I admit it. I’m an online shopaholic. My addiction started over a decade ago when Amazon delivered my first book right to my doorstep, painlessly and effortlessly. From there I progressed to flowers, gift baskets, electronics, shoes, travel and practically everything else. The major reason I got hooked was due to my overall positive customer experience. The web has come a long way since then and my expectations on the level of service delivered to me have increased, largely due to some innovative companies raising the bar. This discussion is about paying attention to your customer’s full lifecycle experience, not just product features, to develop true loyalty.
What attracts me to do so much buying online? These are the key elements: large selection, lower price, convenience, product information and customer reviews. I can often get much more information online about products than I can from the retail store. Of course, I have to give up something to get these benefits, and so here are my trade-offs: waiting for delivery, I can’t touch it first, returns are a hassle, and worrying if I’ll ever actually receive it.
Even with these trade-offs, the value for me has been significantly positive, largely because the best retailers go out of their way to reduce the negative effects of the trade-offs. They provide one or two day shipping (sometimes for free), lots of photos and descriptions of the merchandise, easy (and free) returns, customer reviews and testimonials and constant status of my order. Examples are Amazon and Zappos. Another site that isn’t directly retail but has provided me a great product experience is Orbitz.
Of course, life would be much easier if everything always worked out as planned, but that damn Murphy keeps showing up. Orders get misplaced, items are backordered, wrong items get shipped, items get sent to the wrong address, they arrive damaged, or sometimes I screw up by ordering the wrong thing. All of these are predictable events THAT WILL OCCUR in any normal business, and yet it is exactly the response to this situation that separates the excellent retailers from the also-rans and creates customer loyalty. The winners anticipate them and provide quick and easy resolutions to the problems.
What happens in your company when things don’t go right for customers? For most, a suboptimal customer experience is the rule, and is usually the result of neglect and lack of foresight. How many product managers or executives actually spend time directly testing their customer’s experience in dealing with your company? How many are testing their competitors’ experiences? While it’s common to do competitive testing on products, it is uncommon to test the full customer lifecycle experience.
It’s very easy to anticipate customer needs and plan appropriate solutions in exactly the same manner as developing a product….through user stories, scenarios and use cases, BUT FOR THE UNHAPPY PATHS along the entire customer lifecycle – evaluating, buying, receiving, installing, using, paying, supporting and repurchasing products. Where can things go wrong for customers, and how will you help them to get back on track? The challenge often lies in determining who owns this activity and whether it’s considered a cost center or strategic activity aimed at maximizing customer lifetime revenue.
As a product manager, your job doesn’t have to stop at the product boundaries, but can extend to solving customer and market needs through the full customer experience. This is a great way to show initiative and step up in your organization.
For some addition reading on this topic, see: