CEDE Control To The Customer
‘Cede control to the customer’ said the tweet I sent out recently when I pointed to a post `Stress and Customer response’ by a colleague… and, boy, did it get some incredulous `you must be off your rockers’ reactions.
Cede control … a phrase that evokes instant defense in most people. We like to be `in control’ of stuff. We spend a large amount of energy attempting to understand the world we live in – why does the apple fall to the ground? Why do cyclones happen? Why do people say `yes’ when they want to say `no’? Why do we buy stuff we don’t really need? Why are women so much better than men (ok, so I am pushing it there but.. you get the point!)
We seek answers all the time in order to better understand what to expect in a situation and through this understanding to have a better handle on how to influence (aka control) the course of things the way we desire.
So being in control is almost wired into (most of) our brains. So HOW can one advocate ceding control? And even more counterintuitive – cede control to a CUSTOMER? The typical response is “Give the customer what he wants and he will take me to the cleaners”. The customer and the business game – zero-sum, opposing sides of the table – is the feeling. Despite all the co-creation, collaboration types of words doing the rounds.
We do much strategizing around how to orchestrate things, how to make customer interactions `prescriptive’ – so that we, as a business, retain control over the relationship. But if we pause a moment and go back to donning the customer hat isn’t what we are doing as a business completely at odds with what the customer is biologically coded to `dislike’? Are we likely to win in a battle against generations of human evolution?
If the objective is fostering trust and a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship we will be better off flowing with inherent nature. Better off sharing the reins of the relationship with the other – sometime driver, sometimes driven. And in the case of business, harnessing the collective experience and brains of consumers is more than likely to be of great benefit to the company at varying levels too.
What do we stand to gain from giving up some control in favor of customers?
Co-creating with customers leads to
- Access to wider variety & number of consumer insights
- More market-friendly products
- A customer group that evangelizes your product during go-to-market
- Avenues for driving customer engagement
- Higher customer satisfaction and loyalty
So where can co-creation play a role?
Successful business and marketing strategy is always built around customer preferences. So at the strategy stage, there is some influence the customer wields, though indirectly.
Some companies are moving towards co-creation in the true spirit of the term and directly opening out product design and other strategic elements to them. P&G with its Connect+Develop initiative that now contributes upward of 35% of new product ideas for the company and The Nokia Concept Lounge initiative which led to the creation of the cool Nokia8888 are examples.
A number of firms are testing the waters with involving customers in tactical stuff like advertising design – more as a brand connect initiative.
The area the customer is most directly involved with the brand, and values control is in service delivery interactions. When she is selecting, paying for or accepting delivery of your product. Using it, receiving service for it or disposing of it.
At this level too, configuring processes and interaction scripts such that the customer retains charge of how the interaction proceeds are highly desirable to create a memorable customer experience.
Technology has made it possible to offer a wide variety of choice to the customer in terms of how and when they contact companies (email, phone, live chat, mail). You can pay by cash or credit card or net banking and now, we even have the mobile wallet coming in. Pay upfront, or through EMI’s. Enabling travelers to choose their own travel destinations, activities they want to do, duration of halt are ways in which the travel industry is moving towards experience personalization.
The envelope can be pushed further with some cross-industry creativity – can you give me visibility on the shipment status of the product I ordered from you (like a courier service does with its delivery tracker)? You have the data. All that needs to be done is create a restricted-access front end. And you save me uncertainty. Depending on the product you could even use this to build my eagerness for it.
In a service faux pas can your recovery process give me options of how I want to be compensated? Can the airline that offloaded me offer me the choice of a refund or a hotel voucher or the next plane out instead of just one take it or leave it to remedy?
As the earlier mentioned blog post highlights, one of the ways to reduce customer stress is to give them a measure of control over the interaction. A flexible script makes for a more satisfied customer – after all, you are always less critical of something you have had a role in creating!
Where is YOUR business on the customer co-creation & ceding control scale?
Novice: Do you actively seek and incorporate customer feedback into existing products?
Pro: Do you involve them in product ideation and development?
Game changer: Do you help them create the experience they want from you in real-time?
Is that the best place for you to be? What are you going to do about it?
(Terragni consults in the area of Customer Engagement Programs and offers Customer Centricity & Customer Experience Audits that help businesses determine the health of their customer-facing processes.)