We should all be in the same business

virgin trainsWhether you sell pensions, escalators, coffee or software we should probably all be in the same business – the customer experience business.

It’s the only way we’ll stay in business.

Cheapest isn’t a strategy because someone else can and will be cheaper.

Adding more bells isn’t a strategy. A competitor can always add more bells and even the odd whistle.

Making it faster isn’t a strategy because someone will always make theirs faster.

Proving your product outperforms the competitor by 5% isn’t a strategy because your competitors are always working just as hard making their performance better.

So if you are going to innovate, think about starting with your customer experience.

Businesses that define themselves around the customer experience can charge more and have more loyal customers and staff because people love their product. It’s the Starbucks advantage. They have built a wildly successful business on delivering excellent coffee around an excellent customer experience. When was the last time you walked past a Starbucks because the coffee shop down the road sell cheaper coffee?

It’s the Waitrose advantage – the one UK Grocery business that seems to have been largely immune to disruption from the low-cost chains. They stand for something other than cost, and people like it.

It’s the secret to Sir Richard Branson’s success – whether it’s trains, planes or mobile phones, he’s passionate about customer experience and it purveys through all of his businesses and ingrained into his employees.

Innovating your customer experience is the same as innovating in any other area of your business, you can follow this simple 5 stage model;

Challenge. Start with a goal – a vision. What are you trying to do? Here’s a fun one that I always promote as a provocation for ideas, “what kind of customer experience do we need to deliver to get people talking about us at a dinner party”?

Another great provocation is “if there was zero chance of failure, what should we build next”?

Is there a problem that you can solve for your customers – a problem that you and all of your competitors have overlooked? Be prepared for ideas that might require you to disrupt yourselves.

Ideate. Go looking for ideas. Ask everyone; your staff, your customers (your ex-customers), your partners. Don’t filter at this stage. Ideas trigger ideas which trigger ideas so don’t discount anything. Go looking for novel, exceptional ideas by ‘ideating’ (the verb for having ideas) in novel and exceptional ways; walk in your customers shoes, take your innovation team somewhere where they do ‘exceptional’ to inspire and disrupt their thinking. Challenge everything. “We’ve always done it this way” is the wrong answer (or the right answer if you are actively looking for disruptive ideas).

Socialise and Qualify. At some point you need to move from the very divergent thinking that you need to ideate to convergent thinking – to distill lots of ideas into a smaller number of ideas that you can prototype.

Prototype.  This might be about building something – mocking something up and watching how people react and use it, but equally it might be about simply testing the idea – buying ads on Facebook and watching how people respond to them. This is the hardest step for most organisations that are unused to the concept of testing and prototyping. This step is about keeping your options open. If it triggers a six month development cycle (especially if your development team has a track record of over promising and under delivering) you’ve got the wrong prototype. Think again.

Implement. You haven’t innovated until you have implemented something, but don’t stop there, watch how people respond to it and continue to innovate and push the boundaries.

As always, any thoughts, ideas or questions, contact me, I’d love to hear from you.