Tag Archives | customer experience

Look Outside Your Industry for Breakthrough Ideas

Be Different

I recently met with the leaders of a highly successful company. Sales growth, which had been strong for years, was headed into negative territory. They were desperate to find the next “big idea” that would put their company on track for future growth.

As they discussed potential innovations, the same tired, incremental ideas that had been tossed around for years kept resurfacing.

What they needed was something to shake up their thinking.

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3 Mistakes in Managing Risk and Uncertainty

фотосессия во Вьетнаме

Not long ago, I stood on a pier near Cape Canaveral, Florida and watched a SpaceX rocket launch.

People were wearing SpaceX t-shirts and talking excitedly. SpaceX has brought the thrill back into space exploration.

Founder Elon Musk figured that by developing a way to reuse rockets, just like airplanes, he could reduce the cost of travel to space by a factor of a hundred.

He’s well on his way to achieving that. The company created the first commercial spacecraft in history to shuttle cargo to and from the International Space Station, and has already cut the cost of launching into space to less than a tenth of its prior level.

His ultimate goal, however, is to colonize Mars, making human life inter-planetary.

How’s that for a bold vision statement?

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Want to predict the future? Put your customers to work

hello I can helpWhen you want to gain insight into emerging customer needs and behaviors, the first solution you might think of is market research. But research can be costly, and it can take weeks to implement and analyze.

Beyond the cost and time required, there are two big problems with market research.

First, you aren’t likely to find a ground-breaking new idea through market research, because you tend to ask questions based on your current knowledge, and current business.

You only find what you are looking for, so you won’t see what’s coming next.

Second, market research can’t tell you whether a customer will actually buy your product, or what they are willing to pay. Customers themselves can’t predict what they are willing to pay until they have the chance to actually buy.

There’s a better way to learn about your customers: putting them to work.

Customers are often willing to pitch in on product development, technical support, sales, and marketing – just look at Trip Advisor, or the Gmail help forums for evidence of that.

The truth is, customers can often perform these roles in a lower-cost, higher-quality way than employees can.  And, by getting customers involved in your business, you’ll learn how to improve your product and service offerings, and how to keep customers happy and coming back for more.

What role could customers play in doing your business’s work?

  • Could they help drive innovation by suggesting or testing new materials, designs, or services? Dell and others rely heavily on user suggestions to guide their innovation priorities and to beta-test new features.
  • Could they play a role in producing your product or performing your service? Consider how IKEA enlists customers to select, pull from the warehouse, transport, and then assemble their own furniture. Psychological research says that customers actually like their furniture more (and, miraculously, are willing to pay more) if they assemble it themselves. Assembly can be a fun family process–like putting together a LEGO toy–and a source of pride for the customer.
  • What role could customers play in marketing—qualifying and referring customers, spreading the word about your product, or helping other customers choose the best model for their needs? Home Depot provides an online community in which DIYers can share design, renovation, and lawn-and-garden ideas. Armed with this information and inspired by others who have solved a similar problem, customers gain confidence to take on more, larger—and therefore, more expensive—DIY projects.
  • How can they help other users use and maintain your product? For example, Google, Microsoft, and Livescribe customers provide technical support to others through forums, and Salesforce.com customers regularly create customized applications and enhancements that other companies can adopt.
  • Have you made it easy for customers to sell, give, or dispose of your product when they have finished using it? Best Buy makes it very easy to trade in a used phone. Customers simply find the model they want to trade in on the company website; if they like the price Best Buy offers, they can ship the phone to the company and receive a gift card in exchange. A 16GB iPhone 5, for example, is worth $91 using this system. Even if the trade-in value is small, it does help customers feel that their used equipment is going “to a good home,” or at least being recycled responsibly.

When you enlist your customers to get involved, you rub shoulders with them more often. As a result, you gain new ideas and get excited about those ideas—you become personally invested in seeing them through. You hear about customer frustrations more frequently—and those frustrations seem real and pressing

As employees observe and interact with customers who help in these ways, they often encounter energizing surprises. Customers solve product problems in unexpected ways and develop new uses for products—and ideas for enhancing and improving them that company insiders never imagined.

Getting customers involved in your business yields insights you are not seeking, that you did not expect—and that you can capitalize on to spur growth and improve company performance.

Adapted with permission of the publisher, Jossey-Bass, from The Agility Advantage: How to Identify and Act on Opportunities in a Fast-Changing World by Amanda Setili. Copyright (c) 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers. Read a sample chapter here

Photo Credit: CanStock Photo

Want to be more agile? Give me the data now!

meat raw data

What’s the best way to use customer data to enhance your company’s agility?

Many companies are pursuing sophisticated data analytics to quantify customer opinions, tailor offers, optimize pricing, and the like.

I’m all for that.

But it takes time – I’ve seen companies spend months developing a strategy to collect, manage, secure, analyze and use the customer data they collect.

My definition of agility is the ability to spot and quickly capture the new opportunities being created by market change.

One of the best things companies can do to strengthen this muscle immediately is to speed the flow of raw customer data into the hands of the “doers” in their ranks.

Automaker Nissan provides a great example.

Nissan’s marketing function responds on a continuous basis to comments customers make on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.  They not only respond, they feed that information immediately to the relevant dealer, engineering group, manufacturing plant or customer service rep.

These are the folks on the ground that can fix the customer’s problem, or take advantage of the new opportunity quickly.

By establishing this fast-feedback loop, Nissan has become remarkably responsive to the market, and everyone in the company—not just marketing—has become more aware of evolving customer needs.

What can we learn from the Nissan example?

That the faster you can get data on customer problems, behaviors, emotions, etc. into the hands of the people who can respond, the more agile your company will be.

The data need not be perfectly “packaged” to be useful. In fact, raw data can be the best and most actionable. What’s raw data?

  • Complaints in the customer’s own words
  • A photo of a product failure, emailed from a customer
  • An product enhancement idea, fresh from a customer’s mind
  • Ideas customers have shared online for how to use your product most effectively in their particular use case, application or industry
  • A customer’s “work around” to a problem they experienced with your product
  • All the online, mobile and social data that gets generated every day

Speeding up the flow of customer data to R&D, manufacturing, customer service, sales and other functions not only increases the chance that you’ll fix customer problems fast, it’s also a great motivator. If I’m buried in the bowels of the company, and I “hear” an actual customer talking to me, I want to help.

So, increasing the velocity of customer data is one of the best ways to engage employees’ hearts, minds and hands in improving customer value.

Sure, you run the risk of overloading employees with too much data. Sure, the data might be messy or anecdotal.  But it’s real, and just might be something you can act on—today—to solve a customer’s problem. And that’s a good thing.

Amanda Setili is author of The Agility Advantage: How to Identify and Act on Opportunities in a Fast-Changing World (learn more) and managing partner of strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates, whose clients include Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, and Walmart. She previously held positions with Global Food Exchange, McKinsey & Company, Asia Connect, in Malaysia , and Kimberly-Clark. Setili is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Harvard Business School and has taught as an adjunct professor at Emory’s Goizueta Business School. She lives in Atlanta, GA.