Designing for a better product experience

Leveraging digital to transform your core and extended product experience to better fulfil what your customers really want

This is a continuation and further deep dive into my earlier post on the 4 areas of transforming customer experience. As we look to customer experience design as a structured and customer-focused approach to digital business transformation, I suggested to break down the design effort in separate chunks, each having the potential to fundamentally re-imagine the customer proposition and end-to-end experience:
1) The core product/service experience — how digital can enhance the experience your customers have in consuming or using your core product or service.
2) The extended product/service experience — thinking customer end-benefit, how can you leverage digital to extend the total solution you are offering and provide a more seamless experience from the get-go.
3) The lifecycle engagement experience — how you can engage your customers in a more connected and personalized way across the entire product or brand lifecycle, taking a digital-first and omni-channel perspective.
4) The extended market experience — how digital can help you extend your core assets and capabilities to new markets and new customer experiences.

This post is a deeper dive in the design approach tackling 1) & 2), i.e. how to leverage the potential of digital to enhance and extend the core product proposition and experience delivered to your customers. Applying design thinking to the core product experience may ultimately lead to coming up with fundamentally new ways to deliver and capture customer value, and hence potentially fundamentally redefine your core business purpose and model and related brand promise.

Customer empathy: understanding the end-benefit and desired outcomes

Whatever the design outcome pursued or approach taken, the starting point is always with understanding your customer needs and use cases. Starting with leveraging digital (eg. touch points and channel interaction logs, data analytics, social listening etc.) to develop stronger customer insights into the what and why of customer behavior. But also adding the voice of the customer and feedback from front-line teams to build true customer empathy around their emotional and functional needs as well as the contextual use cases that trigger the end-benefits your customers are seeking. Your ability to ‘live the customer experience’ and be exposed to changes in use context and customer expectations due to digital and social forces will be crucial in redesigning your product or service experience.

In building empathy, it’s crucial to take an ‘end-benefit’ perspective and see to fully grasp the desired outcomes customers are looking for in using/consuming your product or service. E.g. customers applying for a mortgage are actually looking to finance the purchase of a new house. Seeing how you can add value to the end-to-end process of buying a new house by integrating disparate sources of information and looking beyond your current customer interfaces and interactions will allow you to extend your current proposition, while delivering and capturing more of value to the customer.

New customer expectations in a digital age

Todays customers are increasingly mobile and connected. They expect highly personalized experiences, instant gratification and exceptional customer service at every level. Starting with their very first unwrapping, onboarding or activation experience (e.g. OOBE — out of the box experience), to how they gradually discover new features and become a very active user or repeat customer. It forces us to think about how we can apply digital to provide a more personal and responsive product experience from day one. Looking at how we can impact distribution, fulfilment and onboarding in a way that gets customers to experience the magic as early as possible in the lifecycle. And developing new digital solutions to customer service and support (incl. self-and community support) to ensure they get the most out of our product or service.

Customers expectations often depend on the level of digital maturity (e.g. digital first vs. laggards). Digital natives are most demanding but also most open to adopt new digital-first alternatives. And expectations, especially for digital experiences, transcend industries. That means that the very best digital experience a customer has shapes their expectation for every company independent of industry.

Enhancing & extending the core vs. building digital-first alternatives

As your business and industry get increasingly digitized, new opportunities and challenges emerge which will force you to rethink how you bundle and package your proposition. At best, digital will enable you to enhance your value proposition, without fundamentally rethinking your role in the value chain. However more likely, digital will trigger you to look at your business in a much more modular way, with competition ‘deconstructing’ your one-size-fits-all proposition in often hyper-segmented and highly modular offerings. And as a result, empowering your customers to pick from the menu and create their own custom and highly personalized bundles from multiple providers.

As a result and in addition to enhancing your core proposition, you will need to assess how you will deal with the increased competition of fragmented offerings. One option is to join the fold and unbundle your proposition in modular, digital-first offerings, with a focus on delivering more segmented propositions to different customer groups. Or address the increased complexity of dealing with fragmented offerings by looking at how you can aggregate these into new and extended bundled propositions for your most valuable customers. Again, taking an end-benefit and desired outcome perspective …

Inevitably, as you rethink and rebuild your core product proposition, you will also need to look at your pricing models to deal with more modular or new custom bundle offerings. Explore and test new pricing frameworks that allow a more flexible alignment with modular propositions, and more effectively compete with ‘good-enough’ solutions: e.g. pay-as-you-go, freemium, subscription, …

Better together: ecosystem/platform opportunities

Whether going modular or thinking more end-to-end, you will need to rely on more intense and closer partnering with suppliers, vendors and service providers to provide better-together total solutions, incl. those you do not directly control. To deliver a seamless total product solution, you will need to look across the value chain internally and externally, including reinventing supply chains and distribution strategies (e.g. smart packaging).

Digital as a force multiplier removes barriers across the value chain and adjacent product categories. Some players may get bypassed as others will take on extended roles and explore direct-to-consumer market routes. Knowing where and how you fit in, and how you can capture a maximum of value will be one of the more challenging strategic reflections. Clearly the more you will be able to position yourself at the center of a new partner ecosystem and own the customer relationship, the more value you will be able to capture. But it requires a fundamental shift from a linear value chain (pipe) to a much more networked and participatory platform model.

Where you play and how you win: the rules of the game are changing

In summary, rethinking how you enhance and extend your product proposition given new (digital) opportunities and challenges will force you to address the core foundations of your company: where you play (which customer needs you address), how you win (unique capabilities and competitive differentiation) and why we should care (purpose). Digital transformation is not about adding (new, more, …), but changing the core.