A Gartner survey predicted by this year (2016) 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience.
Four years ago this number was 36%. For as long as I can remember businesses have focused on creating efficiencies as a way to improve profitability. Connected consumers are putting increasing pressure on brands forcing them to offer competitive pricing and this has required them to resort to outsourcing, “right-sizing” and pushing existing resources to do more with less in order to maintain profit margins.
As competition and consumer empowerment continue to put pressure on pricing, companies are recognizing that the customer experience can be a durable competitive advantage. But creating a differentiating customer experience can be a daunting challenge, especially for larger organizations.
Businesses are recognizing that innovation and creativity are the essential ingredients of a dynamic customer experience. I’m an instructor at a local university where we are beginning to revise our business curriculum in response to business feedback that suggests students are not being prepared to succeed in the brave new world where innovation and creativity are the lifeblood of current and future success.
I have written about customer experience design in “10 Key Customer Experience Design Factors” Part 1 and Part 2. In this post, I’d like to suggest ten ways you can harness creativity to improve the customer experience.
According to Carol Dweck, we can have a fixed or a growth mindset. Our mindset determines the way we view and respond to the world around us. Those with a fixed mindset will see the new marketing landscape containing obstacles and roadblocks while the learners will see hurdles and challenges. Those with a fixed mindset usually don’t adapt well.
Those with growth mindsets are willing to embrace challenges, recognizing that there are opportunities to learn and grow. Learners are more likely to ask curious questions. They are willing to discover by trying, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. They usually welcome difficult feedback because they feel it will help them grow and improve.
At first, the idea of addressing a mindset felt a little mystical. However, I now believe it’s absolutely essential. It’s the foundation that informs most everything else. The good news is we can change our mindset. I encourage you to read the book if you are not familiar with the concept; it’s helpful.
As I have been researching content for the new creativity course I am teaching, I have discovered that innovation and creativity are driven by association with a diverse group. Edison, Einstein, Freud, and others had their diverse networks that served as sounding boards.
These groups were diverse in the broadest sense of the term. They were comprised of people with different cultural backgrounds, fields of study and gender. Often we are most comfortable with those who look and think like us.
Try this experiment. Put together a team with different combinations of skill sets in your organization and empower them to identify and design a solution that will be a benefit for your customers. Chances are you may already be aware of some challenges. If not, talk to some customers and figure out what would benefit them.
Make sure to recruit members from every functional area possible. All too often our functional silos relegate creativity to certain departments in an organization. Innovation and creativity are everyone’s responsibility.
If we are going to create a differentiating customer experience, then keeping the customer at the center of this process is essential. Each project should begin with time spent talking to customers, asking them open-ended questions and listening. I suggest creating a persona to describe the particular customer segment you are addressing. Personae will serve as a reminder and reference point to help ensure that the solution fits.
I mentioned that organizations are trying to do more with less. One of the biggest barriers to creativity is the lack of time. Innovative companies like Google provide discretionary time each week for their employees. Gmail was the byproduct of this time.
I need to say something more about this time. Creativity is often a byproduct; it typically can’t be manufactured. You may not be able to calculate an ROI on this time. This time is designated as free time or play time; it will vary based on personality and interests. Most important, it should be fun.
Schedule some fun time without distractions. Consider attending a museum or other interesting attraction that peaks your curiosity.
Creativity needs space and connection. As you invite your diverse team think about some space where you can gather on a regular basis. A large company headquartered here in Richmond, Virginia is completely overhauling their workspace to facilitate creativity and innovation.
If your work environment has cubicles and offices find some room where you can bring some props like whiteboards or post it notes. These and other aids are invaluable tools. Here is a TED talk that might help with some ideas on techniques. I suggest props that help identify your target customer, their needs, and challenges. The company mentioned above begins each project defining the challenge and creating a persona for that customer segment.
Internal and external feedback is critical. Giving and receiving feedback is a skill that can and should be developed. Internal feedback helps create an environment where collaboration and teamwork are able to flourish. Without this kind of teamwork, customers will likely experience the frustration caused by gaps created by organizational silos. Those with growth mindsets are usually more motivated to seek out feedback.
Find ways to solicit customer feedback. Where possible talk directly to them. Review customer service transactions, talk to frontline employees. Your goal is a 360-degree view of your customer’s experience. Though painful, complaints can be your best friend. Embrace them and use them as opportunities to make the customer experience better.
Have lots of ideas
If you want to have a good idea have lots of ideas. I am guilty of quitting as soon as I have three or four ideas. When I set higher goals, for example fifty ideas, I find the good ones don’t appear until I’ve been through fifteen or twenty. Part of the challenge is allowing our inner censor to squelch ideas that seem outlandish.
Have fun with this process, see how many ideas you can come up with. You can do the editing later.
Do Something – journey of 1000 miles begins with one step
Tackling this process might seem like a daunting and overwhelming task. Start with smaller manageable challenges. Here are a couple of suggestions.
My friend and co-contributor, Ray Morin, has research that shows how engaging employees on social media can have benefits. Make sure your social media presence is being monitored and there are internal protocols to ensure quick responses to consumer questions or concerns. If you don’t already have these consider this as a first step.
Content is the new marketing currency. Neal Schaffer offers some sound advice on the benefits of leveraging your influencers to create a content-centric strategy.
Take time to find others who are open to this process. Build small wins quickly. Small successes create interest and energy; this tends to help nurture the process along.
What are some other ways?