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Studying Users Who Switch Products? Try Jobs to Be Done

Many people misunderstand the best applications for the JTBD framework. These questions will set you on the right path.

Words by Nikki Anderson-Stanier, Visuals by Nicky Mazur

Jobs to be Done (JTBD) has become a popular framework in our industry. There is rarely a week that goes by where I don't get a JTBD-related question in my membership community. In fact, we’ve dedicated more than one Q&A session to it.

As popular as it is, JTBD can be a nightmare for user researchers. There are so many perceptions and opinions on how we should conduct JTBD, which can make it challenging to manage expectations. Additionally, a stakeholder who heard about JTBD from someone else usually recommends the approach rather than choosing it based on the research goals.

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What exactly is JTBD?

The first time I conducted a JTBD study, it was a complete mess—and also for the second and third times. I had spent hours upon hours reading books and articles on the topic. I put those books down, usually more confused than I was before.

My stakeholders wanted to conduct a JTBD study because it was something everyone else had done. I'm almost positive that someone somewhere once said that JTBD helped “guarantee success” or “made for actionable insights”, and ever since then, everyone has wanted to conduct a JTBD study.

JTBD isn't inherently special. In fact, it's not even a methodology. Instead, it's a framework that we can use to understand customers better. However, it is a difficult framework because of all the scattered opinions surrounding it—making it a tough study.

I dislike JTBD because people view it as "the thing that will give us all the answers" or as the key that unlocks all the insights. On the contrary, JTBD is an approach we layer on top of 1x1 interviews. It is a style of question-asking that gets us specific information about our customers.

But you can also accomplish the same with general 1x1 interviews. You can focus on unmet needs, goals, and pain points while being completely product-agnostic in a 1x1 interview without JTBD. You don't need a unique approach, nor do you need to try and figure out how to create job statements or what those mean.

However, sometimes JTBD can be a helpful approach. And sometimes, we want to learn different tools to expand our research toolkit. The most crucial part is that your goals align with your chosen approach and that you feel comfortable tackling said approach with your team.

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Usually, we think of JTBD as finding jobs and unmet needs, but JTBD shines in another place we often overlook: Switching.

Nikki Anderson-Stanier
Founder, UX Academy

When JTBD is super relevant

Now, if a stakeholder recommends using JTBD in a study, I put on my research hat and ask them why.

Understanding how to conduct a JTBD study properly and making it actionable can take quite a lot of time. These studies require a good deal of prep work, especially if everyone is new to the approach. Much of that can be trying to break down misconceptions or how jobs are "supposed to work."

So, when stakeholders come to me wanting to conduct JTBD, I always try to understand what they’re trying to look for. If it is for pain points and unmet needs, I typically recommend generative 1x1 interviews focusing on uncovering this information. If it is about understanding processes, I recommend a journey mapping or mental model interview.

However, when a stakeholder starts talking about understanding competitors and why users stay with or switch to specific products, my JTBD radar goes off.

Usually, we think of JTBD as finding jobs and unmet needs, but JTBD shines in another place we often overlook: Switching.

Answering the questions, "Why do people stay with certain products?" or, "Why do people suddenly give up a product they've been using for years to try a new one?" is helpful for an organization, and not one we often think to ask.

JTBD is an excellent mechanism for understanding and beginning to answer these critical questions—and also has fantastic lesser-known deliverables to help visualize the information.

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Approach 1: Four forces diagram

The four forces diagram is an artifact that helps us visualize why customers are switching from a current way of doing something to a new way. The "current way" and the "new way" represent a solution, such as a product or service.

What are the forces?

The four forces create the diagram and help us understand why people might stay with or switch to a product:

  1. Push of the present: The current solution or product the customer is using

  2. Pull of the future: The desired outcomes or improvements the customer seeks

  3. Anxiety of the new: Concerns, risks, or barriers the customer perceives in adopting a new solution

  4. Habit of the present: The customer's habits, routines, and familiarity with the current solution

This diagram helps us identify what pushes people away from an existing solution and what pulls people towards a solution. In addition, this diagram shows us where we could enter the market with innovative ideas to help draw people toward our platform.

For example, I worked at a travel company with a ticket booking system. We aggregated different ways to get from your current location to your destination by plane, train, bus, and car.

We had many competitors more popular than us in the ticket booking space, so I wanted to explore what made people stay with their current booking platform and what made people consider switching to ours.

Questions to ask for the four forces diagram

If understanding how people are currently struggling with their given solutions could be helpful for you, I recommend using the four forces diagram.

Whenever I go into interviews where the four forces diagram is an outcome, I frame questions around each of the forces:

✔ Push (problem)

  • What do you struggle with when booking a trip on the X platform?

  • What is less than ideal about the experience?

  • What might you change about the experience?

  • What is your frustration with the X platform?

✔ Attraction (pull)

  • What made you try a different platform?

  • What were some improvements you saw on the new platform?

✔ Anxieties

  • What concerns did you have when trying a new platform?

  • What were you thinking when you tried a new platform?

  • What were you most uncertain about when trying a new platform?

  • What could go wrong with the new platform?

✔ Habits

  • What works well on X platform?

  • What do you miss from X platform when trying something new?

  • What keeps you returning to X platform?

Using these questions as a jumping-off point. You can gather the information necessary to populate a four-forces diagram. Using this information, you can understand where people's hurdles and anxieties come into play.

When you directly speak to those pain points through marketing material or product changes, you increase the likelihood of people using or switching to your product.

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Approach 2: Switch timeline

The second JTBD outcome that I love using is the switch timeline. Like the four forces, the switch timeline helps you answer why customers hire a given product by reverse engineering why people switch.

The switch timeline recreates a customer's journey when purchasing a product or using a service.

The switch timeline includes the following:

  • First thought: The initial trigger that indicates the person needs to change because something isn't working

  • Passively looking: The person might be browsing more leisurely for a new solution but hasn't committed to change

  • Event one: Indicates that the person has started more seriously searching for something

  • Actively looking: The person invests time and energy into consciously pursuing a new solution

  • Event two: Pushes someone into a decision-making process

  • Deciding: The person consciously weighs alternatives to come to a decision

  • Purchase: The person makes a decision and purchases

  • Consuming: After the purchase, the person using the product or service

  • Ongoing experience (optional): If the experience is continuous (not a one-time event), the person continues to engage with the product or service

  • Satisfaction: The solution either leads to satisfaction or dissatisfaction, which could lead to another switch

The switch timeline gives us a clear picture of the decision-making process, which can help us identify the milestone events and triggers that impacted the journey of switching from an old solution to a new one.

We can use this to help support users through making decisions through marketing, sales, or highlighting and improving particularly needed features.

Questions to ask for the switch timeline

The wonderful part of a switch timeline is that we can use it directly as an interview guide. I draw the switch timeline for each interview to fill out and take quick notes. This drawing also reminds me of the stages I have to go through to complete the entire timeline.

We focus on creating a documentary-like scene within switch interviews, which means we go into detail about what that person felt and thought during each step rather than just focusing on the action.

Here are the questions I use to structure my switch interviews:

✔ First thought

  • When did you first start thinking about your purchase?
    • What was the thought that triggered you?

    • What time of day was it?

  • Who else was around you? Who else was involved in the decision?

  • Where were you while the thought came to you? In one place? Traveling?
    • Describe the environment you were in

    • What were you wearing

    • What was the weather like

  • What else were you doing when the thought came to you?

  • What were you using before you had X?
    • Why did you use that? What did you like about it?

    • When did you start using that?

    • What was frustrating about it?

    • What were you looking for that that product/service couldn't do?

✔ Passively looking

  • What happened after you had that first thought? What did you do?

✔ Event one

  • What made you start searching, then?

  • What did you do when you first started to search?

  • How did you search?

  • What else happened that day?

  • What happened with the product/service you were currently using?

  • What were you searching for?

✔ Actively looking

  • What made you put more energy and time into looking for another solution?

  • Why did you decide to search more thoroughly?

✔ Event two

  • What happened to make you seriously consider the different options?

✔ Deciding

  • How did you decide between what you bought and the other options?

  • Did you consider any competitors?
    • Which ones?

    • Why?

    • Why didn't you choose them?

  • What made you look up different options?

✔ Purchase

  • Why specifically did you buy that day versus any other?
    • Why then? What was unique about that day?

    • What else were you doing that day?

    • Did anyone contribute to sparking the decision that day? Why?

    • When did you purchase it?

    • Did you buy anything else at the same time?

  • What were you thinking as you purchased the product/service?

  • How did you buy the product?

✔ Consuming

  • Describe how you use the product you've purchased
    • Are there features you use all the time? How?

    • Are there features you never use? Why not?

✔ Satisfaction

  • Tell me about some frustrations you've encountered

  • What would you change about the product/service you purchased?

  • How do you feel about the product/service you purchased?

As you do the interview, you'll notice that certain moments on the timeline will fit what they're describing. I don't fill in the timeline properly during the interview, but I use it to make notes and track what parts of the process we've discussed. If you’re missing information in a specific area, continue to probe.

Again, once filled out, this wonderful timeline will give you a deep understanding of the step-by-step process your customers go through when making a purchase decision and can highlight places for innovation or improvement for your teams.

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Using JTBD for switching

Overall, Jobs to be Done is a fantastic mechanism to deeply understand your customers' process when making purchase decisions and switching from one product to another.

This information can impact your entire organization, from marketing and sales materials to product improvements or feature innovations that will help your customers choose your product.

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Nikki Anderson-Stanier is the founder of User Research Academy and a qualitative researcher with 9 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs. 

To get even more UXR nuggets, check out her user research membershipfollow her on LinkedIn, or subscribe to her Substack.

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