At its core, business is a venture that provides value to a customer.
Value can be to satisfy a need, to bridge a gap or to increase comfort or pride. A customer is paying the business for the perceived value from the product or service offered by the business.
It is critical for businesses to have a clear understanding of customer perception of value and designing its operations to be well aligned with this perception thereby ensuring long-term customer loyalty and profitability. Effective business leaders invest time to clearly understand customer’s ongoing perception of the value and proactively incorporate changing trends into the product/service design. The word ongoing is the key here, given that customer preference and perception is bound to change with time and trends in the industry.
To be really on top of the value game and to differentiate from the alternatives available for the customer, business leaders should approach value by designing a holistic end to end customer experience through every moment of truth interaction.
For those unclear of the term, ‘Moment of truth’ is every moment when a customer/user interacts with a business, brand, product or service to form or change an impression about that particular business, brand, product or service.
So this includes advertising, initial contact (phone/website/app/sales person/or other), a positive purchasing experience, the product or service experience, customer service and ease to return for future services.
It is important to think through each of the moments of truth that a customer will experience while connecting with your business. The focus of providing value is not just to satisfy the customer’s need, but to get them to be active promoters of your business.
By building around the following three fundamentals, you are able to Design exceptional value in your business processes. This will surprise your customers with holistic and memorable experiences thereby ensuring your offerings are way ahead of the competition.
At the most fundamental, comes utility – where the product or service meets the client need. All business is, essentially a customer’s willingness to have a need satisfied in exchange for money. Meeting the utility factor is the most fundamental requirement for positive customer experience as any failure here can have major customer dissatisfaction and alienation. This can also result in the customer becoming an active opponent of the business in social media and other channels
Imagine a hot sunny day when you are outdoors for a long trek, feeling sweaty and tired, you have a big need to drink something cold. You see a shop uphill at a distance with large signs advertising cold drinks! You stretch your energy levels rushing to that shop in order to grab an ice cold drink, only discover they have drinks only at room temperature or even warm ones as their refrigerator is broken. This is a classic example of utility value being not delivered to customers. No matter how good the decor of the shop is or how friendly their service is, the most fundamental aspect of the customer need – the utility value is not met despite promises/adverts on the contrary. Most people would want to actively shame this business in review sites! And if you own a shop in trekking path, make sure you have additional refrigerators and auxiliary power to ensure your customers are not disappointed.
Think through in your business, what is the utility value that customers expect during each of their interactions with you; do you have a failproof way of addressing those needs? Some common examples of utility failures are a) taxi driver not knowing the address, b) restaurant giving you a menu and telling you what is not available until after you have made your selections, c) long wait in customer service lines. d) missed connections during travel and many more you would have experienced yourself.
2) Ease and Comfort :
This comes as the next layer over the utility factor. Ease of accessing the product or service enhances customer’s perception of the business. If the business goes the extra mile to think through the customer needs and ensure more comfort for each moment of truth, that will, in turn, help build customer loyalty and engagement.
Going back to the shop in the prior example, provided they had ice cold drinks meeting your basic need, if the shop was also air-conditioned, that would score more points in ease factor to consume your purchase. If they play cheerful music, have friendly service staff, comfortable seating options and great decor – that gives you as a customer a lot more holistic experience from the purchase, prompting you to want to stay there longer and potentially buy more drinks or food.
Building on ease and comfort is the best way to build customer loyalty and differentiating your offerings versus the market. This is never a replacement for the utility factor which is foundational, though can build a solid next level to help scale your business and brand identity. Uber is a great example of taking the ease factor to the next level by showing how soon your ride will reach you as soon as you open the app. This took ease to the next level versus the pre-Uber days when you had to call different taxi companies often taking 10-20 mins during peak hours just to know how long it would take for your taxi to arrive. However if the Uber driver does not arrive on time or fails to arrive at all, Uber is failing the utility factor and leave the customers fuming!
Think through every product or service that you consume, and see how the business providing it is making you (as a customer) be at ease and feel comfortable. Similarly, think this through your customer’s view of your business.
3) The surprise factor:
Something totally unexpected by the customer, but giving them a big positive boost in their experience with your business. This is one of the quickest ways to convert a customer to become an active promoter. In most of the cases, a well thought through surprise can be a very cost-effective path towards customer delight.
Going back to the shop on the hot sunny day example, imagine how you would have felt if they welcomed you with a free cold wet tissue to freshen up even before you ordered your cold drinks? Nothing can beat the feeling of a cold wet tissue on a hot sweaty day, and if followed by the utility value of the cold drink, you would love that experience for that surprise factor. You may forget the trek, but you won’t forget the surprise and will want to speak to people about it. Any guesses why I am writing this example? Well its because I enjoyed one such surprise from my tour guide after a long day in the jungle followed by a hot and dusty train ride in the historic bridge over River Kwai in Thailand many years ago. While many details of that trip is forgotten, the cold wet tissue after the journey in a train from 1920’s, is the most memorable experience from that trip!
Some other examples are a hotel giving you a surprise birthday gift when staying with them, free upgrades, snacks/drinks for waiting customers, and other thoughtful freebies. Are you able to bring in a surprise factor to truly ‘wow’ your customer? Engineer the Aha moment when the customer is extremely thankful to you for the surprise you gave them, something that is truly over and above what is expected of you.
A well thought through surprise, even if it costs very little can easily help convert your customer to be a promoter for your business – wanting to come back for repeat business. Even more, they will actively promote you in their family, friends, business and social media circles.
Make it Work!
These three fundamentals of holistic design are possible only when the business is serious about listening to customers and invest adequate focus to adapt based on holistic customer experience. Some of the best ways to collect these insights are through
- customer interviews,
- customer advisory panel
- building customer avatar with employees,
- buying from competitors to live through buying experience,
- using mystery shoppers and
- working with expert consultants in this field.
The primary focus here should be to know how your customers define their needs from your business, so that you can focus on designing your product/services catering to those expectations. Having a customer panel to regularly discuss the changes you are planning to implement will also help in ensuring you are receiving a comprehensive insight into how these changed will impact your customer’s perception.
Design Thinking is a fast evolving field, actively embraced by many customer focused organisations. You can also benefit from the methodologies here by following easy to adopt resources available online on Design Thinking.