In the earlier post I mentioned that more companies are focusing on the opportunities software offers to create customer value through the customer experience (CX). This rising development is a result of the rise in popularity of software, and it is spawning the age of the consumer − consumers are now leading the experience they want to have (i.e., Porter’s Five Forces Analysis, buyer power). I give credit for a chunk of this leverage to software sites such as Twitter, Yelp, Kudzu, TripAdvisor and the like for enabling consumers to socialize their experiences rapidly and easily, and providing leverage to the individual buyer. In our hyper-competitive markets this is putting pressure on companies to look across all customer touch points and evaluate how they measure up, not just looking at their customer satisfaction ratings (the good minus the bad ones) but on the total customer experience and the reasons WHY.
This era of transparency and perfect information is not all bad for businesses. It’s offering them an unprecedented opportunity to learn what attracts customers in the first place and how to satisfy them in the long term, and even retain them for life (i.e., lifetime value of a customer). But where do we start?
The buying lifecycle experience…
As Roger J. Best writes in Market-based Management, Strategies for Growing Customer Value and Profitability, “The total customer experience is much more than the interactions a customer has with a company.” As Best points out, the customer experience includes the purchase, usage and replacement experiences. Purchasing is mostly proactive; consumers are proactively interacting with customer touch points. But measuring the total customer experience gets tricky at the usage stage due to the distance between a business and its customer, and yet “… it is during this stage that the true value of a product becomes apparent.” To understand customers, what they actually do and not what they think they do, and how they value a product or service, our best way is to literally go to them.
It’s my belief that authentic learning about customers’ motivations, behaviors, desires and pain points is a matter of empathizing with them. Empathic design is “an effective way to develop an improved recognition of customer desires and needs,” according to Best. And it happens when we become a customer. Empathic design emerged in the late 1990s. One of my heroes in the early movement, Liz Sanders (Make Tools), helped bring it to the forefront of design research methods while exploring various forms of human-centered design research. Empathic design, which borrows some techniques from ethnography and field research, is only recently becoming common practice with a few forward-thinking companies as a tool for innovation and idea generation. In an issue of Harvard Business Review, “Sometimes, customers are so accustomed to current conditions that they don’t think to ask for a new solution.” But as designers and innovators, we can think of new solutions by watching users, or living a day in their shoes.
Honda wanted to know more about the challenges people were having loading their car trunks. So “Honda sent a crew to supermarket parking lots to videotape people loading their groceries.” The videos showed a variety of ways people loaded groceries and the problems they had closing their car trunks with some of their packing. “The videos gave Honda engineers a way to put themselves in the customers shoes,” as Best says. This knowledge made it possible to inspire engineers to envision better trunk designs and truly add to the customer experience.
A leader in consumer market research, 178-year-old Proctor & Gamble’s products are found in a whopping 98% of American homes. Look around your home and see if any of these are there: Charmin, Bounty, Pampers, Cascade, Tide, Magic Eraser, Crest, and Gillette. This is an incredible list but just a few of their mega brands that serve 5 billion of the 7 billion people worldwide. So what captivates me about P&G? Two interwoven dynamics: its CEO A.G. Lafley and his commitment to learning from P&G consumers. Lafley underscores that at P&G its number one job is putting the customer at the center of “everything we do.” Lafley is steadfast in wanting to know how consumers live and feel, so much so that he “even had some P&G staff live with consumers for a while to directly witness their interactions with products. They experienced firsthand how the customers used them and what needed to be changed!” This user-centered culture is one reason among others that Lafley “more than doubled sales to nearly $84 billion while CEO of P&G.”
Learning about your customers creates enduring customer value because it points out weaknesses at every stage of the total customer experience (purchase, usage and disposal). Understanding users generates new insights and confirms hunches and leads to clarified decision-making. And, as Best would say it is “at the core of any market-based strategy.”