Abir

A human centric approach to business design

People seek experiences, not just products or services.

We uncover meaningful experiences customers desire using a variety of market research techniques, and provide innovative strategic frameworks based on human-centric design thinking methodology to deliver those experiences holistically across all customer interactions.

Towards that end, we provide consulting services as well as training workshops to help organizations unlock their employees' creativity to achieve business goals.

We work with both non-profits, and for-profit social and commercial enterprises.

What is a meaningful customer experience?

         “70% of the buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated”, reports a study by McKinsey. In other words, 70% of the business has something to do with how you make your customers feel. It is indisputable that we are in the experience economy.

          However, what is not clear is how we define customer experience. An experience is a process we are conscious of and involved in as it happens, and hence it is very personal. It cannot be forced upon anyone what he or she experiences. Therefore, an experience cannot be created but can only be designed. And a design that is consistent across the breadth of touch-points and connects at customer’s deepest level of desires can evoke those experiences successfully.

         In a previous blog-post on “Why Does Customer Experience Matter”, I had explained that an experience has to be holistic and unifying across all the touch-points a customer interacts with your brand – what is also known as the breadth of the experience. In this month’s article let us focus on the second element, depth.

Depth of customer experience

         The depth at which a business should connect with customers through delivery of an experience depends on what factors influence our decisions (see below).

         At the outer most layer of our psyche are the rational decisions of functionality and price-point. Does this product or service do what I need and is it worth the price? Beyond these logical decisions, some companies market emotions to customers. How does it make me feel? Emotions are harder to quantify, and they certainly do not last long. They are mostly used in advertising and marketing messages. Coke’s “Open Happiness” is a prime example of it. Deeper then emotions, is our desire to identify with some groups and standout from others. Is this product really Me? For example, I am a mac guy (as opposed to a PC guy) and I identify with Coke more then Pepsi. At the deepest level of our being are our values and belief systems. Does this product or service fit into the world I have created for myself? Does it give me a sense that life’s worth living? Steve Diller and Nathan Shedroff, Professors at California College of Arts, San Francisco, have identified 15 such meaningful experiences derived from our value systems that are cross-cultural, relatively stable, and applicable to a wide range of our decisions (for detailed explanation of these meanings take a look at www.makingmeaning.org).

        To name a few examples of companies successful at evoking such meanings in people’s lives,

Nike is in the business of evoking Accomplishment and not just selling you shoes,

Disney is all about Wonder and Happiness and not animated movies or theme parks,

Furniture giant Ikea is selling you Beauty, and also Accomplishment by taking the do-it-yourself movement to an entirely new level (you pick up and assemble your furniture),

Our own Taj group of hotels is not selling you a room, but making you feel Validated, that you are worth the pampering you get by their excellent service,

When you use P&G’s Gillette, Ariel washing powder, Duracell batteries, or Pampers diapers, you can be assured of their products integrity and honesty (Truth)

          And no such list is complete without a mention of Apple (Beauty and Community) and Starbucks (Creation and Truth), pioneers of end-to-end consistent, holistic, and authentic delivery of experience across the breadth of touch-points.

          The meaningful experiences listed below are not the only ones to pursue, but is a good starting point. Only by a thorough qualitative and ethnographic deep dive into customers’ lives can a company uncover what is it that their customers truly desire. 

         In summary, by designing an experience that is consistent and holistic across the breadth of touch-points, and that connects with customers at a deeper level of meanings, a company can climb the ladder of experience economy, away from the fear of commoditization, and build a foundation of loyal customers.

References:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130604134550-284615-15-statistics-that-should-change-the-business-world-but-haven-t

Steve Diller’s Bio can be found here https://www.cca.edu/academics/faculty/sdiller

Nathan Shedroff’s Bio can be found here https://www.cca.edu/academics/faculty/nshedroff

Meaningful Experience are defined at http://makingmeaning.org


Shouldn't “Make in India” be “Make India Innovative”?

Not getting into the controversy about whether India had invented flying planes in ancient times, way before Wright brothers thought of the idea, it is worth acknowledging that they were the first to bring the invention of man-made flight to the market. Innovation is invention brought to market with a business model that is sustainable, technologically feasible, replicable and desired by the customers. Clearly, ancient Indians didn't succeed in doing so.

But that shouldn't limit modern India to only attracting western innovations under the campaign “Make in India” for the sole purpose of manufacturing in India. It is true that India needs to create more jobs to provide livelihood to millions without work and manufacturing could bring those jobs to India.

But as governor of Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan rightly pointed it out, why are we limited in our vision to simply imitating China? Shouldn’t we instead reincarnate ancient inventive India into modern times by being truly innovative? We should not overlook that China is struggling to create innovations that can truly add value to its now sluggish economy.

So far the story of modern India has been that of a back office-processing hub of the world. We do what we are told to do. Very few if any of our software companies have managed to create anything substantial above and beyond efficient operationalization of now-almost-commoditized BPO services.

It is time to not just focus on “Make in India” but “Make India Innovative” for our long-term economic vitality. We need to stop thinking that only born-geniuses can be creative and learn to use both sides of our brains. Creativity combined with rational, logical, and critical thinking is the need of today. Our educational institutes should teach our students how to be creative within the constraints of entrepreneurship.  Our corporations should put processes and structure in place to enable innovation and creativity and still achieve business goals.  We need to go beyond doing what we have been told to do, and Make in India that has also been Invented and Innovated in India.

Why does customer experience matter?

               In a world where most companies’ interaction with their customers now involve some form of digital media, there is a recognition for the need for a better user experience at websites and mobile apps. Graphics, User Experience (UX) and User Interaction (UI) designers are increasingly making websites and mobile apps delightful, easy to use, and responsive.

              There is also a widely acknowledged need for a better post-sale customer service experience.  Gone are the days when once a product or service has been bought, there weren’t easy means get your complaints or questions resolved in a timely and customer friendly manner. Most companies now have better online systems to receive complaints, and provide service through easy access to customer service agents. Companies are ever eager to ask for customer feedback and improve their service to further differentiate from competition.

          The word “experience” has truly become a buzzword across both products and service industries. A recent Harvard Business Review study attempted to quantify the effect of customer experience on both transactional and subscription businesses (see below). The results were not surprising, that customer experience does improve sales and customer retention across products and service industries. Both CEOs and economists now equally understand that customer affection matters for economic vitality.

               However, very few companies have taken a holistic approach to providing a unifying experience across all touch-points that a customer interacts with your brand. Mobile apps, website, and post-sale service are not the only interactions. But product design and development, service design and delivery, marketing and communication, social media initiatives, brand positioning and messaging, sales activities are equally important (see below). Only consistent, connected, and unifying experience across all interactions will have a lasting effect on customer psyche to translate into loyalty and real economic gains.