Through our discussions about innovation, ecosystems and seamless experiences we’ve highlighted the fact that 1) innovation doesn’t work that well for many companies because we believe that 2) these companies create discrete products rather than fully understanding the ecosystem the products enter and 3) they don’t understand that customers are seeking seamless experiences more than ever.
If these points make sense to you, the question becomes, how do we create seamless customer experiences? What makes up the solution? How do ideas like the Geoffrey Moore inspired “whole product” combine with tools like customer experience journeys and design thinking to help an innovator understand the potential seamless solution? And, how does an innovator decide what components in the ecosystem or solution they should create, and which to partner for or rely on external partners for?
I’d like to begin this post by arguing that this issue stems from another fallacy – the fallacy of being “customer centric”. Every company will tell you they are customer centric, but beyond a thin veneer of customer research and marketing, companies are organized around discrete products or capabilities, not organized around customer needs, buying habits or behavior. To be truly “customer centric” a firm would organize around what customers care about most, giving this the most emphasis in structure, information systems, compensation and so on. Clearly, this isn’t the case and is increasingly reflected by the lack of interesting products, services and experiences. But we can’t, in a few blog posts, reorganize the entire hierarchical structure of a business. But we can help you to migrate to a better understanding of the customers’ expectation for seamless experiences.
What do customers want? It’s not a product
First, get a true understanding of what customers want. And by this I mean a true understanding of the total solution customers want and need, not the distinct features customers want most in your product. As we’ve seen previously, discrete stand-alone products not integrated into the customer’s ecosystem rarely solve a customer’s problem or address their needs. Rather, they become yet another thing customers have to consolidate or integrate to make it work. Start by taking into consideration all of the customer’s needs, even if you can’t create solutions to address them. Think about the total, seamless solution the customer is asking for. You do this through different types of customer interaction and research, namely voice of customer, jobs to be done, customer experience journeys and other activities. But instead of “jobs to be done” your goal is to define the customer’s “experience to be had”. Take the larger view.
Many of our customers will (and have) responded: those other needs aren’t in our core competency. This is true, but ignoring the adjacent and complementary needs and expectations that make your product a solution results in a Pyrrhic victory. You may be “on point” with your answer but the customer doesn’t care. Solving customer needs and creating seamless experiences requires you to think about the solution more broadly, to catalyze or join ecosystems.
What do you build? What do you catalyze? What do you join?
Next, decide what, if anything your products, services, business models and experiences can do to offer a complete solution. This may mean you need to innovate a product, AND a service, AND a business model at the same time. That’s OK. Or, it may mean that your innovative product must rely on a third party data source and an open source platform to deliver value. Pandora, for example, delivers music (not its own) to listeners on devices (not of their manufacture) to listeners based on stated preferences often using platforms (Bluetooth) to facilitate listening in different settings (car, wireless speakers). You aren’t required to build everything but you are required to understand the components that make up the solution and determine how those will become realities for the customer. What can you deliver? What platforms can you leverage? What relationships do you need to build?
Experiences matter most
Next, start innovating the products, services, business models, etc that you can develop internally, while simultaneously working relationships and partnerships with those pesky third parties you’ll need to provide a “whole seamless solution”. This may mean you need a new role we referred to earlier. In an earlier post we talked about the importance of a product manager, but said that an “experience” manager might be as, if not more, important. Who is responsible for understanding and translating the customer experience, so that internally or through identified partners, channels or platforms you can fully deliver the expected experience. After all, in most cases the product, or service, or business model you are delivering is only a portion of the total experience, and no matter how great your solution is, it is likely to fall flat without the other supporting factors. Experience managers are equally important, and currently not represented in innovation.
Product managers and developers, by their very definition, are focused on the features and benefits of a tangible or intangible product. They may recognize ancillary products or services that their product relies on, channels the product travels through, information that supports the product use, but they won’t focus on innovating those other concepts. An experience manager will see the bigger picture, understand the customer’s needs in context of the ecosystem of products, services, channels, experiences, data and other important components that come together to create a seamless experience.
Experience Managers Required
There’s still a need to innovate around products, but increasingly product innovation is just incremental innovation. In the book the Wide Lens by Ron Adner, he quotes Jeff Bezos talking about the Kindle.
The Kindle provided a one-stop shop, a simple, inexpensive way to purchase and enjoy anything from Jane Eyre to the latest New York Times best seller. Presenting the Kindle, CEO Jeff Bezos announced “This isn’t a device, it’s a service”. Unlike Sony’s reader, the Kindle offered a complete experience for the customer…
Some key ideas here: one-stop shop (seamless), not a device but a service (really, it’s both, as well as a new business model and channel) and the idea of “complete experience.
If you want your innovation to have real impact on the market and create significant profits, it’s going to need to be more than a product. It needs to create a seamless experience, and to do that you may need to innovate a product, a service, a business model and a channel. Only an experience manager will have a large enough aperture and responsibility to see all of these things and the responsibility to work on all of them.
McKinsey has a nice piece on customer experience, written as an educational piece targeting senior executives. While this piece still focused on customer experience and not a complete seamless experience, it is well worth your time.