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Understand the Future Customer Journey

 14th March 2019 by gihan

A few weeks ago, I was in Brisbane speaking to the CEOs of private hospitals in Queensland about the future of healthcare. These are smart, savvy, experienced people who know healthcare is changing, know they need to change as well, but don’t know exactly what to do.

But I know some of them were taken aback when I said:

“The future of healthcare is not in hospitals.”

Even if you’re open to change (and these CEOs are), that’s still a confronting statement if most of your role involves building and leading a successful hospital!

Next week, I’ll be saying something similar to leaders at a banking conference:

“The future of banking is not in banks.”

But I firmly believe it’s true!

The future of healthcare is not in hospitals.
And the future of banking is not in banks.
Just as the future of education is not in schools.
And the future of retail is not in shops.

To understand the future of healthcare, banking, education, or retail, don’t start with hospitals, banks, schools, and shops. Those are just the way those industries served their industries in the past. The future might include them, but not necessarily.

The future of healthcare is in patients.
The future of banking is in customers.
The future of education is in students.
The future of retail is in shoppers.

In other words, the future is understanding the people you serve: patients, customers, students, clients, shoppers, whoever.

It’s too easy to fall in love with your products, services, systems, processes, and solutions. But remember these should all be solving problems for your customers. If they aren’t, you’ll soon be obsolete.

Understand your future customer’s journey.

You don’t know exactly how customers will behave in the future, but you can map your current customer’s journey, and then consider the impact of technology, trends, and other external changes at each step.

Here’s the healthcare example I shared with those CEOs …

Imagine a cardiologist who treats patients who suffer a heart attack. Her customer’s journey might start (literally) from the time the ambulance receives the emergency call and rushes the patient to the emergency room. She then performs the surgery, the patient leaves hospital, and constant monitoring happens over time.

Imagine how this customer journey might change in the future:

  • A self-driving ambulance collects the patient. Because all traffic is self-driving, other vehicles automatically stop to let the emergency vehicle through.
  • The patient’s wearables transmit data wirelessly to artificial intelligence software that combines this data from that of thousands of other patients to make a diagnosis.
  • A 3D printer in the ambulance prints a stent for the operation, customised for this patient.
  • Medical supplies are delivered by an autonomous drone, so the hospital doesn’t have to store and manage inventory.
  • After surgery, the patient uses an ECG app on their phone to take regular ECGs, which alert the cardiologist to any potential problems.

All this technology exists now, even if it’s not connected in this way – yet.

A forward-thinking cardiologist, hospital CEO, and anybody else involved in the current version of this journey would consider the impact of these technologies on their “customer’s” journey. Even if some of them are further away than others, they are worth including in the mix now, and then deciding whether you need to address them immediately.

This exercise doesn’t guarantee you will fully anticipate everything in the future customer’s journey, but it’s a good start.

Thinking Ahead

Ask these three questions to help you get fit for the future:

  1. Are you already mapping your customer’s journey, so you can identify how to enhance their experience?
  2. What new technology or trends could have a significant impact on the steps in your future customer’s journey?
  3. What seemingly-impossible things could so radically transform the customer’s journey that they could make you, your organisation, or your industry obsolete?

Are You Really Solving Customer Problems?

 30th October 2018 by gihan

I was recently in Melbourne, delivering the opening keynote presentation at the AHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute) National Convention. These are senior leaders and managers in the HR space in Australia, and one of the questions they ask is:

“How do I make sure that HR stays relevant in this fast changing world, where jobs are changing, careers are changing, and the nature of work is changing?”

My first answer is the answer I give everybody, in every industry, and in every role: Make sure that you’re solving problems – ideally, your end customer’s problems.

Being fit for the future is all about understanding what problems you solve for your customers, your clients, your team members, your employees, and your other stakeholders. And ultimately, it’s got to be about solving external problems, whoever “customer” means for your business, in your role, and in your organisation.

So, if you want to be fit for the future, solve their problems!

Even if you have a purely internal role, the best way you can future-proof your career and team is to focus on solving your customer’s problems.

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Smart Places – A Competitive Advantage for Location Brands

 11th October 2018 by gihan

We tend to think that everything is moving online and digital, but that’s not always the case. It might be true that we don’t buy music in CD stores anymore, or that we hold a business meeting in an online conference room. But there are some things we still do in “real life” to interact with “location brands” – such as shopping centres, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and public open spaces.

The leading location brands integrate technology into those physical locations so they become “smart places”. This technology, often falling under the IoT (“Internet of Things”) banner, tracks people moving through the location, and uses this information to improve their experience.

A recent research report from Altimeter reviewed some of these smart places, to see how well location brands were using technology to enhance their CX, or customer experience.

If you’re a consumer, you might find research mildly interesting. If you’re an organisation with a physical location, this is essential reading!

What is a smart place?

First, let’s be clear about what Altimeter means by a “smart place”:

“A physical space – public or private, indoors or outdoors – where connected, sensing technology is used to gather insights into the actions, intent, and behavior of people in it to support customer experience. Smart places can be ‘active’ when people opt-in; ‘passive’ when people’s actions are tracked and their behavior intuited in an unobtrusive way or without their knowledge; or a combination of the two.”

As you can see, this is quite a broad definition, and covers many physical locations, from commercial buildings (such as shopping centres) to entertainment precincts to public spaces.

Let’s narrow our focus now to retail spaces, although everything we cover here applies equally to other smart places.

Use Cases

Let’s look at seven areas – four for consumers and three for the businesses serving those consumers – where we can use smart place technology to enhance CX.

Access

Smart places detect where you are, track your movements, and give you access to different areas of the location. For example, visitors to Disney Resorts wear a “MagicBand” that give them fast check-in, access to their hotel room, entrance into theme parks, and so on.

Wayfinding

Smart place technology helps you find your way around. For example, you might use Google Maps for external navigation, but some companies also offer an enhanced “indoors” version that helps you find your way around a large space.

Personalised Content

Smart place technology can personalise your experience, providing content, offers and assistance based on your individual preferences. In the future, AI will become sophisticated enough to even predict your future behaviour, and tailor the experience based on your future preferences!

Payments

One of the most common uses of smart place technology is – and will continue to be – for payment. We already have payments that don’t need credit cards (by using wearables, for example), and that will soon extend to biometric identification. The leading location brands are already experimenting with checkout-free experiences.

Asset Tracking

Turning our attention now to the businesses that serve the customers in a smart place, one popular use of this technology is for tracking resources – such as retail stock, vehicles, or medication in hospitals. This is most commonly done now with physical tags on the assets, but advances in AI and computer vision will mean resources won’t need tagging.

Employee Enablement

An obvious extension is to track your most important asset: your people. By tracking their location, smart place technology can simplify access, personalise their experience, and assist with wayfinding. It can also monitor them at finer levels – for example, to monitor how often staff in hospitals wash their hands.

Analytics

The six areas we’ve considered above apply to individuals, but smart place technology can also be used to collect and aggregate data to conduct useful analytics – for example, measuring foot traffic in stores, detecting potential problems (such as shoplifting), and optimising employee productivity (for example, by reducing lost time walking from one place to another).

It’s Not Too Late!

The Altimeter report identifies some challenges with adopting some of this smart place technology – for example, updating skills, managing privacy concerns, getting consent, and investing in expensive infrastructure.

But these challenges also form a natural barrier to everybody jumping on the band wagon. The market is still new and not very mature, so if you get on board now – even in a small way – it gives you a competitive advantage.

Read the full Altimeter report here

Help Customers Help Each Other

 9th October 2018 by gihan

In May 2006, a Malaysian IKEA fan who goes by the pseudonym Jules Yap started the Website IKEAhackers.net, posting interesting examples of IKEA customers who assembled their furniture in creative and innovative ways. Before long, the site became the leading community for IKEA fans looking for interesting ideas to enhance their IKEA furniture experience.

From IKEA’s viewpoint, it’s a huge benefit to have a passionate blogger, working at no cost to IKEA, building a community of IKEA fans who share ideas and experiences, and along the way happen to buy more IKEA products. Most businesses would love to have that kind of fan community, and many pay their staff to build such a community – but rarely with that much success. IKEA should be thrilled by Jules’ site.

But they weren’t. Bizarrely, eight years after Jules launched the site, IKEA turned its lawyers on her, demanding she shut it down for trademark infringement. Strictly speaking, they might have been in the right, but it wasn’t harming IKEA in any way – in fact, just the opposite. Rather than embracing the efforts of a passionate fan, they threatened and intimidated her.

Jules and her fans didn’t want to go down without a fight, and they took to Twitter, e-mail, and any other form of feedback to ask IKEA to retract their action. And this story has a happy ending, because – to their credit – somebody at IKEA saw the light and backed down. Their apology reflected (in retrospect) the mindset they should have had right from the start:

“We want to clarify that we deeply regret the situation at hand with IKEAhackers. It has of course never been our ambition to stop their webpage. On the contrary, we very much appreciate the interest in our products and the fact that there are people around the world that love our products as much as we do. We are now evaluating the situation, with the intention to try to find a solution that is good for all involved.”

At the time of the legal dispute, Jules said, “I was a just crazy fan … In retrospect, a naive one too”. Fortunately for IKEA, they recognised the value of “crazy fans” on their side.

Your customers know more than you think.

You think you know everything about your product or service, because you live it, breathe it, and developed it with blood, sweat, and tears. All that might be true, but it doesn’t mean you know everything. As much as you are experts in building it, your customers are experts in using it.

In a nutshell: Customers know how to help other customers get stuff done!

Because you’re always looking at your product from an internal view, you create rules about how to solve a problem, or (if you’re being a bit more flexible) different options.

But customers view it with a fresh outlook and an external perspective. Sometimes they find answers you hadn’t considered, and you can add them to your support database.

The real gold comes when customers find solutions in innovative ways – which we call “hacks” – that break the rules of how you’re “supposed” to use your product or service. You didn’t imagine them, and sometimes you wouldn’t even allow or sanction them. But they still work!

Don’t discourage these hacks. Instead, encourage, endorse and embrace them – and find a way to bring these fans together to help each other.

Like ants at a picnic that lay a trail for other ants, they’ll share their ideas with other customers – and that’s good for you.

What can you do to help customers help each other?

What can you do to support customers who want to support each other? Ask these three questions first:

  1. Are you currently doing anything that restricts or discourages customers from sharing ideas with each other?
  2. Can you find customers who are already building a fan base for you? What can you do to support and encourage them?
  3. What can you do to build a space (often online) for customers to share ideas with each other?

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine six different touchpoints in the customer journey where you can involve them more as partners in your business.

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The #1 Thing That Trips Up New Products

 2nd October 2018 by gihan

In the next three weeks, I’ll be speaking at conferences across many different industries – including insurance, food & beverage, surveying, manufacturing, and real estate. They all want to know how to predict what new products and services to offer their customers, so they can stay ahead of the game.

But this is the wrong goal. It’s difficult to predict what customers will want, and if you try, it’s easy to waste a lot of time and money on something they don’t want.

There’s a better way.

Let me tell you a story …

The technology company LifeBEAM, founded in 2011 by former US Air Force pilots, first built products to monitor heart rate and blood flow of pilots and astronauts, to help understand more about the physical challenges of flying. Their technology was later used by Samsung and Under Amour in their wearable products, so LifeBEAM knew there were consumer applications as well.

But when planning their own consumer product – an “artificially intelligent” personal trainer (in reality, smart headphones for helping joggers and runners) – they weren’t sure customers would like it. So, before investing millions of dollars in research and development of a product that might only generate lukewarm demand, they decided to ask customers directly whether they wanted it.

They did this using the popular crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, asking for US$100,000 of seed money to fund the initial development. The campaign swiftly reached its goal, and then exceeded it many times over, eventually ending with US$1.7 million! That made it the highest-funded campaign to date for a wearable device.

More importantly, the team at LifeBEAM knew they had a hit on their hands, and they went into full-blown production, knowing customers had voted for their product – long before they had started developing it, let alone marketing it.

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo play an important role in providing alternative funding for  start-up companies and entrepreneurs who don’t want to go down the traditional funding path (venture capitalists, floats, and so on). There’s no doubt they have helped many small businesses launch big products.

But they also provide another valuable service: They give customers a say in which products and services they want. In the world of crowdfunding, only a few succeed, and most products fail (that is, they don’t reach their funding goal). The failures can be devastating for their founders, but it’s better to fail now rather than pumping time, money and energy into a product that fails later.

Your customers know what products they want.

You might think you know the best product or service for your customers, but do you really know? Wouldn’t it be nice to know before you invest time and money in them?

You don’t have to use a crowdfunding site, but do ask customers what they want. Give them options, and they will help you choose the best products and services.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you give customers carte blanche in every decision. In fact, there are two things you usually don’t delegate to your customers:

  • Why: You control your underlying mission, purpose, and values – and all products and services must align with these principles.
  • How: After you choose a product or service, you don’t expect your customers to have the expertise to create it.

Think of this like passengers on a bus, who choose their seats and their stop, but don’t choose the route (the why) or control the steering wheel (the how).

Even if you leave those two things aside, you still have a lot of scope to ask your customers about the “What” – in other words, what products or services will suit them best. Or, if you apply this to existing products or services, ask them what features they would like next.

Ask your customers to help you choose.

To invite your customers to help you choose the best products and services, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What new products and services are you considering? Have you asked your customers to help you choose, prioritise, or evaluate them?
  2. Does it make sense to start by offering this only to selected customers (for example, your most loyal customers)?
  3. Can you extend this beyond your existing customers to the wider market?

Want to know more?

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine six different touchpoints in the customer journey where you can involve them more as partners in your business. Find out more here, or drop me a line and let’s talk about it.

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Know What Problem You Solve

 14th August 2018 by gihan

Jaime Casap, Google’s Education Evangelist, said this:

“Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to solve.”

You might be caught up in your day-to-day work, constantly trying to keep on top of everything and fighting all the everyday challenges in your job or business. But it’s worth stopping to take stock and ask the question:

“What customer problem are we solving here?”

Too many businesses fall in love with their own products, services, systems, processes, and solutions. They forget about the problems they solve for their customers and clients. They find a cure for which there’s no known disease.

Of course, you must know your stuff – what matters to you, what you stand for, what you know, and how you create value in the world. But also obsess about what your clients and customers want, and present your solutions in ways that solve their problems.

Many businesses start with a strong customer focus, and obsess about how they can solve their customers’ problems or help them achieve their goals. But over time, as the business grows and needs to support itself, that obsession fades, as other “essential” work takes its place.

For example, imagine a budding entrepreneur of primary school age selling lemonade on a hot day, from the footpath outside her home, to people walking by. All she wants to do is help solve their problem (thirst).

If her little business grows into a large organisation, she will spend more and more time solving other people’s problems, such as: the local council, ATO, other government agencies, staff members, suppliers, shareholders, media, and community groups.

The thirsty customer – who was once her top priority – soon falls down the pecking order. She spends all her time and energy serving other people to keep the business running, forgetting that its original purpose was to solve a customer’s problem.

Just to be clear, it’s not inherently wrong to solve other people’s problems in the business, especially if you’re in a leadership role. It only becomes a problem when that doesn’t ultimately help a customer solve their problem as well.

Be sure you identify their real problem, and don’t just offer a convenient solution to an easier problem. For example, if you offer a loyalty discount to regular customers, that might represent a real benefit to those customers (and helps them save money, which does solve a real problem). But if you force them to bring their membership card to gain the discount, that doesn’t solve their problem (it solves yours).

As a simple (but possibly sobering) exercise, look at all your activity in the past week, and count how many hours you spent on work that solved real customer problems. If you don’t deal directly with customers, you can include time helping other people who do, but be sure you only include activities that help them solve customer problems. Then ruthlessly work at eliminating all this other “dead time”.

Do You Really Know Their Problems?

Do you really know what problems your customers and clients have now? Are you sure? The products and services you offer now might have solved your customer’s problems in the past, but the customer of the future might be very different. So be sure you know what they want, and then build new products and services to solve their problems.

Exercise: What’s Your Problem?

Make a list of the things you do regularly in your job or business – for example, reading and deleting e-mail, making sales appointments, running a weekly staff meeting, filling in a form, recording expenses, following up customers after a sale, and so on.

For each, rate them from 0-5 based on how much they really solve a customer’s problem:

  • 5: Customers say this this solves a real problem in their life
  • 4: This is required by some external party (e.g. completing a form for the ATO or ASIC)
  • 3: This solves a team member’s problem (e.g. a weekly staff meeting that helps the team collaborate better)
  • 2: This solves a problem for me (e.g. keeping my inbox empty to reduce stress)
  • 1: This solves another department’s problem (e.g. completing a purchasing request form)
  • 0: This doesn’t solve any problem at all!

Then, for anything that doesn’t rate a 5, decide how to improve, adapt, or eliminate it. The lower the rating, the more it’s likely to be a candidate for the chopping block.

Remember: If you don’t solve their problems, they will find somebody else who will!

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Ask For Customer Feedback Sooner

 31st July 2018 by gihan

As a young software developer working for a small software company in Perth in the 1990s, I was involved in building some of the infrastructure of the early Internet.

Our company was subcontracted to STC Submarine Systems, which laid telecommunications cables along the seabed of the world’s oceans, carrying early Internet traffic. Our job was to build the software systems at each end of an optical fibre cable system, monitoring the health of the lasers and other equipment along the cable.

We would work for years developing the software in our office, then carefully integrates it with our client’s software in the U.K., until we thought it was working well enough to connect to a live cable. We would then travel overseas to the telecommunications stations – in remote locations around the world, where the undersea cable would come ashore – to install and test our software in “the real world”.

I remember when, as part of our software installation team in Hong Kong, I watched nervously as our end customer pored over the automatically generated reports every day, checking for any errors in the operation of the system. Sometimes they would ask for more information in the report, and we would work frantically overnight to add this new feature to the software.

Software development in the 1990s worked very differently than it does now! In those days, it took years (literally) before the customer had the chance to see our product and provide feedback. Now, software app developers publish an early release of their app one day, get customer feedback instantly, and release another version almost immediately.

Ask for feedback – as soon as possible.

Your customers are already marketing experts for your business, so ask for their feedback. They don’t expect you to be perfect, but they expect the opportunity to provide feedback, and want you to fix problems fast.

Unfortunately, most businesses ask for feedback too late, when there’s no benefit to the customer. That’s why most people ignore e-mail requests for online reviews of restaurants hotels, online shopping, and other such services. These reviews only help the service provider, not the customer, so customers tend to ignore them, or only make negative reviews as revenge.

So, ask for customer feedback as early as possible, at a point where you can actually change their experience, and make sure you act on it.

Follow these four stages of soliciting feedback:

  1. Ask early: Ask as early as possible in the customer journey.
  2. Listen openly: Listen without judgement, and record all feedback.
  3. Assess fairly: Not all feedback is useful or practical, but don’t discard it just because you don’t like it or because it’s not easy to address.
  4. Act swiftly: Act on the feedback, and ideally in a way that helps the customer who gave the feedback.

How can you get better feedback – sooner – from your customers?

Asking for feedback earlier doesn’t mean you can release a sloppy product or service, with the excuse that you’re just doing it for customer feedback! It’s still your responsibility to deliver quality – but you don’t have to get it “perfect” before you ask for feedback.

As a rule of thumb, follow the guideline “80% is near enough to be good enough”. You can apply that in different ways – for example:

  • Release a “beta” version when you think it’s 80% ready.
  • Release it to a carefully-chosen list of 20% of your customers first.
  • Hold back the final 20% as “bells and whistles” you can add later.

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine six different touchpoints in the customer journey where you can involve them more as partners in your business.

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Better Than Referrals – Share the Customer Experience

 17th July 2018 by gihan

In the highly-competitive world of financial advice, financial planning businesses must work harder than ever before to attract new clients. This has become especially important since recent changes to the industry in Australia, where advisers have to charge a fee for their service (rather than earning commissions from products they recommend to clients) and have to demonstrate ongoing value to clients for those fees.

One business has seen this as an opportunity rather than a problem, and combines these two ideas in a way that adds value to existing clients while also attracting new clients.

They host a quarterly “Market Update” webinar for their clients, reporting on the state of the market, describing the impact of recent events (such as an election or change to legislation), and highlighting important future trends.

Their webinar software allows a virtually unlimited number of attendees, so the business could throw open the webinar to everybody, and use it as a public marketing channel.

Instead, they want to offer this as an exclusive value-added benefit to clients, so they restrict the webinar to clients only. However, they do still use it as a marketing opportunity, because each client is given two “free tickets” to invite somebody from their network: family, friends, work colleagues, or anybody else they wish.

By doing this, each webinar becomes a win-win-win opportunity:

  • The clients get exclusive access to valuable information from their financial adviser, and get to extend this to two friends.
  • The friends also get access to this valuable information, with no obligation or pressure to buy anything or switch financial advisers.
  • The financial planning business adds value to their clients and gets the chance to demonstrate their value to a new, warm, friendly audience.

This is better than a referral.

The idea of asking your customers for referrals is not new, and of course somebody referred to you is a “warm” prospect, and usually easier to convert than most other prospects.

But most businesses don’t ask for referrals consistently. Sometimes they don’t have a consistent system for it, but more often it’s because the process seems “icky”: The salesperson feels awkward asking for a referral, and even happy customers are highly protective of their friends.

Think of the three ways you attract new customers:

  1. Without: You reach out to them independently of any relationship they might have with existing customers.
  2. Through: You ask existing customers for referrals.
  3. With: You ask existing customers to invite prospects to share the same experience as the customers themselves.

This third method is more powerful than a simple referral, because the prospect genuinely shares the same experience, in a low-pressure, no-obligation way.

This hasn’t been as easy in the past, because providing an experience comes at a cost for each extra person. But in our digital, social, connected world, it’s easier than ever to provide high-quality experiences at a low – or zero – marginal cost.

How can you extend your customer experience to prospects?

Here are three thinking points for you to bring in more new customers this way:

  1. What are you already doing for customers that you could easily extend to prospects?
  2. What more could you do that adds extra value for customers (that you could also extend to prospects)?
  3. How can you enrol your customers in inviting these prospects to share these experiences?

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine six different touchpoints in the customer journey where you can involve them more as partners in your business.

Customers On Your Side

 10th July 2018 by gihan

There’s a lot of buzz about being more customer-centric, but most experts and advisers miss the most important element of customer-centricity. Without it, you will almost certainly be disrupted by competitors inside or outside your industry.

Listen To the Episode

More Resources

The Fit for the Future Podcast brings you regular ideas, interviews and insights about how you, your teams and your organisation can become fit for the future.

More ways to engage with me:

Turn Your Customers Into Innovators

 3rd July 2018 by gihan

In Auckland, there’s some discussion now about building a light rail system. Like many topics that are open for public discussion, interested residents can have their say in online forums, and of course they do – with comments like this:

  • “From building face to building face, all Dominion Road stations would have 21m of width to play with. We can fit a central island platform if we want.”
  • “If we absolutely have to keep through traffic in both directions, then we cannot have cycle, general, and LRT lanes at those three of four locations, and for 100m or so, cyclists will have to share the lane with motorists.”
  • “I would envisage the parking lane stopping at a station/stop and the drive lane moving over to it so the platform could be where the drive lane is.”

But these residents didn’t just make their comment in writing. They demonstrated their ideas in pictures, like this:

They are using the Streetmix service, which allows local councils to publish a proposed transport layout online, which anybody can then adjust – directly from their Web browser – to contribute their suggestions. Then, when Auckland Transport starts work designing the light rail layout, they can take all these ideas into account.

That’s what being “customer-centric” really means.

There’s a lot of talk now about businesses needing to be more “customer-centric”. That’s good, but what does that really mean?

It’s not just about customer feedback surveys and your Net Promoter Score.
It’s not just about delivering better experiences.
It’s not just about customer empathy mapping and customer journey mapping.

All those things are useful and valuable, but they still treat the customer as somebody outside your business.

Being customer-centric means bringing your customers inside, and involving them earlier in your internal processes.

In the past, there was a clear “wall” between you and your customers, with your team inside the wall and customers outside. You engaged with customers only in a narrow band of interactions – such as marketing campaigns, sales meetings, feedback surveys, customer support, and of course the sales transaction itself.

But that isn’t enough anymore.

In our more social, highly-connected, information-rich world, the most successful organisations break down this wall and let customers in.

Turn your customers into innovators.

Your best customers already have years of experience using your products and services, so why wouldn’t you draw on that experience when designing them? That wasn’t easy to do in the past, but technology makes it much easier now.

If you can provide easy-to-use tools for them to provide design input (these are known as “mass-customisation toolkits” or “MC toolkits”), your customers will gladly help out. An example is the Streetmix service above.

Of course, your customers aren’t design experts, so they might suggest design ideas that just won’t work. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask them for any ideas at all!

Great design is a combination of experience and expertise.

In the past, you relied on your internal resources for both, but now you can call on your customers for their experience. And then add your expertise to make it happen.

Of course, it’s not enough to just ask your customers for their ideas – you also need to use them! And that might mean changes to your systems, processes, and even your team culture. So it’s not as simple as clicking your fingers today and magically making this happen overnight.

In the Harvard Business Review article “Customers as Innovators: A New Way to Create Value”, authors Stefan Thomke and Eric von Hippel suggest these five steps for turning your customers into innovators:

  1. Develop a user-friendly tool kit for customers.
  2. Increase the flexibility of your production processes.
  3. Carefully select the first customers to use the tool kit.
  4. Evolve your tool kit continually and rapidly to satisfy your leading-edge customers.
  5. Adapt your business practices accordingly.

But that was written more than 15 years ago, and now that process is way too slow! You might be able to find a toolkit (rather than developing your own), you can open it up to all customers (not just a few), and you will have to adapt your business practices much faster now.

The most important first step is to make the decision today to be more customer-centric, and set that direction for your future.

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine six different touchpoints in the customer journey where you can involve them as innovators.

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