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Experience Innovation

March 11, 2013 5 comments

Moore observed, nearly a half century ago, that the power of computational devices would double every 18 months (based on how many components could be squeezed onto an integrated circuit). Therefore, it is not much of a leap to suggest that the functional capabilities and ability to advance productivity based upon these devices would follow suit. For the most part, this has been the case. Now 50 years in, the simple question is: ‘is innovation still about squeezing more components into a device, or capabilities into a piece of software?’ Or, is it time to refocus? Maybe we need to think about making the devices and systems we have work better and more strongly consider the experience of the person using it.

I am completely willing to be wrong here, but I would need some convincing. I am not so bold as to suggest something at the level of Clay Christensen’s disruptive innovation. I am not talking about new markets. What I am suggesting is something more along the lines of rethinking sustainable innovation; the ability to evolve what we have already. To accomplish this, I am of the opinion that it is time to start focusing on experience innovation, and take a step back from the sole focus on product innovation. It is no longer about how much computational power we can squeeze into a device, or how many widgets we can display on a screen. This type of innovation will continue, but there is more.

“The experience space is conceptually distinct from that of the product space, which is the conventional focus of innovation. In the experience space, the individual consumer is central, and an event triggers a co-creation experience. The events have a context in space and time, and the involvement of the individual influences that experience. The personal meaning derived from the co-creation experience is what determines the value to the individual.”

C.K. Prahalad & Venkatram Ramaswamy, MIT Sloan Management Review, SUMMER 2003 VOL.44 NO.4 The New Frontier of Experience Innovation

I am not sure what is more interesting, the content itself or the fact that it was written nearly 10 years ago.  It might suggest that I am on to something, or simply that I found a few bits to support my thinking. The concepts are extremely relevant, even more at this point in time as companies struggle to differentiate themselves on increasingly commoditized products and dare I say services as well. In fairness, differentiation on services still has some legs and is more closely aligned to experience innovation.

The way I see it, is that the objective is to create what Prahalad and Ramaswamy refer to as an experience environment. Though it is still important to differentiate between the digital interaction experiences and the much more vast customer experience. This is especially true in instances where the greater experience contains elements that are far removed from communications, think heli-skiing or windsurfing, versus checking-in via Foursquare.

It is Time to Mature from Just Product Innovation

If one follows the breadcrumbs a bit, there is a fun example that can be found from a 2008 InfoWorld article. It simply highlights that too often software – the front end of the user experience – simply works to leverage hardware advances in a way that is often lazy and unfortunate:

“[Microsoft] Vista and Office 2007 on today’s [2008] state-of-the-art hardware delivers throughput that’s still only 22 percent slower than Windows XP and Office 2003 on the previous generation of state-of-the-art hardware. In other words, the hardware gets faster, the code base gets fatter, and the user experience, as measured in terms of application response times and overall execution throughput, remains relatively intact.”

Many of us have spent time reading, writing or analyzing product roadmaps. These directory type documents or PowerPoint presentations are filled with features and functions. Sometimes, the ones that are well written will include a section on exactly why a feature is included, beyond simply that a Magic Quadrant requires it. For those who have been lucky enough to write these documents, we all know the debates between internal factions of what needs to be built first and why. These debates will continue to happen, but I would ask that the conversation mature a bit.

As Prahalad & Ramaswamy so eloquently state it:

The ability to imagine and combine technological capabilities to facilitate experiences will be a key success factor in experience innovation, regardless of industry.

In order to make progress, what is needed are programs that focus on the customer perspective. We need to consider the user experience as we build devices and design software systems. We need to focus on their experience, not just our profits. We need an environment that includes both organizational capabilities in technology and communications driving the capability to interact collaboratively internally as well as with customers, partners through community. These interactions, in order to be meaningful, need to have proper context.  When we have this in place, then we will better be able to understand what customers want and need and deliver products and experiences that do make a difference.

Your thoughts?

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Who’s on First?

Abbott and Costello are probably my favorite comedy double act of all time. Strike that, they are my favorite comedy double act of all time. I used to watch them every Sunday morning at 11am growing up. Within that context, easily my favorite routine, possibly their most famous is their baseball routine; Who’s on First. The general premise behind the exchange has Costello, a peanut vendor named Sebastion Dinwiddle, talking to Abbott who is Dexter Broadhurt, the manager of the mythical St. Louis Wolves. However, before Costello can get behind the plate, Abbott wants to make sure he knows everyone’s name on the team…

Fast forward 30 odd years, and the new double act seems to be Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Experience – you can add the ‘Management’ part if you are so inclined. It seems that every conversation that starts with CRM these days, ends with Customer Experience. But they are strange bedfellows, because one is an Inside-out view of the world and the other is an Outside-in view. Similar to Abbott and Costello, all we want to know ‘everyone’s name on the team’. It sometimes feels like the definitions conversation many have had during the past 3 years or longer. Also, the whole ‘relationship’ bit is quite contentious.

Every conversation about CRM should consider customer jobs to be done (JTBD, thanks Mark Walton-Hayfield for that thought), thus there is an experience happening, in some way shape or form… But, not every experience needs to consider CRM (I touch on this in a post written last year). This is hardly a new conversation, when I began thinking about this, I reached out to my trust network and Paul G came back with the following from CRM at the Speed of Light’s very first edition which came out January 2001 and is on page xvii of the introduction.  Paul noted that this was “LITERALLY the first time I EVER talked about a definition of CRM in any way at all”:

“Okay, enough of this. So, you ask, what is CRM? What is the purpose of this book on CRM technology and the Internet? The more substantial definition of CRM is being left to Chapter 1. However, I’ll throw in a short, distilled, filtered definition (120 proof) of CRM to begin to satisfy your terminological blood lust. CRM is a complete system that (1) provides a means and method to enhance the experience of the individual customers so that they will remain customers for life….”

(Paul mentioned to me that he has some thoughts that he will be sharing directly in about a month’s time)

Cause and Effect

CRM can drive customer experience, but customer experience cannot drive CRM.  Customer Relationship can be impacted by the experiences had with the company (Thanks Scott Rogers for that thought) That said, lessons learned and listening to voice of the customer can impact what data is stored and how to act, of course. CRM is an enabling strategy and technology, used by people inside the organization. Where CRM gets a bad rap is when people believe that CRM and SFA (Sales Force Automation) are the same thing. ‘I don’t know, third base’. They are not the same thing, SFA is an inward focused, manage the pipeline, manage sales process, manage money and very often does not do much to provide external value. Customer Experience is an SFA afterthought, it just is!

How about Social CRM, does that get us closer? Customer Experience and Social CRM are not the same thing, either (again, my blog from last year). I am not going down the path of definitions, been there, done that. Social CRM is about a specific response, by companies because customers now want to have a say in the boundaries of the customer / company conversation. Social CRM takes into consideration how, when and where a company engages in the conversation will impact the experience of the customer. Interestingly, many examples of customer service done right could be called service experience, customer experience or Social CRM, take your pick, there are supporting arguments for any of the above.  I also believe that the word Social is over used and more often than not people actually mean digital, topic for another day.

What about Design?

Proper customer experience design should focus (at least in part) on what good CRM tells you to do. For example, if you are using CRM to manage complaints, the customer data should specify the type of response, the channel of the response and the timing of the response due to the customer. This is not customer experience, is it? A few of the larger analyst firms have so closely linked CRM and customer experience that a conversation about one cannot really be had without the other. Well, that is not totally true, people talking about customer experience do not seem to jump into a CRM conversation, but those talking about CRM quickly jump into a customer experience conversation, hmmm….

Something I have said a few times, you can manage data and you can manage process. Not so sure you can manage customers and I am confident that you cannot manage experiences. We can simply do our best to manage what we would like the experience to be, we can design it and pay attention to detail, it is what the customer perceives it to be – period.  How does, or should CRM play into the design process? For example, where does automation fit in, is automation a bad word? It sounds impersonal. But as Esteban Kolsky shared, people simply want the right answer and they want it now:

“For the first time in more than 15 years, automation through multiple channels is growing and the satisfaction scores are rising steadily. People are liking what they get, for the most part, and companies are improving how they do things. In the early 2000s, purchasing a ticket by phone using United’s telephone network would take over one hour and involve an innumerable number of steps; today it can be done in 5-10 minutes in far fewer and easier steps (mostly thanks to speech recognition).”

Just remember, if you want to know ‘Why’ – He is the left fielder… The answer is ‘Because’, the center fielder.

User Experience: first impression versus lasting impressions

A crucial step in the deployment, or redeployment of any application requires a heavy dose of end-user involvement. We do not need to go too far back in time to find good examples of this; i.e. the recent Facebook changes that were not very popular. Even more recently, the a popular social site, FriendFeed, introduced changes that are causing a little bit of a stir, not as bad a Facebook though, is it was soft-launched as a beta. The simple fact is that we can learn from others, within our domain and outside of it, in order to avoid these pitfalls. Finally, while the examples used here are on a grand scale, when deploying your own solutions, the same rules do apply.

Two key messages I am hopeful are supported within this short post:

  1. Ease of use, on the first use, is not always the end goal – said with caution and caveats
  2. Change management is a practice unto itself with good reason

Bringing three accepted tenets of application development/deployment together in support of my key messages:

  • The processes (thought and action) required to introduce changes are important and necessary.
  • Involve your users/customers, ask them what they want, listen to the answers.
  • Look outside of your core businesses or domain; you can learn from other lines of business.

(ok, that last one is not yet a ‘tenet’ but we are working on it)

A fun example brings us back to the old Pepsi Challenge.  A few years back, Pepsi supported a blind taste test, to prove that people liked Pepsi better than Coke. I am not a marketer by trade, but smart enough to understand what happened, or at least the analysis. The summary version (with a reference here – warning it is a pdf) is that Pepsi won the challenge based on the ‘sip’ test, Coke reacted (New Coke), and then realized that people do not drink one sip, they drink a whole can.  Further analysis showed that people actually liked a can of Coke, better than Pepsi.

This study hits 2 of the 3 tenets –

  1. Coke reacted and did not do effective change management,
  2. Coke reacted and did not talk to their customers,
  3. What they could have learned from another business?

I am sure you can think of a few examples outside of the soft drink industry that if Coke had looked at, would have taught them a thing or two. Lucky for us, we can take this example and learn from it; First impressions do not always represent the end-game, and involve your customers before acting.

In designing systems there exists a critical balance between feature rich, sophistication and ease of use. Of course it is easier said, than done; It takes time, thought and a lot of skill. Iterations and incremental changes, based on customer/user feedback will provide guidance. I do understand that it is a balance, because if users or customers cannot get past the first screen, they will simply stop and not use whatever it is you are building.

Systems (applications and hardware)  that demonstrate ‘too well’; with eye-candy and overly simplified user interfaces often fail once the user community reach a level of competency. This rings true more for applications designed for internal enterprise use, but may be carefully applied to consumer facing applications in a given context.

The timing of this muse may seem odd, given my recent research on Cloud Computing, SaaS and SocialCRM (CRM 2.0).  But, I needed to remind myself that we need spend time looking back every once in a while in order to move forward. Given the power to reach nearly any customer base or user community, through a variety of channels, with unprecedented speed, we all need to have an action plan in place to consumer the information. Planning and strategy have taken on a whole new meaning.

I would like to note that this thought was is actually inspired by 3 independent conversations occurring through blogs and twitter – thanks to @GrahamHill, @scorpfromhell and @pgreenbe