Rethinking the Customer at the Point of Experience


Companies spend millions on engineering products, but not much on thinking about the real point of it all — the customer experience.


Social Is Not Enough

This article is a continuation of the theme: In the Age of the Customer. Since beginning this series, I have been subjected to way too much canned, paid-for, ad-video marketing content. As I did research for this article, I saw more than a dozen social videos, spoke with marketing professionals from many companies, and read many articles about social media connecting people rather than systems. Yes that is the point: P2P!

But here is my issue, and it gets right to the heart of the real opportunity for businesses in the future. All the videos showed people at desks in offices communicating through laptops or mobile devices. What they did not show was the customer — consumer — vantage point at the ‘Point of Experience.’ No doubt, in the last year or two, the social networking mantra has been about demonstrating that Enterprise Social Networking has value for the enterprise — the B2B world. And that is important. But if we want to understand customers, we have to be out there where it counts. Otherwise, we fall into the circular-argument trap once again.

Retracing Our Steps

Many of the system paradigms we still use today are based on models of the past. They are top-down centralized ERP concepts (with management in control at the core of the design). People are chained to desks using them. This concept may work for accounting, but the accounting department does not think or act like the customer. Over the decades, many models (such as demographics, sales history by customer) have been developed to represent customers. But that perspective only gives you that myopic historical model — what you did — not what you could do. Real customers’ desires, dreams, needs (and wallet) may be far greater than anything dreamt of in your system.

This internal database built on an accounting paradigm has no dialogue whatsoever with customers. Thus, social is incredibly valuable since it has the customers’ own words. Our last discussion included looking at social networking data to gauge customer sentiment, attitudes, etc. Yet customers’ data is messy (in its raw form, it does not lend itself to tidy fields on spreadsheets) and requires new analytical approaches to assess its meaning. In fact, we live in a multi-dimensional world — hopefully the extent of our life’s experiences is not just sitting at our screens!

Thought: Customer’s data is different than the old paradigm of ‘customer data.’

Living in 3 Dimensions

Our lives are played out in multi-dimensional worlds filled with encounters, thoughts, and behaviors that are the real measure of us. Let’s call that an experience cycle. So the real challenge for businesses that want to understand their customers is to engage with them at those points of experience. And that takes a different technology paradigm.

It also takes a different skill set to take a different perspective. Lately, the stampede has been to redesign websites or build cool mobile apps. That is important, but what about the customers’ multi-dimensional experiences — as they shop, get entertained, travel, or dine out. We might like ways to capture those experiences. This goes beyond omni-channel which, though also important, is really about the point-of-sale of the omni-shopper — not the shopper. POS data, again, is removed from the person. It is back to the model of what you did — not what you could do.

Another part of the multi-dimensional life, of course, is what people are saying to each other. Here I have dropped the presumptive customer phrase for a second, because that is part of the issue in circular logic: We are people, not customers, in spite of society’s commercialism. Once again, old systems’ need to put people in boxes misses really seeing them as they are. One of the issues that Facebook, for example, is clearly struggling with is the obvious conflict between the one billion people who use Facebook because it is free, and the real customers of the social network — the advertisers. Zuckerberg is trying to walk that fine line between these two perspectives. This is an important issue that is underappreciated by Wall Street, but certainly worth noting here. People are sharing quite openly, but it is all unstructured data. Marketing is trying to pull numbers from it — how many visitors, how many clicks, and so on. But, clicks do not equal cash!1

The obvious question is whether these ‘experience purveyors’ have the technology to capture people’s impressions in real time, not just the subsequent sales data should a sale occur. Such technologies are emerging and I will cover that in a future article, Cool Companies in the Age of the Customer.

Thought: We need technologies that can capture impressions, as well as location and other data.

What We Need To Do to Engineer an Engaging and Valuable Customer Experience

Let’s think about this in totality for a moment. The image below shows a pretty typical view of channels and points of experience.

Source: ChainLink Research

Using myself as the ‘victim’ in this example, let’s examine the Point of Experience to illustrate a few points. As a victim of a very expensive hobby, jewelry making, I literally have traveled the earth (as well as assigned family members) to find the most incredible beads. In the process, I have had a lot of experiences. I am bombarded by advertising from manufacturers of equipment like lathes, torches, drills, work tables and safety garments — for you male readers, making this stuff is more interesting than you might think. Advertising also includes the craft how-tos, beads, and supplies. Beyond that, there are massive trade and craft shows all over North America with vendors from all over the world — from Africa and Asia; mining companies that sell minerals and precious stones as well as finished products, beads, and supplies. All these points of experienceprompt online, catalogue or in-person shopping and purchasing before I even ‘use’ the products (another layer of experience).

I would think that the savvy manufacturers or the many trade channels might like a little more information about customers like me — information that provides the more holistic view, more than just Ann popping up in Toronto and spending $1K, or spending €80 at a shop in Brighton, UK. They might like to know how she wound up in those locations.

Thought: Don’t confuse the channel with experience.

This industry looks like many others: from food, apparel, entertainment to high tech to aerospace. From product inception to introducing prototypes in the big industry shows where we mingle with prospects, partners, press, and investors, the experience created there and the ability to capture those impressions are critical to improving the whole lifecycle of customer care.

Thought: Business opportunities: new products, new contacts, new business models emerge from engineering the customer experience, i.e. the ‘experience lifecycle’ beyond the product lifecycle.

Conclusions — for Now

In the past we have talked extensively about designing business models based on experience. But those were very much focused on a product or service design — i.e. enhancing the product to include the environment in which it is experienced. Those who can do that stand to gain a lot more revenue from that customer relationship.

Source: ChainLink Research

If you reorient your thinking from product lifecycle to experience lifecycle, a new and more engaging business model (or product) may emerge, such as shown in Figure 2, as an example. Toy companies reap far more revenue from creating an experience — building bears, hosting parties — than from the physical product alone. Of course, we are all familiar with the massive branding and cross-product ventures of the entertainment/movie industry, extending the life of adventure heroes such as Star Wars characters, Batman, etc. in toys, games and apparel. That takes a new vision, a lot of engineering, different skill sets, and new ways to understand the customer.

Voice-of-the-customer programs are in short supply in many companies. However, customers are ‘voicing’ their most valuable opinions every day. But are we listening?

Stay tuned for the cool companies — emerging technology companies that exhibit the characteristics that I am talking about.

In the next part of this series I will cover new point-of-sale concepts.


Social Networking

Demand Management



1 I will return to that issue in the Point of Commerce in the Age of the Customer, next time. — Return to article text above

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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