Most service industries have become obsessed of late with enhancing the customer experience. The seemingly new benefits of big data are often espoused as the best way to achieve this. Not that data analytics or business intelligence is new, it's more about the breadth of data and how quickly it can be processed that is the driver.
But the whole idea of being able to profile individuals based on the past activities and combine that in real-time with what they are doing online is fraught with potential issues. Not the least of which is getting it badly wrong and alienating the customer rather than improving their experience.
Asking customers what they like or want is equally daunting because they don't like answering questionnaires and they, quite often, don't know what they might like if they haven't experienced it. Defining an experience is one thing, designing one another, but the latter may be the answer in offering future services.
Let me give you some examples. When the French fashion houses hold their seasonal fashion shows they don't just show off their latest creations to potential buyers, they often set a fashion trend that, if popular with the attendees and press, will generate sales and set standards that others will follow.
When telcos or banks come up with new products and services they are the result of what marketing departments might think will be popular, but they are also limited by what the network, IT and business can deliver and support. The fashion houses, however, take orders and produce in bulk only the designs that are popular.
Occasionally, and only occasionally, someone takes a commonly used service and reinvents it so completely by design that it takes the world by storm. Uber is a good example. Using the features of every smart phone Uber came up with a way to get a lift from someone close by, get their details, name, photograph, location and price in an instant and not have to worry about cash or card payments to the driver, or wait for a receipt at the end. Best of all, you get to rate the driver whose continued revenue stream with Uber is determined on maintaining a high standard.
Uber has effectively turned a protected, inefficient and often despised taxi industry on its head by designing a new breed of customer that likes the new service and shuns the old.
Apple did the same to the music industry with iTunes and later with the App Store. iTunes wasn’t meant to replace traditional music distribution channels but because it was so simple and so efficient to buy music tracks instead of albums, at a reasonable price, and have it delivered instantly created a whole new customer base – a designer customer.
Banks constantly battling with expensive bricks and mortar branches, outdated IT and a reliance on interest based transactions have been turned on their heads by new online-only players that virtualize the whole customer experience and charge customers small fees for transactions they make – more like a user pays model and one that customers use seem to like.
And this is creating new ecosystems that design offerings to customers that make sense. When a customer applies to a bank for a mortgage it's probably a good guess they are thinking of buying a house. Smart banks suggest potential realtors to their customers and they in turn might suggest an associated conveyancer or solicitor to manage the contracts, etc.
These new dynamic ecosystems have great potential no matter who triggers the chain, but for the customer it looks like a sensible and linked smorgasbord of options relevant to what they want to do. It’s a designed experience with each selection triggering another linked process.
Could the future of customer experience be by design, or are these examples just freakish one-offs? Or is it more about giving the customer not what you think they want but by clever design making them want what they see?