Increasingly businesses are realizing the connection between a differentiating customer experience and profitability. It’s no secret that the pace of change and innovation is continuing to accelerate, creating a dynamic landscape that is forcing companies to find ways to foster and sustain creativity and innovation. Even if you are maintaining, in all likelihood you are falling behind and in this new world the stakes for falling off the pace can be significant.
Firms must now continuously adapt to the ever-changing requirements of hyper-connected consumers who are keenly aware of the plethora of new and existing choices available to them. Firms that thrive will have to be more consumer centric.
Optimizing the customer experience is a good starting point; however, it’s no longer sufficient, now a differentiating experience is essential. If you are interested in starting I shared 4 secrets to optimize the customer experience. The skill sets required to optimize the experience will contribute towards making the experience more personal and relevant.
Creating a differentiating customer experience requires a different mindset. Agile and innovative brands are continually exploring ways to be relevant, solve problems, and help their stakeholders save time. Notice I said stakeholders, it’s no longer enough to simply focus on the customer. In order to be consumer-centric all stakeholders must be engaged. Neal has some suggestions that will help engage employees.
Here are the five steps to help engage and create a differentiating customer experience.
Collaboration and co-creation needs to occur on a regular basis. Some brands organize employees in cross-functional teams and then allow them to contact customers directly. These environments allow employees to gain a greater empathetic understanding of the challenges customers experience. By observing and then interviewing customers, employees are able to discover a variety of challenges, especially those that might not be top of mind for consumers.
This level of co-creation requires a connected ecosystem based on transparency and trust. While traditional marketing may utilize audience segmentation, most marketers utilize data and information that provides descriptive insights about customers.
Direct contact with customers, at least for the purpose of research, is often left to professional agencies. I am not against these kinds of data collecting and synthesis practices they are important. But these practices often create a gap between brands and customers.
We know that consumers will reward those brands that find ways to save time. Sometimes solutions are as simple as allowing customers to serve themselves. Many retailers created self-service check-out lines to ensure customers will not have to wait in line to finalize the purchase and leave.
When Starbucks creates a mobile app that allows customers to order ahead of time it effectively raises the customer experience expectation bar for everyone. Now grocery stores and quick service establishments are utilizing newer technologies to incorporate time-saving solutions.
Diversity and connection are both important creative ingredients. Consider creating a few experimental cross-functional teams and allow them to interact with customers; challenge these teams to identify customer challenges, problems or frustrations. Then allow them to start developing solutions.
Once employees have identified challenges and opportunities they usually focus on a specific challenge and then create some type of prototype to present to customers for feedback. The prototype needs to be developed so that the customer has a sufficient understanding of the functionality and is able to provide feedback.
Prototyping is an iterative process that takes on a variety of forms based on many factors. As feedback is synthesized, the prototype is enhanced and improved. This approach is used to minimize development costs and reduce the time it takes to design, improve and implement a new product or service idea.
There are many tools in place to assist in quickly developing and then altering prototypes. The goal is a minimum viable product or service representation. This is especially important for novel ideas. If one is simply trying to prove a concept, then don’t invest a lot in developing the idea before getting customer input. Learn to balance the tension between a prototype that good enough and one that may be more complete but take longer and cost more.
Customers need to be able to understand and interact with the prototype so they can provide feedback.
By now the team has selected a challenge or opportunity developed some form of a working prototype. Even if the proposed solution isn’t a tangible product, there are ways to build and test a prototype. It’s time to test the hypothesis.
During the testing phase, the concept is presented to the target audience with as little input as possible. It’s important to know the proposed target audience; however, it’s a good idea to include some broader characteristics to ensure other potential segments are not excluded.
The level and sophistication of testing will depend on the complexity of the product or service offering. Testing should be designed to simulate the reality of the user experience.
Once the test data has been gathered, it is time to analyze it. Although this might seem like a part of testing, I like to break it out separately for a couple of reasons.
First, to focus attention on it. Second, when evaluating, consider data from sources other than the test. The goal of the evaluation process is to synthesize all of the structured and unstructured data in order to gain insights.
What does focusing attention look like? It will be different based on the needs and complexities of the product or service and the organization. Personally, I feel this should be a group effort. In researching creativity and innovation, it’s clear that diverse groups that have healthy debate and discussion are more prolific. Different perspectives and experiences are the fuel that drives creativity and innovation.
Another important research finding…. creativity and innovation need time and space. You might want to consider a space with lots of creative props for this step.
Now is a good time to revisit and review the initial hypothesis. Was it accurate? If not should the idea or adjustment be terminated? Based on the findings what is the new hypothesis?
Once the evaluation is complete and the insights finalized it’s time to repeat the cycle. Assuming the findings support moving ahead, start developing the next prototype. Usually, the prototypes will become increasingly sophisticated with each iteration. The goal is speed and insight.
Fast prototyping yields valuable insight allowing for important updates based on customer feedback and input. With more traditional waterfall projects insight is often delayed and valuable time is lost while specifications are identified, then developed and then tested. Often the initial prototypes identify changes in specifications once users start providing feedback.
I recognize there are still times when this approach may be necessary; however, in our current fast pace ecosystem, time is of the essence.
So where does one begin? Start small. Recruit a small group of volunteers from different functional groups. Talk to some customers and identify challenges, frustrations or other opportunities. I suggest something that can be solved in a relatively short period of time. Once there are a few wins it will become easier to scale across the organization.
Other ideas and thoughts? Have you tried something similar? I would like to hear about them.