Friday, October 31, 2008

Sensors in the Ground - A Path to More Compelling Products and Services

Do companies really care about their customers anymore? I’m sure in early industrial age America, the immigrant shoe cobbler or baker knew their customers by name and probably their families as well. Amid all of the technological progress something has gone terribly wrong.

Increasingly in our modern global economy where goods are designed in one location, manufactured in another, sold in yet another, and serviced from still another we have created a fragmented and frustrating experience for customers and even the people in organizations striving to serve them.

And, for all of our process and technology and attentive people we are all simply doing too much to give a damn at a meaningful detailed level about the customer. Sometimes it simply isn’t profitable to do the “right” thing. Ask many call center reps that are goaled on time spent on each call. If they spend too much time on the phone they are dinged so they sometimes react by passing the “problem” back into the pool for another rep to overinvest time in. Still others solve the immediate problem, checking off the box, and failing to take into account larger initiatives that might benefit the customer and company alike.

Worse yet, are the horrid products and service experiences that simply cut themselves off from any meaningful feedback whether things go right or wrong. If it isn’t easy and natural to provide feedback then most people will not. Most people do not complain; they simply no longer use your product or service. If they are vocal they probably influence others to behave the same.

So, it is no surprise that when somebody really pays attention to the customer experience it sends a resounding reverberation throughout the industry. Take the Apple iPhone of the recent past - the new gold standard for the mobile experience. It is now “Game On” for the rest of the industry as others play catch up, reach for what’s next and organize to execute on a path more relevant to the customer.

Establishing Sensors in the Ground can give your company an easy unfair competitive advantage and also provide you with innovation insights. Much like a seismometer can measure and record moving tectonic plates, “Sensors in the Ground” is a metaphor for measuring and recording movements in customer satisfaction or stronger yet, delight. It is also useful for measuring and recording the lack of delight that could result in defection and churn. Sensors in the Ground can provide your company with customer feedback that can improve products and services and even lead to next generation breakthrough innovations. Having effective sensors in the ground increases the likelihood that you will win the battle for your customers’ hearts and minds.

Imagine a world where every customer interaction made the customer feel as though they have a listened to voice and that the company and brand they are interacting with gave a damn.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Design Trends in an era of Less Junk and Increased Customer Delight.

We are rapidly entering an era of Less Junk and Increased Customer Delight.

The single biggest trend I see impacting design is the increased focus on the complete user experience. Whether it is hardware, software, or a pure service, a compelling experience is going to matter more and more in an increasingly social networked, mobility connected, time impoverished world.

We consumers of products and services simply will not tolerate products and services that waste our valuable time and provide a poor experience. We will tell our friends about them, often from the point of experience on our smartphones and other connected devices. On a related note, feedback would be more prevalent if companies had sensors in the ground to capture valuable customer feedback AND if the mechanisms to provide said feedback were not part of the user experience problem – efforts to visit a website on a smartphone to provide feedback to a company is too daunting save for the most diligent, persistent, handheld user.

Guilt by proximity is another trend that will impact poor design. It won’t matter where the software driver resides or who wrote it, the product experience that relies upon it had better work flawlessly. If it does not, then everything in the product experience chain will be blamed. One only need look at people that depart from the Microsoft platform for the greener pastures of a more controlled Mac ecosystem to understand the lack of tolerance for open systems that don’t play well together. Perpetual churn on mobile devices and with mobile network operators is no different. Airlines, automobiles, TV, supermarkets, etc. are all suffering the same, mostly invisible fate.

Soon (I hope) poorly designed product experiences will not move and the marketplace penalties for shipping junk and providing poor experiences will be even more hard felt by companies that continue to do so.

The increasing connection to customers is another emerging trend. People will use your product in ways that you did not anticipate and demand it interact with other products and in situations you didn't think of. Better get connected to your customers. Feedback is everything.

Product Innovators and Marketers that can get the sensors in the ground and stay connected to customers and what matters to them will earn their firms great returns. Companies that lack this customer connection and experience focus will stagnant and go away.

ID firms, agencies and other innovation centers that help firms to stay connected to customers will also do well in the new era of Less Junk and Increased Customer Delight.