Last week, I delivered the opening keynote at the annual TravelManagers conference in Bangkok. The theme of the conference was “Adding Value” – an important principle in the life of a travel agent. And it’s not just for travel agents; we all have to add value in our business, so we can stay relevant and competitive.
This basic idea isn’t new – after all, business has always been about adding value. But the way we add value has changed now, and it’s because the role of the customer has changed.
For example, I recently pledged $200 to a Kickstarter campaign for a fitness gadget called “Vi”, which is promoted as “The First True Artificial Intelligence Personal Trainer”. This is a great example of how business is done in today’s customer-centric world. By investing a small amount of money, I’m involved in the product right from the start. I get regular updates, see videos of the production process, and feel like I’m part of its development.
I’m not just a customer – I feel like a partner.
This is the way businesses interact with their customers now. In a customer-centric world, your customers want to be involved.
Earlier trumps faster.
The typical product/service development phase goes like this:
To involve your customers more, follow this rule: Earlier trumps faster. The earlier in the process you involve them, the better.
Let’s look at an example at each stage, working backwards from least effective to best:
- Feedback: Ask customers for feedback after you deliver the product or service.
Example: Many businesses do this with feedback forms and online surveys. This is better than nothing, but it’s the latest stage in the process.
- Support: You help your customers, but you also give them a forum to help each other.
Example: Some businesses – such as telcos, tech companies, and others with a strong online presence – do this with customer forums.
- Promotion (sales and marketing): Ask your customers to promote and sell for you.
Example: When a customer signs up with Uber, they receive a referral code to pass on to family and friends for a $20 discount on their first ride (and the referrer also gets a $20 discount).
- Delivery: Ask your customers to actually provide the product or service.
Example: In the Welsh town Monmouth, the local council has created a Wikipedia site about the town, and local residents manage the Wikipedia pages. Tourists visit the site by scanning a QR code on a ceramic plaque attached to each place of interest.
- Design: Involve your customers in designing your product.
Example: Auckland City Council uses the Streetmix.net service to announce proposed changes to road layouts, and their customers (the local residents) can suggest changes online.
- Choice: You can even ask your customers to choose the products you offer!
Example: This is exactly what happens on sites like Kickstarter, with the Vi product I mentioned above.
How can you involve your customers more in your business? Remember: Earlier trumps faster.