Innovation Management Wisdom

Posts filed under 'Product Management'

Product Development Advanced by Construct Psychology

One word changed the construct research subjects used to answer a question…and opened a flood gate of new product development insights.

We recently did some new product development research for a manufacturer trying to learn how tradesmen evaluate competing power tools. Personal construct psychology informed our approach.

Personal construct psychology (PCP) is a framework for understanding the categorical templates that people use to organize the realities of the world. Each person’s templates evolve in accord with what they learn from past experiences. They lay their templates over new, similar experiences to anticipate what will happen.

By understanding which constructs customer use to distinguish offerings, you can begin to understand which elements of message, product, package and experiential concepts differentiate offerings in customers’ eyes and which don’t.

In our initial draft of the discussion guide, we asked tradesman, “What makes some of these tools better than others?

We got these answers:

  • Durable. It’s going to get banged up on a construction job.”
  • “The manufacturer stands behind their product. They’ll take it back if it breaks.”
  • “You can maintain it easily to increase its working life.”
  • “How much it costs to use.”

While these comments were helpful, they weren’t entirely satisfying. We felt we had tapped constructs that tradesmen use to evaluate the quality of tool manufacturing. This was only tangentially related to what we wanted to know: what constructs do tradesmen use to select tools they’re going to buy?

So, our client agreed to change the question from, “What makes some of these tools better than others?” to, “What makes some of these tools more useful than others?” The word, “useful,” evoked a different contextual construct. It surfaced memories of on-the-job customer experiences where some tools were frustrating to use.

Here’s what we learned over and above what we heard before…

  • Speed. How fast it does the work.”
  • Maneuverability. It needs to fit in tight spaces. It needs to be lightweight.”
  • Portability. Sometimes, electric plugs get kicked out by other workers on a job site. That costs me time. Help me avoid having to use extension cords.”
  • Safety, Make sure it can’t tip over while it’s on. Put a guard on it so no one backs into and hurts themselves. Pat a safety lock on this so there’s no change it will turn on when it gets knocked around in my tool bag.”
  • Run time. Make it so I don’t have to replenish the power source as often. Give me a way of knowing how much run time is left so I can replaced the power source before I start a job.”
  • Adjustable controls. Let me adjust the power to a level suitable for doing the job.”

Much richer stuff. In this case, using just the right word meant the difference between acquiring pedestrian insight and scratching the surface of strategically valuable wisdom. It informed a variety of decisions about the product design and package copy.

We typically find that customers in a product category,

  1. cluster into groups who share common, but not identical sets of, constructs that help them anticipate what their experiences will be, and
  2. assign varying levels of importance to each dimension (e.g., speed, maneuverability, portability, etc.) across these groups

Personal construct psychology informs approaches that complement segmentation. At times, it can provide insights that go deeper. You learn not only what customers needs exist, but also how customers distinguish new products that will help them better meet their needs.

Bottom line: If you know why and how your prospect thinks and feels (not just what they feel), you can anticipate how they’ll act in new situations. That focuses creative thinking around those few new product ideas worthy of developing further.

Whyze Group works with B2B and B2B2C Fortune 500 organizations. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in research and innovation. Inquiries: info@whyzegroup.com, (440) 785-0547.

June 28th, 2016

Breakthrough Products Break Through Customer Filters

A well designed customer experience makes them want to come back, buy again and refer others. But, how do you create an influential customer experience? Well, it starts with understanding how humans experience.

Influential guest experience

Create a guest experience that positively influences guest behavior

You have an experience just about every minute you’re awake. You’re even having an experience wearing the shoes you have on right now. And, like experiences of your shoes, the color of the ceiling and background noises, most of the experiences you have are filtered out.

How you experience is intimately connected with the way your mental machinery perceives, interprets, and evaluates the situations you’re in… and how this process influences what you do.

For years, I’ve been helping clients understand the “mental model of the customer”. This is typically different than the “mental model of the company.” In order to design influential guest experiences, you have to understand the capabilities and limitations of the human mind.

Our Brains Filter Out Most Experiences

Our nervous systems filter out more than 99% of the sensory information we’re exposed to. This allows you to pay attention to a small number of the most important things.

Your mind is continuously and automatically comparing the flood of sensory information to what it predicts it will experience.  If that information roughly matches previous patterns, the information is handled subconsciously. It doesn’t “register” as something you consciously think about.

This subconscious process allows you to act on “auto pilot”. For example, when you walk up to the front door of your house, key in hand, and the lock and door appear to behave as expected. You unlock the door and walk in. You don’t have to consciously “figure it out.”

An Influential Customer Experience Requires Surprises

If, on the other hand, that sensory information isn’t what was expected, it bubbles up to the level of conscious processing. If an element of the current situation catches you by surprise, you turn your attention to it.

But, our conscious processing has limited short term memory.  Generally, we can only consciously think about seven pieces of information.

The most influential customer experiences are designed around: 1) our short-term memory limitations and 2) people’s ability to act while on auto pilot.  Whether you like it or not, customers filter out… or at least deal with subconsciously… virtually all the details of every experience they have. They only pay attention to a small number of things.

The trick is to deliberately design an experience that maps comfortably to customers’ auto pilot for action while creating a small number of positive, meaningful surprises. This is the essence of successfully differentiated, highly influential customer experiences.

These differentiating elements are the small set of things that get the customers’ attention. They are consistent with the brand promise–a promise fulfilled by a meaningful customer experience.

For example, Holiday Valley Ski Resort is consistently rated among the top five resorts in the Eastern U.S.  Holiday Valley draws skiers who drive from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Toronto. What makes Holiday Valley distinctive, beyond its diverse terrain and relentless commitment to snow quality, is the accessibility that permeates every aspect of the customer experience.

 

Holiday Valley

 

There is ample, high-speed lift capacity. Three updated, full-service base lodges disperse weekend crowds. There are almost never lines for lunch. There are accommodations, restaurants and attractions at the resort and in nearby Ellicottville, a five minute drive from Holiday Valley. Services are distributed in a way that seems to defy congestion. Traffic, even during high season, is always manageable.

Holiday Valley surprises customers with its ease of movement. A surprising level of accessibility is just one dimension by which you can influence customers.

If You Understand How Customers Experience, You Can Design Products that Break Through the Filters

Lets talk more about resorts for demonstration purposes.

Many “central reservations” websites provide experiences that actually feel de-centralized and fragmented to customers. The only centralizing feature is a long list of outbound links to myriad hotels, motels, B&B’s, etc. Sometimes, lodging alternatives can be sorted by number of beds and price. But, that’s pretty much it.

It’s left to the user to figure out where each accommodation is relative to the resort, what it looks like, bed sizes and configurations, whether there’s public transportation, child care, cooking facilities, restaurants, attractions nearby, a fireplace, a view, how past guests have rated their stays…and the list goes on. (I’ve talked before about new vacation planning sites that are capitalizing on this opportunity. They’re making all of this information searchable in online vacation planning tools.)

Other opportunities to positively surprise customers abound. For example, we’ve worked with a client to extend the vacation experience. The newly designed vacation experience will begin before guests ever arrive at the resort.

Another example: creating new, more meaningful social-bonding opportunities among customers. These bonds help glue guests to providers as well as each other. Vacation clubs are beginning to seize these opportunities.

You can surprise customers when they are researching, planning, booking, paying for, traveling to and traveling from a tourist area. That’s in addition to when they are physically present in your location. We’re working with forward-thinking lodging operators, restaurants, sporting goods providers and retailers to develop and exploit these opportunities. Some of these opportunities involve diverse providers collaborating across the customer experience.

To thrive, every businesses must design influential customer experiences. Influential experiences meet two requirements: First, they conform to customers’ “auto pilot” patterns of behavior so they can simply act. Second, they break from familiar patterns in ways specifically designed to deliver delightful surprises. These are two hallmarks of memorable, influential customer experiences.

*

Whyze Group works with B2B and B2B2C Fortune 500 organizations. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in product innovation. Inquiries: info@whyzegroup.com, (440) 785-0547.

March 3rd, 2016

Whyze Group Illuminates GE Lighting B2B Opportunities

Image result for GE Lighting

Whyze Group recently completed a project with Cleveland-based GE Lighting to improve demand among GE’s commercial and industrial lighting customers.

The scope of the project encompassed new opportunities that are emerging in a complex ecosystem of relationships in the lighting industry. That ecosystem includes GE engineers, sales people, lighting agents, designers, architects and end users.

The outcomes of this project are expected to bolster GE Lighting’s already powerful product portfolio and brand.

Whyze Group partnered on the project with Marcus-Thomas, one of the top advertising agencies in Cleveland.

GE Lighting is a division of General Electric and is also based in Cleveland.

Whyze Group is a strategic product development and management consultancy based in Cleveland, Ohio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 8th, 2014

The Customer Centricity Challenge?

Customer centricity can seem to employees like an abstraction. So, what makes organizations truly customer centric?

“Centricity” implies focusing your attention on someone and responding in a relationship-nurturing way.

Does someone requiring 100% of your attention all day fit in your life? We have to divide our time among spouses, children, bosses, colleagues and friends.

So, when someone hangs a poster in the copy room that says, “We are Customer Centric,” a Dilbert cartoon flashes across my mind.

No one in a corporate office can be customer centric.

If we were, we’d get fired.

Our job descriptions tell us our roles in organizations. Customer centricity might be mentioned. But, most of our time is spent responding to colleagues, bosses and internal deadlines. Not customers, at least not directly.

Imagine a coworker in marketing or accounting who is customer centric all the time. You’ve repeatedly asked him for that report. He’s not actually ignoring you. It’s just that he’s “customer centric”, not you-centric.

How long do you think it would take for this person to be voted off your company’s island?

As consultants, we have to schedule innovation workshops with executive leaders one to three months in advance. That’s because executives’ calendars are chock full of organization centric updates, discussions and emails. That’s not a result of negligence on the part of these leaders. It just reflects the complexities of managing large organizations.

This brings me to my second point.

Customer centricity can only happen for a few, rare moments. You have to make the most of them.

We have worked with more than forty Fortune 500 companies innovating new products, services and experiences. What we have consistently found that no one in them is customer centric all the time. Numerous constituencies, such as coworkers, stockholders, vendors, partners and regulatory agencies, constantly vie for executives’ time.

At best, a handful of executives might devote a few hours each week to customers. Sure, these people are customer centric during those hours. But, for an organization to grow in a customer centric way, there usually needs to be robust, repeatable processes for integrating executive sponsorship, deep customer insight and methods for launching customer-winning ideas.

For most management teams, customer centricity is possible only in fleeting moments. For an organization to grow based on acting on a deep understanding of customers, these moments have to catapult you toward tangible business gains.

For our clients, this catapult usually follows this arc:

1.    Prioritize specific business outcomes and customer behaviors that will drive growth
2.    Learn what triggers desired customer behaviors
3.    Conceive, test and refine new experiences in a fast-pace, agile development process
4.    Show leaders results at every step and sustain executive sponsorship

We operate on several fronts on behalf of our clients: customer experience research, concept design and agile program management, for example…which brings me to my last point.

Executive sponsorship is needed to advance innovation efforts quickly in compressed time frames…otherwise, you won’t get very far.

It’s common for customer centric initiatives to be assigned to teams of mid-level functional managers. Executives take a wait and see approach. These new “customer centricity teams” can come up with some pretty heroic and creative ideas.

But, ideas die quickly.

Ideas evoke mixed reactions among executives, who filter them through their respective lenses. Without clear connections to targeted business outcomes, even the best ideas have little chance of surviving an executive team’s scrutiny.

If you’re committed to improving your customer experience to achieving real business results, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

*

Whyze Group works with B2B and B2B2C Fortune 500 organizations. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in product innovation. Inquiries: info@whyzegroup.com, (440) 785-0547.

May 22nd, 2012

One Customer’s Experience Management Audit of Apple

Last night, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said that Apple has become the bellwether stock that drove yesterday’s 900 point stock market rally.  If that’s true, then Apple’s preeminence as a stock worthy of investor attention emanates from its strong customer experience fundamentals.

I recently bought my first Mac. So, my customer experience management audit of Apple’s customer experience is based on the experience of one–me–and my pre-purchase research about how consumers rate various PC brands and Macs.

This isn’t our complete customer experience management audit. However, it illustrates the kind of evidence we present to management teams deciding where to invest to improve customer experiences.  Just like with stocks, a cogent presentation of the evidence can make your choices so much more obvious…

  • Computer users rate reliability, ease of use, compatability, speed and computing power among the most important infuences on their computer and software purchase decisions.
  • On these measures, Apple rates superior to most or all competitors.
  • Customer loyalty, satisfaction and likelihood to refer are higher for Apple users than for other providers. Apple users are raving fans.
  • PC users are defecting to Apple due to their frustrations with software bugs, vulnerability to viruses, incompatible software, system crashes and lost productivity. Consumers’ complaints about Microsoft’s Vista operating system have contributed to consumer resistance to upgrades under the Microsoft brand.
  • Apple store staff I interviewed confirm that roughly a third of new Apple computer buyers had never owned a Mac.
  • Apple stores provide local market presences, user-friendly product displays and highly trained staff.  Live, in-store training sessions are provide for a nominal fee. These bolster customers’ confidence that their transitions from PCs to Macs will be short and successful.
  • Apple store staff are well prepared to answer customers questions about transferring files and software compatibility. Staff positively differentiate Apple by describing how Apple designs their software and hardware to work together and why Apple’s software is less prone to bugs and hacks. Store staff introduced me to two ex-PC users in the store who testified to Apple’s superiority.
  • Apple’s product lines, including Macs, iPods and iPhones, are literally made for each other and are 100% compatible.
  • Post-purchase, the same Apple store staff who sold the Mac called to assure that I was satisfied with my purchase and to answer any questions.
  • Computing consumption, in the form of desktops, laptops, software, entertainment and other products will continue to grow globally. New market entrants in the U.S. are mainly younger users who favor Apple in disproportionately higher percentages than Apple’s current overall market share. This presages likely increases in sales and market share for Apple.

According to stock market expert, Jim Cramer, if you were determined to invest in technology stocks, Apple would have to be near the top of your list. Choosing where to invest in improving your company’s customer experience is similar to choosing stocks. It’s not a mysterious process. With a robust review of the evidence in a customer experience management audit, the choices become clear.

October 29th, 2008

Insurer Shifts its Mindset to Win Back Independent Brokers

A top-ten insurer wanted to improve its relationships with independent insurance brokers, the channel through which the company generated most of its sales. An experience management audit revealed that brokers had grown increasingly frustrated with the company.The company’s broker satisfaction studies showed declining ratings across the board. Some brokers had stopped selling some of the company’s products. Most company leaders guessed that high pricing and poor customer service contributed to broker sentiment.

For years, the only feedback that most managers viewed as credible was a closed-end broker satisfaction survey.  This provided no opportunity for managers to act on issues outside of those addressed in the survey.

We’ve seen organizations get tunnel vision from focusing too much on survey results before. The company’s numbers-driven culture served it well in pricing products and handling claims, but not in managing broker relationships. 

We scheduled a discovery session with the management team. We knew that when we aired our observations about the company’s focus on the broker survey, it would create a fleeting, valuable opening for managers to question the status quo. And, they did.

Several managers seized the opportunity to publicly criticize the broker survey process.  They said it didn’t address several recent breakdowns in the company’s broker relationship management process.  This got the attention of the rest of the team.  It also created a new openness among team members to learn what was really going on with brokers.

Whyze Group conducted one-on-one interviews with brokers in every region.  It turned out that brokers regarded the company’s underwriting and customer service operations highly.  Pricing was an issue among a small minority.

The real problem was brokers’ growing mistrust of the company. Brokers were increasingly suspicious that their hard-won books of business would be decimated when the company unilaterally withdrew products from some markets.  This had been happening with increasing frequency over the previous three years.

Some brokers simply stopped investing altogether in selling our client’s products.  They increasingly turned to selling products from competing insurers whom they regarded as more committed.

Adding to the mistrust, retiring brokers’ books of business were sloppily transferred to the brokers who bought them.  Sometime, multiple brokers divided these books.  There was little transparency in this process and perceptions of unfairness and favoritism prevailed.

Whyze Group facilitated the management team through design sessions aimed at increasing the transparency, accuracy and timeliness of these transfers.  The team also reconsidered making its contracts more favorable for brokers in light of the company’s desire to maintain flexibility in moving in and out of markets.  These and other broker experience innovations are being implemented with the support of the CEO and executive committee. 

October 7th, 2008


Categories

Posts by Month

Calendar

June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Feb    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Tags