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In our last posts, we shared why listening to your critics pays off and how you can turn wrongs into rights. However, listening is not enough. This post explores how you can engage customers to design better experiences.
Let’s assume for a moment that you have unlimited resources and could meet all your customers’ requests. Should you?
Probably not. First, like the miller in Aesop’s fable found out (the hard way, no less), implementing what everyone wants will rob you of your return (or your donkey; read the full story here). Second, requests from customers can contradict each other. And third, not all improvements have the same returns: some lead to big results, while others will have a negligible impact.
Manufacturers need to focus on what matters. And what matters is integrating your customers’ feedback to strengthen your competitive strategy.
You can only decide which complaints get a vote and which ones don’t once you have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish.
It was easier when manufacturers were just competing on price or product quality. But now that customer experience is the new competitive battlefield, it is much harder to pin down impact areas.
Defining common goals is essential, though, because customer experience transformation spans multiple functions. You may want to start with these simple questions:
Asking these questions upfront will help you ensure that everyone focuses on the same goal.
There are two radically different theories.
The first argues that problems are best solved when you tap into collective intelligence. This has led to a wide adoption of the crowdsourcing phenomenon, especially now that technology has made it easier to solicit and collect ideas from large groups of people.
The other view counters that customers rarely know what they want. Henry Ford famously said that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses.” Similarly, Steve Jobs strongly believed that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Sometimes customers know better and sometimes they don’t. It really depends on context.
Crowdsourcing tends to work better when the work can be modularized and when the testing is relatively inexpensive. LEGO has famously launched a number of crowdsourcing initiatives that have led to successful new sets.
However, if a product requires extensive testing and long lead times, or if your product is attempting to create a market that doesn’t exist yet, crowdsourcing may not be the best approach. A small group of experts “is not limited by customers’ imagination and willingness to take risks.” Apple’s iPhone was not the result of a crowdsourced approach (source: Gary P. Pisano).
Manufacturers have involved customers in the process of developing new products for years. Either as simple information source through feedback forums or as co-developers.
But thanks to new technology, companies are now engaging customers more directly in new product creation and even in their own customer experience.
Take the example of soda. You could simply offer customers a wider variety of flavours, but the taste of the soda is only a fraction of the experience. This idea led PepsiCo to create Pepsi Spire, a new touchscreen fountain machine, that lets you experience the infusion of the flavour and suggests new flavours based on your previous purchases, as opposed to just hitting a button to get your favourite drink.
Working on improving customer experience when customers’ priorities keep changing is like trying to hit a moving target.
Involving customers in designing their own experience may not guarantee success, but developing customer experiences in isolation is not the answer either.
So start small, experiment with iterative prototyping, eventually bring your suppliers along, learn from every failure, and repeat!