Archive for the ‘Service design ’ Category

A Tale of Two Economies

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Booming São Paulo

The West and the Rest

This is a tale of two economies with interlocking features. One has excess supply; the other has gnawing demand. In the West, economic growth is slowed while emerging markets are busting at the seams. An explosion in the number of urban, middle class consumers and related factors is powering growth in emerging markets.

The World Bank estimates that, on average, emerging nations will grow by 4.7 percent – double that of developed countries — through 2025. That growth isn’t only evident in the so-called BRIC nations, but in Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea, and across the developing world. Some of the fast growing regions are in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Focusing on Customers’ Needs

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

In our practice, we help clients use visual maps of the “touch points” at which customers interact with the brand.  There are several ways of doing this but one of my favorite modeling tools is the storyboard in which is a narrative sequence wherein each touch point is identified.

This works well when facilitated, cross-disciplinary teams of employees explore customer scenarios from the customer’s point-of-view. The team considers the customer’s preferences (needs, wants and expectations) as they evaluate relevant system interfaces, business rules and work/information flows.

The facilitator’s role is to be sure the group stays on track and considers touch points from the customer’s point-of-view.  They must also help the group remain mindful of the big picture as participants can become preoccupied with particular sticking points.

In the process, participants are well-served to consider broader questions: What are our target customers looking for, and how has that been changing over time? Why do they choose our product over that of our competitor’s?  How can we further tip the scale in our favor?  What are the benefits versus the costs?

This simple exercise typically results in new insights about service processes that can be rapidly put into practice and supported by the larger organization.


As always, I’d love to hear your perspective…

The Hat Trick

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

The thrill of victory

One of the best things about my work is what my colleagues and I call the “hat trick”.  In sports like cricket and hockey, a hat trick is accomplishing a feat three times in a contest.  I’ll explain what a hat trick is in my world and why it’s thrilling to pull one off.

Our mission is to help clients enable their customers to enjoy richer, more satisfying service experiences.

A hat trick is when we not only help clients to better meet the needs of their target customers, but also enable them to increase customer loyalty and revenue. We do all this while also cutting service costs — sometimes up to 20%.  Almost every assignment offers hat trick potential.


Understanding Customer Behavior

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Why customers do what they do

It feels like we’re at the dawn of a new era in understanding how people — namely our customers — make decisions, and some businesses will benefit enormously. More importantly, customers will soon enjoy more kinds of services designed to better meet their needs.

Our collective thinking is being informed by discoveries in behavioral sciences and behavioral economics about the role of the unconscious mind and the centrality of emotions in driving behavior. Many of these findings are now verifiable through neuroimaging tools.

Among other things, we’re realizing that people aren’t Vulcan-like beings who make choices on a cold, purely rational basis. Individuals — our customers — are complicated and swayed by factors beneath the level of consciousness.


Trust-Building Rules

Monday, June 15th, 2009

The notion of trust-building in business is gaining lots of attention these days. People crave trust more than ever before.  In a world of complexity and uncertainty, where our vaunted institutions are faltering, consumers are drawn toward trustworthy brands, and away from those which are unreliable.

During uncertain times like these, having a trustworthy brand is a strong competitive advantage. Yet few companies intentionally take steps to engender trust.  Organizations ought to instill trust in their brands with the same fervor that they pursue new business or cut costs.


Virgin America Transforms Air Travel

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental. ~Richard Branson

Over the years, there have been surprisingly few breakthroughs in the airline customer experience – until recently. Sir Richard Branson’s venture into the U.S. market, Virgin America, (VX) is redefining air travel by providing passengers with a fresh, distinctive on-board experience. The carrier is less than two years old but it’s quickly becoming a template for what’s possible in the future.

The choices VX is making demonstrate a “customer experience mindset” that’s all too rare in the industry. It’s evident that the VX team devoted their attention to passenger comfort and convenience. Features “baked in” to the customer experience include seats with power-outlets and USB ports. Cabins in their new A320s have soft mood lighting.


The Myth of Customer Satisfaction

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

It’s time to dispel the epic business myth about the importance of Customer Satisfaction (a.k.a. “C-SAT”). Lots of companies rely on their C-SAT scores to tell them how well they’re serving customers.  But many organizations substitute C-SAT tracking for talking with the people they serve. At these firms, C-SAT is their Achille’s Heel.

Let me be clear. It’s crucial to satisfy customers’ needs and preferences. It’s also vital to know how customers perceive your offering so you can pinpoint areas that need attention. But, C-SAT misses a critical piece of the puzzle. It doesn’t indicate customers’ intention to remain loyal to your brand. If they’re defecting, it doesn’t tell you why.

Studies show that customers can be reasonably satisfied with your offerings yet still switch away from your brand. In fact, they may be extolling your brand’s virtues even as they’re signing up with your rival. If they do intend to stay, C-SAT won’t tell you if they’re inclined to buy again. And, you can’t know if they’d prefer to get your service through a different channel. At best, C-SAT is a barometer of how customers perceive your brand based on their prior experiences with it.


At the Heart of Business

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009


It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential  is invisible to the eye. ~Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Business stories about “empathy” are springing up again. BusinessWeek ran one (Empathy = Growth) last week.  Fast Company covers the subject periodically. Authors are urging readers to consider the merits of empathy despite the need to cut operating costs as demand for services declines. It makes sense for businesses to re-evaluate their customer relationships in this environment. I think empathy remains widely misunderstood and its role is undervalued in the business community.

Simply put, empathy is rooted in the capacity to see the world through the eyes of another person.  Empathy enables a provider of service to recognize the buyer’s feelings, needs, and wants in order to fulfill these drivers through various means.

I’m interested in a broad spectrum of “relational competencies,” including empathy, and how they are used in business. Skillful practitioners use these competencies to show their understanding, respect and appreciation for others.  These skills include self-awareness and various social competencies that enable the practitioner to listen to and validate customers which forms the basis of relationships.


Re-thinking On-Board Services

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

In an Executive Traveler wiki titled, “Blue Skying It,” Ross Klein, President and CEO of Starwood’s Luxury Brands (including W Hotels), is quoted as saying, “Airlines are in the hospitality industry, although they don’t think they are,” he comments. “Flight is extraordinary, but airlines view it as ordinary.”

Klein says, “When I think of air travel, there is a conditioned response that it is going to be bad,” and adds, “We’ve forgotten it is a social occasion. I can’t think of any acknowledgement of that by the airlines today.”

He’s so right.  He’s probably someone the industry should tap to help redesign on-board service programs.  In fact, bringing experts from analogous fields like hospitality is a great place to start when rethinking services.  Successful restauranteurs can also bring a lot of practical insight.  Of course, we’d have to bring designers and artists to the party.

I like the concept of tapping experts from a variety of fields and disciplines outside the industry — along with customers — to come with distinctive alternatives that make the on-board experience more enjoyable.

Re-thinking the Hotel Experience

Friday, May 16th, 2008

An article appearing in the May 2008 issue of Fast Company by Danielle Sacks discusses how Le Meridien, a top-tier Starwood property, is rethinking its customer experience from start-to-finish. Why re-invent the hotel experience?

According to Eva Ziegler, a senior VP who is driving the transformation, “When the business guy who just did 10 meetings in a day arrives at the hotel, all he can dream of is room service and sleep,” he says. “We want to reset his mind!” She added, “My role is to create unique experiences for the guest that stimulate all five senses.”

How are they doing it? The hotelier set out to create a rich, even suprising experience for the customer from the time he or she arrives.  That includes music, art, and food—even scents that waft through the hotel.  The ambience of the hotel is infused with elements that engender a pleasurable experience.

Ziegler set up the LM100, a rotating group of artists assembled to enhance the service experience.  Her mission has been to “court LM100’s cast of artists – painters, designers, and architects – to transform more than 50 aspects of the hotel.”  The artists have created a range of unique artifacts to enhance the customer’s experience.

Le Meridien is already enjoying impressive results. In February, its 2.4 million on-line bookings were 41% higher than the year before.

Branding consultant Steven Addis observes: “The old-school version of this would have been to put together a committee, redesign the hotel, and that’s it.” He adds, “Instead, these guys are going to be perpetually curating on behalf of — not marketing at — its audience.”

Design-minded Virgin America

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Before launching their operation, Virgin America set out to create a distinctive customer experience to differentiate their brand.  They succeeded by creating a breakthrough on-board service product about which I commented in an earlier post.

VA’s success stems from their attitude that the customer is at the center of their universe.  They relied on service design – the art and science of devising an environment that enables the customer to enjoy a rich, satisfying experience.  Unfortunately, it’s an approach that has been largely ignored by the industry.

Design-minded managers relentlessly ask: Who is the person we’re serving, and how can we make their service experience better?  That thinking encourages listening intently to what the customer says along with what isn’t said, but is felt.

Design-mindedness is uncommon in a traditional, operations-centric industry where running an efficient operation is prized above all other endeavors.  That mindset inhibits innovativeness, and too often, the customer is left out of the equation.

As a result, commercial air travel, with some notable exceptions, is perceived as a commodity, i.e. competitors’ services are virtually indistinguishable from each other, and customers tend to buy on price or schedule-convenience alone.

Historically, the major airlines have viewed their central challenge as getting passengers from point A to B as safely and efficiently as possible.  Their organizing principles arise from a linear manufacturing model which hasn’t changed much over time.

The University of Toronto’s Roger Martin observes, “The dominant attitude in traditional firms is to see constraints as the enemy and budgets as the driver of decisions… The traditionalist belief is, “We can only do what we have the budget to do.”

By contrast, design thinkers view their central challenge as solving “unsolvable” problems. Design-thinkers venerate the customer, and relentlessly seek novel novel ways of overcoming constraints.

VA’s corporate culture – clearly influenced by Richard Branson’s intense creativity and drive – is customer-driven, encouraging design-inspired choices.  Branson’s mission for the Virgin group is to make flying fun again.

Recognizing that they’d have to look outside the industry – to Silicon Valley – VA hired software engineers rather than airline vendors. The mix of engineers and process owners led to some interesting choices.

For one thing, they came up with the novel idea of using an open-source (Linux) platform, named Red, to power a range of nifty features, like touch-screen food and beverage ordering, on-demand media on a high-resultion monitor, and even in-seat chat. Internet connectivity will be available soon. Moreover, Red affords VA the flexibility to support future low, cost innovation.

There are bugs to be worked out. Customers have reported re-boots and other glitches. But, I think VA is well ahead of the innovation curve, and their service platform gives them a clear competitive edge.

How will the industry respond?  Carriers are taking a beating from record fuel prices and reduced demand, and in this cycle, the carriers will be treading water for some time. Under the circumstances, will the U.S. airlines open the door to design-minded, customer-centric thinking? What’s next is anybody’s guess.

“Design and the Elastic Mind”

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Paola Antonelli, curator of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art discussed MOMA’s current show, “Design and the Elastic Mind” on the Charlie Rose Show [interview…] last week.  Ms Antonelli described the “elasticity” necessary to cope with a fast-moving world, and the way designers help us “stretch” to better adapt.

Antonelli says that complexity is a driving force in today’s world.  Design, an intrinsically human-centric endeavor, helps people deal with that and other disruptive forces.  Designers, she thinks, are becoming the new intellectual pragmatists who must bring together an array of disciplines that need to converge to help us navigate complexity.

She discusses themes at the confluence of design, science and technology that affect future the way we refine our services the “day-after-tomorrow”.  It’s a terrific conversation.

> Related: Check out Paola Antonelli’s talk (’07) at TED in Monterrey, Treating Design as Art .

Build a Better Smartphone

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Don’t miss today’s NYT piece on the showdown between the smartphone heavyweights –  R.I.M.’s Blackberry and Apple’s iPhone.  The battle is pitting competing models that evolved along two different paths, and each is scrutinizing the other as the market grows and stratefies.

Both field generals – Lazaridis vs. Jobs – are brilliant strategists, but each has a unique vision and problem solving style reflected by their respective organizations and their products.

R.I.M. has long appealed to business users who demand relentless connectivity; the company shaped the category due to its combination of functionality, stability and security.  Those features were enough to give R.I.M. a critical mass of market share which has grown incrementally.

Then came the iPhone with its silky touchscreen and utter seamlessness.  It was a category killer from Day One. I’ve never met a user who wasn’t enthralled.  The user experience is the message.

What’s next is their battle for the hearts and minds of business users in the rarified 3G space.  Both companies will likely co-opt the best features of the other.  (Look for R.I.M. to come up with a niftier interface while upgrading its functionality and security in the 3G world.)

This battle couldn’t be more fascinating. I’m betting – and this is a very safe bet – that the real winner will be the consumer.

Cudos for “The Opposable Mind”

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I can’t remember the last time I read a business book where I was hungry for more.  That was the case with Roger Martin’s ’07 book, The Opposable Mind. This is one that I’ll propose for our upcoming Executive Book series — it’s a “must read” for all business consultants, executives or managers who want to get to the true heart of problem-solving.

Martin, who is the Dean at the University of Toronto’s innovative Rotman Business School, debunks conventional, linear thinking conducted by many business practitioners.  Instead, he advocates an unconventional, seemingly paradoxical approach to solving problems known as integrative thinking.  He maintains that successful leaders excel at integrative thinking.

According to Martin, integrative thinkers view problems “holistically”while embracing the tension between competing ideas. Integrative thinkers actually “hold two conflict ideas in constructive, almost dialectic tension.” He argues that many people find such tension uncomfortable, but not integrative thinkers.  In fact, their capacity to work in this space leads to creative solutions to complex problems.

Martin cites numerous examples of integrative thinkers and their successes including Meg Whitman of eBay, Victoria Hale of the Institute for One World Health, and Nanden Nilekani of Infosys.

Martin admits that shifting to integrative thinking isn’t easy.  But, he’s convinced that practioners can vastly improve their capacity for integrative thinking and, by doing so, can increase their effectiveness as problem-solvers.

His prescriptions include:

• Look at problems holistically, with consideration to how various parts fit together, rather than analyzing the parts in isolation.
• Consider multiple causes, as well as possible nonlinear relationships between cause and effect, rather than thinking of terms of simple linear relationships between a single cause and effect.
• Embrace the tension between opposing ideas and use that conflict to generate creative new alternatives rather than making simple either-or decisions.

Martin walks us through his argument with great clarity and elegance.  This was an informative and highly pleasurable read…