For a Breakthrough Idea, Start by Examining Customer Touch Points
November 8, 2013 Editor 0
Wharton Business School professor Ian MacMillan wrote in a 1997 HBR article that companies seeking to differentiate themselves should examine every element of the customer value chain to find opportunities for improvement. In the 15 years since the article was written, this has become increasingly common practice. But the approach has far greater application than it is typically given. More than a tool for differentiation, it is a tool for spurring creative thinking.
Often in the ideation process, ideas are focused exclusively on improving a specific service or product. However, limiting your thinking in this way is a fast-track to uninspired ideas. Breakthrough ideas come when you look beyond the product or service to rethink every touch point, or every element of the customer value chain, as MacMillan puts it.
I recently worked with a retail bank that was trying to reduce the number of in-bound customer service calls pertaining to how a specific line of credit worked. Not surprisingly, nearly 80% of the incoming calls were from first-time users; customers had taken out a line of credit at the branch and then were confused about how and when they could use it, how interest was calculated, and their options for repayment.
Rather than trying to improve the product or beef up the instructions to make its function more clear, which the bank had repeatedly tried to do over the years, the redesign team decided to completely reimagine the initial touch point – the moment when their customers would first experience the product. They turned to Apple for inspiration.
The banking team ordered a MacBook Pro and marveled at how the product made them feel when they opened the box – the quality of the packaging materials; the simple elegance of the assembly instructions; the beautiful design of the product itself. Why, they wondered, couldn’t their financial product create the same type of emotion for their customers? After all, the line of credit was providing them with a sense of financial security.
With the Apple experience fresh in their minds, the banking team redesigned the touch points surrounding the line of credit product – from how the product was delivered (in a beautiful box with a luxurious feel that makes the user feel they are opening a gift) to the color-coded operating instructions. What’s more, they provided customers with a product playbook, which included several examples of how the product could be used with multiple scenarios. Within six months of making these changes, call volume had declined by more than 40%.
This breakthrough did not come from rethinking the product, but rather, from rethinking the customer touch points. In reimagining how your own customers interact with your organization, consider the following questions and examples:
How do your customers participate in product launches?
Vitaminwater used its Facebook page to poll fans on which new flavor they preferred for their next big product launch. They also used an app to design their new packaging.
How do your customers provide feedback?
Southwest Airlines consistently monitors customer feedback using Net Promoter, a tool that measures customer satisfaction by tracking whether a customer would recommend the airline to a family or friend. Using Net Promoter, Southwest Airlines managers can securely monitor how their teams are performing every day and keep a pulse on what customers are saying and thinking about the airline.
How do your customers actually receive your offering?
The Kindle ships in environmentally-friendly yet functional packaging to support their brand.
How do customers interact with your offering in an ongoing way?
Gatorade has a “Mission Control Center” that monitors its brand in real time across all social media, which allows customers to participate with the brand.
How do customers get your offering repaired, replaced, or modified?
Zappos reinvented the shoe-buying experience by offering multiple reviews of each product, great multi-dimensional views, free overnight delivery, and free returns.
While it can’t be denied that occasionally a product or service truly does need to be revamped, too often we jump to that conclusion without first considering the various other ways we can add value for our customers. In your next ideation session, put the product or service on the backburner, and instead consider how you can improve each customer touch point. I predict you will see more creativity, innovative thinking, and breakthrough solutions for you to better serve your customers.
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