Innovation Management Wisdom

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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.

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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

How to Stimulate Innovative Thinking

Completes assigned tasks. Meets deadlines…Daydreams effectively? Can companies really stimulate innovating thinking?

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer this Sunday, Mary Doria Russell writes about Imagine, a new book by Jonah Lehrer about how creativity really works.

Lehrer writes that creation isn’t a linear process. Innovators are ordinary people who encounter predictable walls. Rather than beating their heads against them, they quit. They find ways to go around them.

Everyone encounters barriers.

Successful innovators who’ve hit walls have something in common: They quit.

They didn’t quit their jobs. They gave up on unproductive lines of reasoning. “They really, truly gave up, often howling in frustration,” Lehrer says.

That’s when innovators “go forward by stepping sideways.” They quiet the linear, rule-constrained left side of the brain. Then, they unleash the conceptual, imaginative, right side. Your right brain soars with your best ideas when you’re just dozing or standing in the shower. The right brain makes unexpected connections. “Suddenly, you just know.”

Another Sunday paper described a painter who abandoned the conventional rules of the art game and built a $100 million a year business. His name is Thomas Kinkade, “painter of light.” Kinkade’s works hang in one out of 20 American homes.

The Sunday New York Times describes how Kinkade imagined a new path to success. He ignored the art critics, targeted consumers who rarely bought art and bypassed art gallery distribution channels. He chose instead to sell his sentimental, mass-produced paintings directly to consumers. He marketed his works through franchise galleries, cable television and online.

If you’re not advancing on the path you’re on, quit. Imagine another route to connecting with customers.

Successful innovation is about connecting with buyers. Kinkade’s lateral thinking coincided with reconnecting with his faith and others who shared it. He said, “People who put my paintings on their walls are putting their values on their walls: faith, family, home, a simpler way of living…they beckon you into this world that provides an alternative to your nightly news broadcast.”

Thomas Kinkade was one man who thought differently. What about when you’re one manager among a team of managers?

Getting managers to agree on a lateral route to innovation requires a special combination of skills.

After you have your eureka moment, how do you get others to follow along? Chances are that others have similar ideas. But, for reasons related to decision making processes or office politics, those ideas don’t get a fair hearing.

Others with different ideas probably feel similarly frustrated. This isn’t a deliberate or even conscious stifling of creative thought. It’s a natural outcome of diverse people working in one organization. There’s a lot of pressure on company leaders to keep everyone’s oars in the water, rowing in the same direction.

As a result, most leadership teams’ approaches to innovation could be described as “satisficing”. They suffice to satisfy key influencers within their organizations. Satisficing usually results in tweaks that customers don’t perceive or don’t care about.

Has satisficing happened in your organization?

Satisficing is a normally occurring barrier to company innovativeness. It has its own inertia. It usually needs to be acted upon by an outside force to change it.

In upcoming posts, I’ll talk about how leadership teams have acquired and applied three critical skills to overcome satisficing and get innovative in ways customers care about:

  1. inhabiting their customer’s frame of reference
  2. Identifying lateral innovation opportunities
  3. orchestrating the delivery of powerful customer experiences

What do you think? Could more companies stimulate innovative thinking? What’s holding some back?

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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.

 

 

 

 

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April 13th, 2012

Newspaper Innovation Requires Knowing What Readers Do with the News

Understanding what consumers are trying to accomplish with the news–not just where they go to get it–sets the table for innovating content, delivery, timing, digital and print channels and other aspects of the news business.

Our recent new product development work with two nationally prominent publishers underscores the urgency with which newspapers are scrambling to retool for the digital news world. Consumers are migrating to online news sources in greater numbers.

Readers are customizing their online news content, even creating it, and paying less for it. And there’s a wider spectrum of consumer expectations and behaviors with regard to news today than before.

Perhaps the most valuable insight we can impart to newspapers is that this migration is so broad and rapid, that many conventional approaches to understanding readers are rendered obsolete. Market share and other behavioral data will only tell you what you already know.

The real pay dirt is understanding why consumers are changing. Once you know what people are trying to accomplish with their news, you can anticipate where they’re going…and that is essential for “skating where the puck will be” in the news business.

To understand why consumers’ behavior around news is changing, we have to acknowledge that the news audience consists of people, not readers. Their lives involve touch points with people, products and events outside the news, but which are often influenced by it. Understanding how people use the news in their lives will guide news professionals to the what, where, why, when and how of innovating their products.

We’re on the forefront of customer experience research methods that unearth these insights–mental models and persona development among them. More important, we feel a kindred connection to the editors and reporters we’ve met. They, like us, are driven to create understanding where it hadn’t existed before. And that’s critical to improving our quality of life.

Jason M. Sherman is president of Whyze Group, a customer experience research and innovation firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. Whyze Group was founded in 2001 and has worked with more than thirty Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industry sectors. You can reach Jason at (440) 785-0547 or at jason@whyzegroup.com.

July 23rd, 2009

What Customer Experience Really Means

Customer experience holds the promise of profound benefits for executives who understand what the term, “customer experience,” really implies:

  1. Your company doesn’t have a customer experience. Customers do.
  2. The customer experience does not begin and end with your company’s “touchpoints”. Competitors’ actions, expectations set by other industries, life changes, and changes in customers’ economic, technological, and political situations all influence the customer experience.
  3. Customers filter their experiences through their associated memories, mental models, values, perceptions, cognition and emotions.
  4. Whether you manage it or not, your customers are having an experience with your company.
  5. 20th century management methods assure that customers will have disjointed experiences delivered by discreet silos that regard customers as “targets” (marketing), “users” (product development), “audience members” (advertising), “prospects” (sales), or “callers” (customer service).
  6. 21st century customer experience research methods, many developed by Whyze Group, surface meaningful insights into customer experiences, in accordance with the time frames and contexts in which experiences form.
  7. The mental models of managers who spend 20 years in an industry are almost always misaligned with the mental models of customers, who may spend as little as 20 seconds dealing with you.
  8. An authentic, deep understanding of the customer experience shifts executives’ mental models into closer alignment with those of customers and accelerates their innovations of experiences that matter.
  9. Successfully innovating the customer experience builds on an orchestrated delivery across your company.
  10. Sustaining a compelling experience requires that you focus on monitoring the consistency with which customers achieve their desired outcomes, not the consistency of company processes.

Whyze Group has a combined 60 years experience helping executive teams innovate and deliver compelling customer experiences. Our approach has resulted in more efficient customer acquisition, higher customer retention, lower operating costs and greater profitability. Learn more.

February 1st, 2009

Do You Know the Way to Customer CentriCity?

“We’re becoming more customer centric”.

Many managers speak these words with the vacant demeanor of a politician regurgitating their party’s least credible talking points. They haven’t bought in, but not because they don’t want to.

Privately, they all express doubts. If you too are harboring doubts, you’re in abundant company.

Here are the two things that managers say most often undermine the journey to Customer CentriCity and what to do about them…

1. The way to Customer CentriCity is through your boss.  There are a plethora of excellent writings about the influences of leadership on employee behavior and innovativeness. Your boss determines your job stability, promotability and income, not the customer. So, when the boss starts talking about moving to Customer CentriCity, subordinates quickly begin calculating the vectors between what their boss wants and what the customer wants.

Enlightened leaders create an innovation space where subordinates can gain an unimpeded view of the customer.  Subordinates can collaborate, research, ideate, prioritize and design (click on each link to learn more) freely in this space. If you’ve got a good relationship with your boss, then you should mutually define this space.  If not, then strap on your hip waders and wait for your boss to come up with the next great customer centric idea.

2.  No firm can be exclusively customer-centric. That’s because the customer’s job is to demand the greatest value for the lowest price. Your company’s ROI has to be factored into any new products, services or customer experience that you innovate and commercialize. The optimal location for innovation is between Customer CentriCity and ROI land.  Finding that location is part of the prioritization process.

We welcome your reactions, points of view and criticisms.

Jason M. Sherman is president of Cleveland-based, Whyze Group. Whyze Group provides qualitative, customer- and user-experience research and innovation workshops to Global 2000 clients. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in research and innovation.

Connect with Jason on Linkedin.

Follow @JasonMSherman on Twitter.

Receive alerts by email.

Email Jason here.

Jason direct: (440) 785-0547.

January 8th, 2009

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

Market Research Best Practices: Snake Oil?

Are best practices useful or merely pabulum?  This question comes up frequently at Whyze Group. We’ve have never used “best practices” in our literature.

We’ve even advised our clients to exercise skepticism when presented with anything labeled as “best practices”. What works well at one company is often counterproductive at another.

Today, I received an email from a prominent market research company promoting its intellectual capital through an email with this document attached, “Developing the High Peformance Market Research Function: Study Excerpt”.

The document provides no criteria against which the best practices were evaluated. The report is a derivative of research performed by the sponsor on behalf of its clients.

This begs the following question. Why would client firms knowingly hand over proprietary secrets (their best practices) for publication to the world?

Casting my skepticism aside, I opened the attachment and began to smile as I read the best practices cited in this report. Here’s one. “Benchmark partners were aligned in their aspirations to turn market data into intelligence that can grow the business.”

As I read other best practices, I began imagining myself in a Dilbert cartoon. Here’s another, paraphrased…when companies invest tens of thousands of dollars in focus groups someone from the company should attend them.

There are no market research practices in this report that deviate from those uttered decades ago or common sense. If there were genuinely valuable secrets, the sources of those secrets risked being sued for disclosing trade secrets.

Hence, are best practices–meaning, “the practices that the best 1% are using to outperform you”–really available?  Even if they were, would they apply to your organization? Of course, if your company’s capabilities and opportunities were identical to the company you’d be emulating, then they might.

As catalysts of strategic adaptation and innovation, we have a sacrosanct obligation to our colleagues, employees, our shareholders and our customers to get it right. This is our reason for being.

Getting it right starts with an honest heart, an open mind and critical thinking. If we’re really honest with ourselves, aren’t these the only starting points for figuring out what’s truly best?

October 16th, 2008

Qualitatively Unqualified Research

Background for this post consists of 18 years working with tens of clients and doing hundreds of qualitative interviews.  There are links below that will deepen readers’ understanding of qualitative research.  Additionally, many pages in this site place qualitative research in its proper context within the innovation process.

Anyone can moderate a qualitative research discussion.

When I sense that someone is entertaining this notion, a scene from “A Fish Called Wanda” flashes on the anterior wall of my cranium…

Kevin Kline: “Apes don’t read philosophy.”

Jamie Lee Curtis: “Yes, they do Otto, they just don’t understand it.”

An ape can lead a focus group. It’s just a conversation.  An ape can ask questions and get answers. And, that’s how high the bar is for some people who have seen focus groups and, thus, think they can lead them.

Each year, hundreds of focus groups and in-depth interviews are moderated by…we’ll call them dilettantes to be more polite.

But, they don’t know they’re dilettantes.  After all, they didn’t have to avoid losing a legal arguments or a patient. They only thing they had to avoid was inducing stoney silence among their research subjects.

A focus group costs $55 per minute. That includes facility rental, recruiting participants, moderation, analysis, report writing and M&Ms for everyone in the observation room.  But, the cost of poorly conducted interviews pale in comparison to opportunity costs of lost wisdom and business opportunities, which typically amount to millions over several years.

Yes, dilettantes will continue to ask, “What would make you buy?”, of their research subjects and they’ll continue to get answers.  But, for so many reasons that we don’t have time to address here, they’ll be useless and misleading answers.

So, the next time you hear someone suggest that they’ll do qualitative research interviews themselves, suggest that they take this not-so-tongue-in-cheek, “Qualitative Research Dilettante Self-Test”:

If they flunk the test and still insist on moderating, you’ve done all you can. They’re headed recklessly toward the fruit aisle…to the bananas I think.

Whyze Group moderates qualitative research interviews that derive strategic, business-building wisdom from participants and imparts it to managers.

October 13th, 2008

Customer Experience Lessons from Obama and McCain Campaigns

The process by which the American electorate chooses presidents is representative of how customers choose your products and services. They make decisions based on emotions, not necessarily a lengthy or even rational comparison of features.

The Obama and McCain campaigns provide lessons for organizations striving to deliver compelling customer experiences. Both campaigns are increasingly relying on sound bites and photo ops that stir emotion and influence a specific voter persona–those who are still undecided.

In the private and public sectors, emotions drive customer experiences and decisions. Presidential candidates use tracking polls to tell them what emotions they are are creating among voters. In response, politicians change their tactics daily.

While Obama’s platform includes tax reductions for 90% of households, the McCain campaign has repeatedly referred to Obama’s intent to raise taxes on the middle class. McCain’s sound bite is easier to understand and strikes a powerful chord with voters, even if it’s arguably untrue. The facts, however, carry less weight among undecided voters at this point in the election cycle.

Emotions rule, particularly among voters just getting to know the candidates. The persona of today’s undecideds is different from those who’ve been paying close attention for the last 18 months. The undecideds are probably far less engaged.

The process by which the American electorate chooses presidents is representative of how customers choose your products and services. They make decisions based on emotions, not necessarily a lengthy or even rational comparison of features. Emotions drive customer experiences. Each customer persona responds differently.

If you know what emotional hot buttons to push, how to push them and among whom, you’ll be well on your way to innovating customer experiences that grow grass roots support.

October 8th, 2008

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