This article ‘Co-Creating Future with the Customers’ was first published in Businessworld India. reproducing it here for the readers of this blog.
The other day I observed an advertisement for diamond jewelry on my laptop screen while browsing for some information. The advertisement was eye-catching and I clicked, to be engrossed in the world of beautiful earrings, gemstone studded rings, and whatnot. I am not a jewelry person but I was still tempted to buy some. I stopped and thought if I can really trust a website to purchase high-end products like diamonds or gold. Immediately, the woman in me took a back seat, and an innovation mindset got invoked. How would a business that is breaking into a new space handle the customer fears and make them comfortable with their offerings? In our age and time, this question applies to all new-age businesses like the above one selling a product online for the first time.
In such cases, your business itself has to become a research and testing ground for studying customers or consumers. Customers are as clueless about their behavior as businesses are. Remember the first time we ordered a book online and opted for cash on delivery (COD) and if this was also the first time the company was experimenting with COD. Neither of us could have predicted if, as customers, we would like it or not, what challenges will this experiment present for the service provider, and what new expectations it would give rise to in the consumer’s mind. It’s only after the first delivery would a service provider realize that doing it in a small neighborhood is fine but doing it scale would require technical innovations along with systems that ensure reliable bringing back of cash from locations across a big and diverse country. We may love it for we do not have to worry about credit card fraud and the risk is not ours until the order reaches our doorstep, but then we may struggle with the exact change every time an order is delivered. This may lead the digital company to think of ‘card on delivery, where instead of using your card at the time of ordering, we use it at the time of receiving and we can be happy collecting those credit card points for some freebies.
New-age companies, that is, companies that launch a new product or a service, or use a new channel to deliver the same old products and services for the first time have to make experimentation a way of life. They have to keep experimenting with their customers, keep giving them some new options and study their responses and reactions very carefully. Now, experiments do not come easy and can cost a lot, so there has to be a logical balance too. Most successful companies experiment using smart use of technology that help minimize the costs and the time involved. They usually pick up a small sample of their existing users and give them new experiments. Based on the response they either built upon the new feature or modify or reject it. This way the investments are made in creating products and services that have a base level of customer acceptance.
The part that is tricky is to decide what experiments to choose out of millions possible and thousands you think might work. This is where a bit of analysis can help. You can use the basic cost-benefit analysis, you can extrapolate what has worked in the past, you can look at the market trends and refer to market studies or engage in commissioning studies if need be. While there are many analytical and statistical tools at one’s disposal, successful innovators never undermine their own intuition – for what is intuition but a hidden data processing machine inside us that processes data on many different dimensions and parameters than our logical selves can perceive and program.
This is a process of co-learning and co-adapting as the companies and consumers together create a new environment. Businesses must remember this can be a slow process as we take the time to adopt changes even when we are a part of creating them. They need to give customers some time for this and can potentially use this time to smoothen the rough edges of their new product or service, to close any gaps that might exist, and to work on scaling it up for a bigger set of customers. This is like co-creating the future with your customers, as they like it.