When customers do not behave as we expect, we often blame them for our woes. "Why don't they 'get' how good our products are? Didn't they read the advertising? Didn't they watch the DVD we mailed to them?" Companies who want to create Blue Oceans know that they need to see the world through their customer's (and non-customers') eyes. When they do, they uncover ways to create value and discover how value is blocked.
In my post today over at the Sales and Marketing Management SoundOff weblog, ("Simplify and Make Your Customers More Productive") I explored the first two of the six utility levers - Customer Productivity and Simplicity.
Think about the your customer's experience cycle, from the time they think they have a need through the time they dispose of your product or sign on for a new cycle. As they begin to explore whether your solution could serve their business, how do you help them use their time well, while giving them an accurate view of your capabilities? Do you gain agreement about how the buying and selling process will take place between your team and the buying team or committee? Does your process lead only to agreement, or does it set the stage for a successful implementation? (See the Harvard Business Review article, Getting Past Yes: Negotiating As If Implementation Mattered, by Danny Ertel). If you were to ask customers and non-customers. "What is it like to do business with us?" where would they say your firm creates barriers?
Simplicity is a tricky lever because simplicity and complexity need each other. If something is too simple, we try to add more features and capabilities to create more value. At a certain point, the customer gets overwhelmed and (we hope) someone figures out how to intelligently strip out the excesses that get in the way. That's when simplicity shines.
Software-as-a-service providers are a good example of using simplicity to break down barriers to buyer value. If you eliminate IT from the decision and implementation process, you accelerate value creation by giving business users the functions they need without installation and maintenance. And what does that say, by the way, when the IT department itself is considered a barrier to realizing customer value!
So look at it from your customer's point of view. Where in the customer experience cycle can simplicity help you create new value? What if you simplified contracts and pricing? Which features could you strip out of your products and services? How can you make the relationship with your customer simpler for them without losing control or access?
- Go out in the field and ask different groups of customers what stands in the way of productivity and simplicity? What do you do that helps their experience?
- Now, go out and ask non-customers, especially former customers. What do you discover?
- As a next step, look at common themes across customer groups. What can you do to take these barriers away, while emphasizing what really matters to the customer?
Taking things out of products and services is not always easy. But in this age of complexity and overwork, discovering how to unblock customer value can be a first step to creating real value innovation.