Customer Experience: what about the ‘product’?

Is the ‘product’ being neglected by the Customer movement?

It seems to me that many approach Customer Experience as if it is all about getting access to the voice of the customer and  improving the interactions (marketing communications, buying, paying, service..) between the customer and the organisation.  Is something important being missed?

I say that a critical piece is being missed:  the core product or service that calls forth the customer to interact with your organisation.  The danger I see is that of focussing effort on the interactions around the product and not giving the ‘product’ the kind of attention/love/priority that the likes of Jobs/Ive gave to Apple products.  And thus leaving open an opportunity for someone to come along and render all of your work on interaction design worthless.  How/why?  A new entrant comes along with a radically better product – better at doing the job that the customer hires that product to do.  Think salesforce.com when it comes to CRM.

Looking at the ‘product’ through the ‘job that the product is hired to do’ lens

What is a powerful access to revisiting your ‘product’ through the world of your customers?  A great access is to think of the situation this way: the customer hires your ‘product’ to do a specific job.  Allowing me to make this real and useful for you.

Clayton Christenson shares the story about milkshakes.  He was working for an organisation that was selling milkshakes and there was a drive to sell more milkshakes.  So the team dived into milkshake purchases and found out that milkshakes were bought in the early morning (breakfast time) and in the evenings.   Who was buying these milkshakes and what had they hired these milkshakes to do?

The early morning crowd were people who were commuting to work.  And they hired the milkshake to relieve the tedium of the commute (usually in a car).  For these people the thickness and size of the milkshake worked great – it took time to drink the milkshake.  How to improve it?  Add stuff to it that made it last longer, that increased the prominence of the drinking experience and distracted the drinker from the tedious commute.

Parents were buying milkshakes for their children in the evening as a treat – after saying “no” many times they felt that they could and should say “yes” to the milkshake.  How was the milkshake doing in terms of the job that the parent had hired it to do?  Poorly.  Why?  Because the kids were taking forever to finish the milkshake.  What was the issue?  The thickness and size of the milkshake.  How to improve it?  Sell  it in a smaller size and/or making it less thick.

By looking at the ‘product’ through the customer-centred lens of  ‘the job that the customer hires the product to do’ one opens up the possibility of coming up with products that do a better job of meeting the core customer need and delivering a superior customer experience. And this creates the opening to sell more product.

How many parents chose not to buy milkshakes because they did not want to hang around 20 minutes or so for their children to finish drinking the milkshake.  What is the price premium that could be charged by selling a larger, thicker, crunchier milkshake to the early morning commuters?

Finally, notice this level of understanding enables the organisation to improve its marketing and sales message: to talk about what matters to customers (job that customer is hiring product to do).

Looking at the usability of the ‘product’

In order to get value out of a ‘product’ – for this ‘product’ to do the job that it was hired to do – the customer has to be able to use this product effectively, easily.  How many products meet that requirement?

I have bought electronic products where I cannot even get them out of the plastic packaging!  I have had to look for the biggest scissors and then watch out lest I cut myself opening up the package.  And once or twice I have just done that cut myself.  It is another job to actually set these up and operate them.

How many products come with a lousy set-up instructions?  Many.  I have lost count of the amount of time I have wasted on trying to make sense of the instructions.  Do I have to share with you the frustration that is involved in having a job to do, having bought the ‘product’ and not being able to do that job?  I bet that you have had this experience many times.  If you have not then you can count yourself lucky!

Getting value out of the ‘product’ can be a big issue especially for the more complex ‘products’.  How much advice (whatever form it takes) is worthless because the customer does not know how to make sense of and use that advice effectively?  Why has salesforce.com been so successful?  I say because they took the hassle of setting up/operating / getting value of CRM systems away from the customers.

Even complex products can be made easy to use and thus more valuable to the customer.   The best example I can think of is Apple.  This is a company that is doing extremely well because Steve Jobs insisted on starting with the customer experience and working back to the technology.   Put differently, making products that the average customer can use straight out of the box is a fundamental requirement of product design at Apple – at least as I understand it.

Summing up

The product is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain.  Any serious examination of the Customer Experience has to grapple with the product and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do.  That means designing that product so that it is both useful (does the job) and usable (easy/intuitive) to use.

Posted on July 26, 2012, in Customer Experience and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Nice post, Maz. We (Martha and I) are right now working on a response to a very interesting article in the NY Times yesterday http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/25/business/bank-analyst-sees-no-payoff-in-customer-focus.html?_r=2 Basically, a bank analyst says that banks do the best work for their shareholders when they ignore customer service and focus on their product, managing risk and selling financial products.

    Any thoughts on that?

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    • Hello Don
      This is the paragraph in the articlet that speaks to me:

      “I’m struck by the fact that the service is so bad, and yet the company is so good,” said Mr. Bove, an analyst with Rochdale Securities. “Whatever it is that drives people to do business with a given bank, in my mind, now has to be rethought.”

      As I see it that is a great question. Bove is pointing out an anomoly between the theory and our intuitive belief and what is finding in practice. Yet, I wonder if it is an anomoly. How many Wells Fargo customers experience what Bove has experienced? It may be that Bove’s experience is exceptional and which case we do not have an anomoly. If on the other hand, Bove’s experience is representative of the customer base then we do have an anomoly. Let’s assume that it is an anomoly then how to make sense of it.

      I have done a fair bit of work with telcos and it occurs to be that all the telco’s are much of a muchness when it comes to the way that they operate, compete and serve customers. So there really is no difference in many/most respects. So competition for customers comes down to the ‘product’. For many the most important part of the ‘product’ is the phone. The telco that offers the latest in phones at the lowest price as perceived by the buyer wins.

      Looking at energy companies, I find the same situation. The average customer of a gas/electricity supplier cannot tell the difference between one supplier and another. Why? For the same reasons as the telco industry: all the players play the same game in the same way. So many customers stick with the devil that they know and put up with the lousy service. A small minority attempt to do comparison shopping and find it is not that easy. The suppliers make comparison shopping hard – there are so many plans with so many different prices and conditions. Hence inertia rules.

      Is it possible that in some industries customer helplessness and apathy rules? Is there is a gulf between what customers say and what they do? They say that service matters and will leave the bank for another one that delivers better service. And they don’t. It occurs to them that this involves lots of effort, of things going wrong, and anyway aren’t all the banks as bad as one another? I don’t know about Americans, I do know about the British. We, the British moan/complain/whine about all kinds of stuff. And then we sit on our backsides, we do nothing. Now compare that with the French: when the French don’t like something strongly enough they bring the country to its knees.

      Finally, I wonder if customer service in banking has now got little to do with service in the bank branches. Most of the people that I know do all their banking online. Why? Because it tends to work, it is less painful, less wasteful than turning up at the branch.

      Maz

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  2. Don, as a man who used to work for a bank, and as somebody who has a bank account, I am far more interested in the product than the customer service.

    Why would I want to talk to a bank manager? No matter how polite or well dressed he was. I have far better ways to spend my free time

    Maz,a thought provoking post as always

    James

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  3. Hi Maz,
    I completely agree with you. Here’s a recent post from Seth Godin that you might like: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/07/the-circles-of-marketing.html

    If the fundamentals of the product or service are not there then everything else is vacuous snake-oil.

    Adrian

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