness but keep us connected to all our daily pursuits.

Quite simply, customers rarely believe they’ve got a need worth meeting, but with enough people on the same page, there’s a new product waiting to happen. Moreover, these are often the ideas that present new opportunities to innovators, those that they could convert into the next big thing.


You’ll only truly understand what your customers and potential customers need by listening to them, learning how they feel, and watching how they perform. Unfortunately, it’s not always straightforward and finding ways to explore new users to expand your idea base can be challenging.

However, learning how to listen for those eureka moments can prove invaluable. Every unmet need is an opportunity to explore, and a possible profitable solution in an extensive marketplace.

If you are interested in product innovation and how we can help you understand the unmet needs of your potential customers, email us at hello@ux247.com.

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