There is nothing worse than not knowing what is going on.
There is nothing worse than being asked for information, but no explanation of what will be done with your input.
There is nothing worse than being forced to accept a situation because you feel powerless to change it.
There is nothing worse than knowing, that what you are getting is bad. But having no choice.
There is nothing worse than being treated as a wallet, rather than as a valuable customer.
What the above situations describe is customers’ everyday frustrations, when faced with a bad experience. What is important is not in what happened but how it happened, and how it made them feel. Feelings are profound, meaningful and memorable. However, companies rarely consider the feelings of their customers instead choosing to focus on “tangibles” such as financial efficiency, optimisation and deliverables.
Maya Angelou said, that “sometimes people remember what you say. Sometimes people remember what you do. But they always remember how you make them feel.” In the search for meaning in life, people invariably return to everlasting themes of belonging, family, love and relationships. None of which are tangibly measurable while being immensely important as well as, wait for it,… feelings! Our daily grind, on the other hand, focuses on the accumulation of stuff and money, which by definition means nothing, if there is no one to share your accomplishments with. Ditto for companies.
Companies spend an inordinate amount of resources optimising processes and resources to deliver more stuff at lower costs, while always looking for growth. This optimisation rarely takes into account the customer experience, which at the end of the day, is based on feeling. This dissonance gets amplified in B2B businesses, especially those with high-value narrow-use high-tech deliverables. These companies often started in a different time with a different mindset, when the core of what they did was difficult and complicated and choice, as well as the customer experience, was narrowly defined.
“The fact that what you are selling does what you say it does is not the end point of the relationship. It is the start.”
Fast forward to the 21st century. There is a realisation that what is difficult for the company is actually a hygiene factor for the customer and / or user. The fact that what you are selling does what you say it does is not the end point of the relationship. It is the start. The customer experience, however, comes from long-term interaction of both the physical and emotional aspect of what has been bought, including call centres, field service, warranty service, consumables and inevitable software upgrades. All of which make it difficult for these companies to reorient themselves to being market and customer driven, as their culture is based on something that made them unique decades ago.
As the development of the technology was the foundation of the company, that is also where investment goes and what the company culture is based on. While this is inherently capital intensive and crucial to the future of the company, digitisation and information technology has changed the landscape for everything. As Lucius Burckhardt pointed out in “Design is invisible”, “It isn’t the streetcar that makes the experience good. It is the timetable.” Ludwig von Mieses said, that “there is no distinction to be made in a restaurant between the value created by the one who cooks the food and the value created by the person who sweeps the floor.” Both quotes suggest one simple fact: that what is hard for the organisation is just the price of entry to the customer, and what the customer values is on top of the what the organisation considers hard and important.
The Customer is King
A much abused mantra that suggests that delivering as promised to customers, is the most important job. However, often it isn’t true. More often than not, the customer isn’t king at all. They are a captive audience that has no real choice in accepting what is delivered, because at that particular time in space and time, there is no other choice. In business to business, this becomes even more complicated, as there may be several layers of “customers” starting from the decision maker, the buyer, the implementor all the way to the user. Who is king? Whose opinion is most important? If you are only focusing on the money today, the answer is obvious. If you are considering also the money of tomorrow, then the answer becomes complicated. Or not. Delivering a user experience that is delightful works for all parties just the same, while prrice is just one small aspect in the whole experience, not the focus of the whole process. Total-cost-of-ownership versus purchasing price. Selling stuff versus providing a solution to their business problem. Sales vs subscription.
Designing the customer experience is worthwhile for all business. Applying design thinking and service design to business processes delivers (almost) guaranteed results. However, it will take time and effort to understand what customers are actually buying, where value is actually created, and where you think the hard stuff gets done. And then getting all the moving parts and people to realign around a new way of delivering customer value. The last bit takes years, not months. Especially if you’ve got thousands of people in your organisation working around the globe in different cultures, with different expectations.