Hassle Maps: The Genesis Of Demand

Successful executives all share an ability to experience the world through the eyes and emotions of customers, asking “What do I hate about this product or process?” They catalog every frustration, complication, and source of uncertainty. Then they work ruthlessly to eliminate or minimize each point on the “hassle map.” The end result? Products that people love and competitors can’t copy.



“I had a big late fee for Apollo 13. It was six weeks late, and I owed the video store $40. I had misplaced the cassette. I didn’t want to tell my wife about it. And I said to myself, ‘I’m going to compromise the integrity of my marriage over a late fee?'”–Reed Hastings, CEO and founder of Netflix

Reed Hastings’ frustrations led to the creation of Netflix, one of the fast-growing businesses of the 21st century. As a dissatisfied customer himself, Hastings knew all the hassles associated with video rental stores: late fees, excessive trips to the video store, indecision, lack of titles available, etc. His team’s genius was to systematically eliminate those hassles [Editor’s note: at least until its recent decison to split the company] and offer a simpler, more seamless video experience–utilizing the unlikely one-two punch of the Internet and the U.S. Post Office.

The executives behind some of today’s most successful products and services–think Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Michael Bloomberg–all share an ability to experience the world through the eyes and emotions of customers. They use themselves as starting points, asking “What do I hate about this product or process?” They catalog every frustration, time-wasting complication, and source of uncertainty. Once they have created a “hassle map,” an inventory of every difficulty associated with every step in the process of buying, using, and discarding of their products, they work ruthlessly to eliminate or minimize each one. The end result? Products that people love and competitors can’t copy.

Mapping your customers’ hassles should be a top priority. Your customers’ hassle map is your agenda; it determines your engineering, design, marketing, partners, and competitors.

Creating a hassle map

A hassle map can be a purely mental construct, or a literal map; it can be a top-down or bottom-up exercise. There’s no one “right way,” but a good way to start the conversation is by asking, What do you hate? What makes you furious?
Actually watching customers is even more instructive–because people don’t always tell you what they think, and don’t often do what they say. Nokia, for example, hires anthropologists and psychologists to understand consumer behavior in India, and CareMore visits elderly patients at home to find potential danger zones, such as rugs that may trip them.

Accepting that there is no “average” customer, you need to “de-average,” looking at customer experience from multiple perspectives, for multiple customer segments (core users, trialists, high potentials, etc.), and for different players in the value chain. The idea is to look at each type of customer, not the customer. You may draw anywhere from seven to 12 hassle maps for any customer situation. Zipcar, for example, uncovered different hassle maps for urbanites, students, city fleet managers–as well as for small businesses, big businesses, city rail systems, and apartment complexes.


Connecting the dots for customers

Armed with thousands of data points from customer observations, quantify the hot spots–the biggest drivers of consumer behavior. Netflix found the #1 driver was quick delivery of DVDs–and has since opened 56 distribution centers across the U.S. to virtually ensure next-day delivery to all Americans. Meanwhile, it went through 150 iterations of its mailing envelope to ensure speed of opening and safety of its contents.

The very best players always look at the customers’ problems through a wide-angle lens. Smart hassle-fixers look outside their home industry to connect the dots from multiple value chains to solve the customer’s problem. It has become standard operating procedure for Amazon, Apple, and Google. Or think of Nespresso: It swerved outside owner Nestlé’s packaged goods’ realm of expertise to develop a sexy kitchen appliance, en route to cracking the at-home espresso market, which it now dominates in Europe.

Finally, quantify the economics for both consumer and provider–what will best improve customer experience at an acceptable cost to you? What will save money for both? This process allows you to evaluate trade-offs and prioritize your actions–addressing both the economic and emotional elements of the hassle map. Often, what makes a simple, seamless product or service for the consumer results in more efficient processes on the business side, reducing producer costs.

Hassle maps are never static; they morph over time as new technologies and new behaviors change the contours of current maps. The speed-of-delivery hassles Netflix solved have changed, and as movie delivery moved to streaming, Netflix changed accordingly (and now accounts for 30% of nighttime Internet traffic). What will be the next hassle map? Sorting through millions of choices with a Google-like algorithm?

There’s a huge gap between what customers buy and what customers want. Master hassle-mappers discern that gap and fill it, unlocking demand no matter what the state of the economy.


Adrian Slywotzky is a partner at the global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman and a best-selling author. This article is based on material from his new book, Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It (Crown Business), to be released on October 4, 2011. Follow the Demand blog at

[Image: Flickr user jeanbaptisteparis]

About the author

Adrian Slywotzky is a Partner of Oliver Wyman, a leading global management consulting firm. Since 1979 he has consulted to Fortune 500 companies from a broad cross-section of industries, working extensively at the CEO and senior executive level for major corporations on issues related to new business development and creating new areas of value growth