It is becoming widely recognised that when people buy products or services they are really buying an experience. What people buy has attributes that are associated with functional consequences that have psychological (emotional) consequences that are ultimately tied to underlying personal values [Gutman, Reynolds and Olsen]. In short that’s an experience either anticipated or realised. Experiences may be intrinsic in either a product or a service but, more often, the best experiences will arise from a combination of both. 

So, if you are a provider of either a pure product or service then there is an opportunity to improve the overall experience for your customers by adding the missing half of the equation. In this article I will be focusing on value-add services for products. If there is sufficient interest I might write an extension piece to consider productising services. In either case, the main goal is to take a holistic view of the customer journey and the touch-points along it. These all provide opportunities for learning and potential improvement.

“To understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasin.” – Native American proverb

© mihtiander / 123RF Stock Photo

© mihtiander / 123RF Stock Photo

Whilst a pure-product play provides focus and economies of scale, there is always a threat of competition from copycats or total solution providers.  Being a one-trick pony also creates a restricted customer base with feedback only available from a limited range of perspectives and opportunities for wider market engagement is significantly constrained.

So what can you do? Well, I believe the best framework is to consider the customer journey starting right back at the point of problem/need awareness and continuing all the way through to replacement or disposal. This focus on key touch points and associated experiences is the most likely source of opportunities for providing something special. Alleviate pains, meet expectations and create mechanisms to exceed them where it counts 

It is easy (almost obligatory) to reference Apple at this point. Their product ecosystem typically includes comprehensive multimedia access to reviews, specifications and features. You can order online and receive the product within days. The packaging is a design triumph in itself and simply adds to the experience. When you activate the product is works straight away without any complicated user know-how. And, of course, the product looks and feels great. But it doesn’t stop there, because you can add features (ie Apps) to enhance the experience further. You can download music, books and more through supplementary services (iTunes). And when it comes time to replace or upgrade your device there is even an exchange program and discounting scheme. All of this is backed by a comprehensive product support infrastructure accessed both on-line or in-store.

So, what are some of the key phases in the engagement lifecycle and what opportunities do they suggest? Well, firstly there is the ‘awareness’ phase that is best addressed by some form of educational support. This might start with marketing to capture attention but could include guides, checklists and webinars that help the prospect understand the options available to them and how their needs might be met. Moving into the ‘interested’ phase there will be a desire to try a few things out to reduce the risk of making the wrong choice. Having knowledgeable and helpful staff at the point of sale is critical and something often missing in most general-purpose stores. How often have you experienced ‘expert advice’ being provided by someone who needs to read the box to answer your question?

In any case, this is where 30-day trials and ‘freemium’ products can make a difference. They help bridge the gap between being interested and being certain. Once a commitment has been made to make a purchase, this is another opportunity to make the experience easy and streamlined. Providing both on-line and in-store options should be considered. Also, the ability to upgrade a trial product into a fully operational product is a common attribute that can make the conversion painless. Another option here is the ‘pay-as-you-go’ model typically provided by SaaS products but applicable in a variety of other circumstances. Credit options may also be relevant.

Once the purchase has been made the relationship and the journey continues. Services related to delivery, installation, orientation and training provide additional options for making a difference and that’s before the more traditional notion of customer support and tiered service levels come into play.

Throughout the period of ownership, the availability of expert advice and ongoing education for increasingly advanced users could provide yet another level of engagement. Establishing user communities to share and collaborate can further support this.

Other services related to heightening the experience of ongoing ownership include the ability to upgrade the existing platform (via download, add-on or trade-in), support in the transition to a new platform (eg data migration), bundling add-on features into coherent and economical packs and facilitating partner product integration (eg Evernote or Dropbox support). These ideas are not just for software. Canon has a trade-in scheme for upgrading your camera and I’ve already mentioned Apple’s ecosystem above.

At the tail end of the lifecycle is the repair and disposal part of the equation. I used to run a manufacturing operation that also provided a repair service. If the customer judged the repair uneconomical then we arranged disposal and that included material reclamation and other environmental considerations that they did not want to have to bother with.

For some types of products, loyalty programs and similar ‘recognition & reward’ schemes may be appropriate although, whether this adds to the overall experience in a positive way is open to debate.

One type of service that is gaining traction is the personalisation or customisation of a product. In many ways the availability of multiple products in a range of colours, speeds, capacities and capabilities has addressed this notion for some time in a ‘Do It for Me’ fashion. This has been supplemented by a selection of custom kits and other add-on modifications for the enthusiast. In recent years a kind of DIY personalisation has become even easier through downloadable enhancements such as wallpapers, ringtones, and apps (to name but a few). Nike has ventured down the personalisation path with the NikeiD trainer customisation service. Coca-Cola even took personalisation as far as individually named bottles of Coke using demographic-based micro-segmentation. From targeted advertising to novelty bottles, personalisation is a growing phenomenon and one that may be a relevant consideration for your products albeit at the extreme end of the scale.

Sometimes an examination of the customer expectations, pains and ‘jobs to be done’ can lead to a completely new business model. A great example of this is Hilti who took a product-based business selling top-end tools directly to builders and morphed into a service provider leasing fleet management services to managers of construction companies. They did this because there was a real opportunity to solve the recurring headaches related to tool maintenance, availability, budgeting etc together with an option to modernise the assets on a regular basis. [this example was provided by Yves Pigneur in a somewhat timely lecture at UTS that I skipped out for just a few hours ago].

Ultimately, in addition to providing a better and more complete experience to your customer, the benefits of adding services to products include additional revenue streams, access to a potentially wider market and more opportunities to form partnerships and alliances. Also a broader appeal and a more flexible supply-chain can help to provide increased resilience. You just need to examine the ownership lifecycle with fresh eyes.

I heard a great example recently where a team was trying to improve the overall experience for train passengers. They discovered that of the ten key steps fundamental to the customer experience, settling into the seat was the eighth – there were seven earlier opportunities to improve the journey that had nothing to do with the actual train! We can easily imagine that these might have had something to do with timetables, ticketing, parking, signage, and station facilities for example. So, don’t just think product, think ecosystem. Think about the journey, the touch points and the whole experience – there are bound to be some golden opportunities in there somewhere...

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little better.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

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