The questions you ask make a big difference. I am often asked 'what more can I do to win over customers?' The person asking that question often assumes that doing more or adding more is the answer. If you are in a competitive business, sometimes you have to enrich your offering to match rivals. But how do you choose to add elements that really matter? Better yet, how do you choose ways to add value to the customer while lowering your costs?
The result of adding more and more features, capabilities, functions and add-ons is that you eventually reach a point where your offer is so complicated, so difficult to implement that you actually block customer utility or customer value. I have conducted dozens of sessions between customers and suppliers in order to find out how to unblock barriers and unleash customer value. Supplier teams are frequently surprised to find out how often their signature initiatives, their diving catches or their attempts to appease a key decision maker are not really valued at all.
To get started, take a close look at the Buyer Experience Cycle. From the customer's first thought of 'I have a problem or a need,' to purchase and use of your product through disposal or reinvestment, what are the blocks or turbochargers to buyer utility? Look across six key areas:
- Customer productivity
- Fun, image and reputation
- Environment and sustainability
Vic Firth provides a great example. They make the finest drumsticks and mallets available. They also make some of the finest pepper mills for gourmets and pro chefs (ask Mario Batali). So think for a moment. What is the worst part of owning a pepper mill? For most people, it is filling the mill, when peppercorns scatter everywhere. So what did Vic Firth do? They tied a funnel to the mill. Cost to the company? Very little. How fast did it have an impact on the customer's experience? The first time they filled it. Impact on the retailer? As soon as the product hit the shelf.
In a business-to-business context, I am finding that simplicity and productivity are two focus areas that offer huge payback. Here are just a few examples:
- Pricing: If your pricing schemes are harder to interpret than train schedules, consider simplifying. Start with common needs across large groups of customers and non-customers and rebuild your pricing options from there.
- Your sales process. Most sales processes are designed to improve sales forecast accuracy or to try to control the customer's decision process. Newsflash: Customers decide when and how the sales process plays out, so why not design a process that makes it easy for customers to buy? Ask some customers who are about to leave you what it is like to deal with your company from their first interaction through delivery or disposal of your product. Where can you simplify or make them more productive?
- Your call centers: What is it like to interact with your company? Try calling your own company and try to buy something . Is your call center routing and phone rep scripting designed to corner customers and minimize cost, or provide a fast, accurate and even fun experience?
- Learning: How can experience and graphic design make your software documentation more intuitive and engaging? Kathy Sierra gives fabulous insights in this area. The faster customers learn and use your product, the more productive they are and the faster they realize value. Figure out ways to make learning simple and fun.
- The web. Yes, there are still opportunities. How could on-line purchase options make it simpler and faster for your customers to get what they want? In the hotel industry, it is conventional wisdom that people can reserve sleeping rooms on-line. Why can't we arrange a small meeting room with standard options the same way? In the process, focus your valuable sales talent where you and your customer agree a live human can provide real value.
Unfortunately, too few business processes come with sunset provisions. Over time, what were once good ideas become, 'we've always done it that way.' Customers and sales teams alike forget the original reasons they came to be. Take a good look at the assumptions that shape your customer experience. How can you make your company simpler for your customers? What is the spice funnel that will make your customers more productive - fast!
Remember - Value up, cost down!