Customer experience is a hot topic these days. If you go on Bing (looking for a different experience vs. Google) and search on “customer experience” you get 480 mm hits, more than triple what you get Binging “customer relationship” and almost the same as Binging “customer service”. There are a multitude of conferences on the topic (e.g. the IQPC Customer Experience Summit and the Conference Board’s Customer Experience Management Conference to name just two). There are more than 20,000 videos on YouTube listed after a customer experience search. There are thousands of Customer Experience webinars available on-line. And even key government leaders are talking about the customer experience – e.g. Aneesh Chopra – President Obama’s chief technology officer – said at a recent nanotechnology conference that the “broader question is this…how do we embrace the principle of customer experience design in what we do in research and development?” (You can find an audio recording of his keynote address at the conference website.)

When I decided to get serious about blogging myself I thought I’d read other people’s blogs on the topic as a way to gain entry into this huge pool of information. And blogs on customer experience abound – Bing has more than 60 mm hits for “customer experience blog”. I skimmed through more than 50 of the top rated blogs and I found most of them not to be particularly helpful to me with many focused on customer call-center issues or designed as self-promotions. But I did find several that I liked – with thoughtful perspectives, lots of useful links, with frequent good comments and rich archives. Here are ones I liked:

  • Bruce Temkin blogging at “Customer Experience Matters”. Bruce is Vice President & Principal Analyst at Forrester Research focusing on customer experience. He has been blogging for more than two-and-a-half years and his topics are particularly varied and wide ranging. With this blog I’d suggest going back into the archives and start from the beginning.
  • Peter Merholz of blogging at HarvardBusiness.org. Peter is a founding partner, board member, and president of Adaptive Path and is an internationally recognized thought leader on customer experience. He co-authored Subject To Change. Peter blogs relatively infrequently on this site but the posts are particularly insightful and can be particularly provocative (e.g. his most recent post on “Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You.”)
  • Bernhard Schindlholzer of the University of St. Gallen blogging at Customer-Experience-Labs. Bernhard is a research associate and Ph.D. student at the Institute of Information Management of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. The Customer Experience Labs is an interdisciplinary research group focusing on all aspects of designing remarkable customer experiences.
  • Also the Adaptive Path company blog.  Adaptive Path does consulting for computer/web user interface and user experience (UX) design and offers conferences and training for UX designers. Consequently this blog tends to have a narrow UX focus but its richness in that area (and the occasional post on broader customer experience issues) makes it worth reading selectively.

For any of you new to the customer experience field who check out these sites I’d be interested in your comments. Also any of you who are well steeped in the field and have blogs you’d recommend I’d be interested in knowing about them.

I’m just back from the international conference of the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) held at Disneyland CA. I was there to give a presentation with Dave Pilosof of Clorox on our evolving customer experience framework and how those concepts fit the development of the Clorox GreenWorksTM product line.  Here are some observations and insights from the event that I’d like to share.

The PDMA has made a conscious effort to bring in both service and product-based companies as well as both B-to-B and B-to-C companies and the range of attendees, Outstanding Corporate Innovator (OCI) award winners and speakers reflected that effort. This mix of conference participants gave me a good opportunity to informally explore with a broad spectrum of the product development community how important they thought it was to incorporate customer experience directly in the product development effort:

  • All but one of the service-based company speakers I heard explicitly used the term customer/user experience in their presentations, discussed its importance and talked about how they measured it and used it in the development process.
  • Only one of the product-based company speakers I heard explicitly used the term customer experience in talking about her company’s new product development effort.
  • I did an informal survey at the networking events and asked about a dozen attendees if they explicitly addressed the customer experience in their companies: 100% of the service-industry folks I talked to said yes and many had senior people with titles like VP or Director of Customer Experience in their organizations. On the other side, only about half of the people from product-based companies I talked to said they explicitly talked about customer experience and none of them had people with titles like VP or Director of Customer Experience. I asked the same question of the audience at my presentation and got a show of hands with a slightly increased percentage for product vs. service companies.
  • That said, in the in-depth conversations I had with  a number of people from both product and service-based companies virtually 100% said they believed that customer experience was important to their company’s new product success even if they are not yet talking explicitly about it as an organization. So even though fight now the service-based companies are out in front of the product-based companies in this area right now, I expect that my survey results from next year’s conference will show the gap closing.

As a closing note I’d like to highlight two of the presentations that I thought had an interesting or engaging nugget to share:

  • Peter Stewart of OCI winner Premier Global Services, Inc. (which provides tele-communication services, principally for conferencing and collaboration) talked about a high-impact low-cost route they used to capture the experiences of lots of customers – i.e. they gave out 500 video cameras to their sales force and said go tape interviews with customers. PGI got 1000’s of informal videos (see a short sampling) rich with insights that they sifted through to learn what was important and what was not.
  • Latitia Ferrier Webster of sports equipment company North Face talked in-depth about how they work with expert customers – mountain climbers, ultramarathon runners, kayakers – to tailor their offerings. In her talk she shared some pretty amazing videos of people using their extreme sport products and talking about what they experienced. (You can see some of these at their website.)

In my last post I talked about the customers’ experience cycle as they engage a product or service. Going through the cycle a customer moves from awareness of need at the beginning through use in the middle to disposal at the end. A critical insight is that this cycle provides multiple opportunities along the way for supplier companies to engage or “touch” that customer and leave an impression – go0d or bad. What I want to share in this post are some brief thoughts on the importance of exploiting customer touching opportunities and thinking broadly of  what you can bring to bear to do that.

I argue that your development teams have a broader array of capabilities and capacities at their  disposal to work with to design market winning new offerings than you might think – i.e. the core product or service they are developing and everything that your company wraps around that core product and service (see below – what I call the “wrapped product” and others have called the “augmented product”  or “the product with a capital P”.)

Wrap around3

The key for the team is to explicitly design the experience at each and every key customer touchpoint  i.e. the places where your wrapped or augmented product touches the customer as they move through the full experience cycle – so that in total these experiences add up to the market winning combination. Customers (particularly B-to-B customers) may tell you that the key factor in their buy decision is the value they receive in using your product or service but how often is what they get most excited talking about is the good or bad experience they had at the purchasing or service/support touchpoints.

As an aside, the “customer touchpoint” concept and tools like “customer touch point mapping” are actively used in the customer experience community particularly by those focused on the functioning of customer call centers where the “touching” of customers is obvious.

An obvious point about the customer’s total experience with products or services is that it goes well beyond just the use experience of those products or services – i.e. it involves what we call the “customer experience cycle” below. [Note: this graphic has been liberally adapted/adopted from the excellent book The Entrepreneurial Mindset by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian Macmillan, 2000. The authors use the term “consumption chain” for this flow. See pp 57 – 65 in their book for a detailed discussion.]

 Cust Exp Cycle 2

This generic flow clearly works conceptually for both product-based and service-based offerings although some of the terminology may need to be creatively defined or interpreted to fit the service offering side (e.g. what do you mean by “disposal” of your current IT-outsourcing supplier if you decide to change vendors or how do you define “assemble and install” for your engagement of a new accounting firm to manage your personal or business books). In fact we have found that this generic flow works best as a starting template for creation of a business or company specific customer experience cycle. It is this tailored flow that is then used as a tool in designing the full customer experience profile that the development team hopes will win in the marketplace.

The greatest value of this graphic, however is how it emphasizes the multiple opportunities that a company has to touch customers both well before and well after the customer’s direct use of their offering. By making these opportunities distinct, visible and by implication of potentially equal importance to the “use” experience (we purposely made all the bubbles the same size) it helps force development teams to expand their design thinking beyond just  the offering’s performance in use. It also helps ensure that company leadership includes resources from a wider range of functions on the offering development/design team.

I will talk more about how to use this tool in later posts.

When we started to explore a “customer experience” approach to understanding customer requirements and needs one of our first steps was to create a taxonomy of customer experiences. The idea was to help development teams systematically deconstruct (i.e. “unpack”) the ways a customer could experience their new products and services (and everything wrapped around these new products/services) and so provide a new tool in designing a winning customer experience. We identified six types of customer experiences:

Taxonomy of exp

One obvious insight from this taxonomy is that there is a lot more involved with a customer’s total experience with a product or service (and the company that provides it) than just the functional utility and use experience. While it is important to pay attention to functional experiences (and they are often the dominant experience element), you ignore the others at your peril since one (or more) of them may be a critical differentiator driving a buy decision. We all know the famous quote from marketing guru Ted Levitt – “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill …they want a quarter-inch hole” . But that ignores a whole class of serious home craftsmen who buy their tools because of the aesthetics of the design or the “professional feeling” they get when using them or the good story line they provide when talking with peers.

Now clearly the different types of customer experiences are not necessarily independent for a given offering, particularly around the functional element – e.g. for Wikipedia the functional experience is all about content (and content delivery) and for a corporate investment instrument the financial experience is what functionality is all about. But we believe this potential overlap is much less important than the insight that functional performance is not the be-all and end-all of what is important to customers, particularly as you consider their experiences at other points along the full experience cycle from purchase to installation through use and servicing to final disposal (we will say more about the customer experience cycle in our next post.)

People buy experiences

October 19, 2009

I started my first post with a quote from A. G. Lafley, former CEO of P&G: “People remember experiences. They don’t remember features and benefits.” Well I have decided to make a bolder assertion:

  Businesses sell products & services but people buy experiences!

Customers might tell you they are buying your product or service when they fork over cash but what they are really purchasing is the bundle of experiences that your product or service (and more broadly your whole company) provides. Ask yourself what you were buying when you purchased your first i-pod. Wasn’t it all about instant access to thousands of songs on the go, the unmatched ease-of-use experience that all Apple products provide and the “cool” feeling you had walking down the street with that iconic white device in your hand? Or ask yourself what you were buying when you purchased a new piece of office management software for your staff. Wasn’t it all about a more efficiently functioning office, an improvement in staff morale and an improvement in your ability to monitor and track what was happening in your office?

Now if our focus is on designing a market-winning customer experience – not on the functional performance of our products or services – how do we “actionalize” that concept? The first thing is to start using customer experience language when we describe what we are trying to deliver, in particular on how we articulate the “customer requirements” (vs. product requirements or specifications) that are the foundation for the charter we give to a product or service development team.

From our original voice-of-the-customer work we came up with a simple but powerful structure for customer requirement statements that meets the need: “subject (customer) – verb/action (customer action or experience) – modifier (how we measure the performance of that action or experience)” . To demonstrate what I mean we can go back to the comments from pediatric nurses we shared in our first post and ask what are some customer requirements these folks might like satisfied to make their work life easier and less frantic. I did some brainstorming and came up with several possible customer requirements that I expressed in the subject – verb/action – modifier form:

  • Pediatric nurses (subject) can keep track of the immunization shots they have prepared (action/experience) with a minimum of errors (modifier).
  • Pediatric nurses (subject) can prepare and deliver immunization shots (action/experience) in a minimum amount of time (modifier)
  • Pediatric nurses (subject) can educate and inform patients about vaccinations (action/experience) in a minimum amount of time (modifier)

Try writing some customer requirement statements in this format yourself. It often takes a couple of attempts before you get the hang of it but once you do you’ll be surprised at how it gives you a different perspective on how to think about guiding your product development team.

One final comment before I end. Just because you brainstorm a list of customer requirements after listening to a particular customer’s comments (like the pediatric nurses above) doesn’t mean that they are the right one’s to give to a product development team. It would take a quantitative survey to do confirm their importance to a broader market space but at least now we are in a position to explore the experiences that customers are looking for. I’ll talk more about this in later posts.

I’ve been thinking for some time about starting a conversation on how and why product developers should be creating winning customer experiences and I finally got motivated to take action! So here we go.

To begin with, why is a “winning customer experience” something worth writing (and reading) about for the product development community? Well A.G. Lafley – former CEO of CPG powerhouse P&G – pointed out in a Business Week interview a few years back: “People remember experiences. They don’t remember attributes or benefits.”  No matter how much we think our customers pay attention to the product features we provide and the value and benefits they deliver, what customers really care about – and regularly talk about with others – is what they experience with the product and the company that sold the product to them.

Customers can’t wait to tell stories and share powerful images about the experiences in their lives – both good and bad – and particularly ones that communicate the  emotional component of those experiences.  As an example here are snippets of comments from interviews with the staff of some pediatric medical practices that medical device (and syringe manufacturing) company Becton-Dickinson shared with us:

  • “These vaccines are all the same looking once they are in the syringe…you could put 4 vaccines together in a syringe and you wouldn’t know which one’s which unless you wrote it down.”
  • “The nurses are so distraught that something happened …they just beat themselves up.. somebody called them, they got distracted, something happened.”
  • “You can’t give 4 shots in 20 minutes, you just can’t …the whole process of giving them information and seeing if they have questions and recording it all …and you are going my god!”

Now ask yourself, the last time you really deeply engaged your customers, weren’t these the kinds of emotion-laden and insightful comments you heard? Don’t customers sometimes just “pour their hearts out” about the experiences they are having with the hope you can fix them? And don’t you feel that your challenge is figuring out what you can do to meet that need?

Well so what you might say. The insight that paying attention to, managing, and enhancing the customer’s experience can add real value to a firm is not all that new – it has become widely acknowledged and is being actively explored and written about today. (I just did a quick search on Amazon.com Books and found that there are 121 entries with the term “customer experience” in their title with 25 of these being from 2009 alone.) 

But most of the thinking and writing on customer experience has focused on service-based companies  with offerings that directly meet consumer needs – i.e. the Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Hiltons and Bank of Americas of the world. (I did a quick review of one of my favorite customer experience books – The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value by Colin Shaw  – and found his examples fit the pattern of B-to-C service companies more than 95% of the time.)  

The challenge I want to explore is how to shift this imbalance and share/discuss broad-based and useful customer experience constructs and practices that fit both product and service-based companies and both B-to-B and B-to-C offerings.  What I plan to do in upcoming posts is to start to go after that challenge.