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Value Chain Marketing: Product/Service Attractiveness Pt 2/2



[Editor’s note: This installment is part of an ongoing series. You can start at the beginning in order to follow its logical sequence.]

by Kenneth Rudich

Actionable Design Techniques

customer experienceStarting with the customer experience and building backward while designing a product or service implies an ability to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”

Intimately understanding the concept of value from their vantage point improves the odds of becoming attractive and staying attractive.

Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the Museum of Modern Art, puts it this way: “Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.”

Phil Gilbert, general manager of design for IBM software, refers to this as a shift away from the engineering-driven user experience“features-first” ethos towards a more “user first” mentality.

“Design is everyone’s job,” he wrote in the company blog. “Not everyone is a designer, but everybody has to have the user as their north star.”

Immersing oneself into this process as would a designer speaks to the merit of possessing soft skills like empathy, intuition, active listening, astute observation, compassion, inclusion, collaboration, and an appreciation for the arts and humanities.

The goal is to kindle an emotional connection as though living in the skin of the user; seeing or anticipating what is needed and wanted — like the food server in a restaurant who’s acutely attentive and pleasantly surprises by fulfilling a need before being asked. This sort of accomplishment turns the unremarkable into something memorable.

Gilbert says IBM has developed a team of design researchers comprised of trained ethnographers with MFA degrees to conduct interviews and collect data about the real world nuances of the user’s experience. Ethnography is the study and systematic recording of human cultures; also: a descriptive work produced from such research.

He asserts, “The design researcher has been the most disruptive of the design disciplines we’ve brought in — and by far the most transformative.”

In an article written for online magazine Quartz, Anne Quito describes the vital role this team had served in one IBM project.

user experience“In a recent project, an airline approached IBM to improve its kiosks to speed up passenger gate check-ins.

While the engineers started by improving the kiosk’s software, designers went straight to gate agents to ask why the check-in kiosks weren’t used more effectively.

Designers found out that female gate agents struggled to keep kiosks charged because their constricting uniforms prevented them from reaching electrical plugs behind the machines.

By finding the root of the problem, IBM delivered a mobile app that significantly eased the boarding process and reduced airline costs.”

While this discovery appears at first blush to casually have been made by merely talking to the gate agents, it’s really grounded in keen observation — in this instance, probably a combination of self-observation and self-reporting based on after-the-fact personal experience, in conjunction with the interviewer’s ability to discern a larger pattern or trend emerge from among those interviewed.

This after-the-fact experience is an important distinction to take note of, especially when compared to asking or surveying people about what they think they will do before they’ve actually done it, such as in a “what if” scenario.

For example, did the gate agents agree beforehand to keep the kiosks charged, but then got discouraged later on by an unanticipated source of resistance? Did they say one thing at the outset but ultimately do another?

Expert advisors caution customer experience researchers to be wary of what consumers say they will do, or say they will want in advance, because experiential evidence suggests they’ll frequently say one thing but do another. This, for example, is a common occurrence with broken New Year resolutions.

customer experience designSuch sage advice stands in accord with the old axiom about actions speaking louder than words, which is why Consumer Experience Researchers like Tomer Sharon believe first-hand observation trumps the spoken word.

He delivered a keynote presentation on user experience validation techniques — ways to avoid getting mired in a mistake just waiting to happen (e.g., proof of concept) — at the Google I/O 2014 conference. It’s entitled “Perfectly Executing the Wrong Plan” (see video below).

You can find similar information about validation techniques by conducting an online search for the term “lean user research.”

These validation techniques help minimize risk, thereby saving providers and consumers alike from a heap of headaches, heartaches, squandered time and wasted money.

They also help with designing a product or service capable of fulfilling the potential to be truly attractive.

Had IBM failed to vet the gate agent’s actual experience, the problem with the unforgiving uniform may have passed unnoticed, insofar as it probably sat at the margin of the agents’ conscious awareness, not really suspect or thought to be somehow instrumental for solving the kiosk problem — like hiding in plain sight.

Without a concerted effort made to gather a full, complete and accurate understanding of the circumstance — by actively listening (or better yet, observing it) — the gate agents might never have thought to mention it or been given a chance to raise it as a possible deterrent to getting the job done.

And yet, the unveiling produced a pivotal and practical response for a better user experience.

Just as critical, the overall effort communicated a genuine concern for the user, both before and after the fix was implemented.

As communications experts generally recognize, people love to feel heard and acknowledged. From a user experience standpoint, this perceived rapport may have been the single greatest benefit of all.

Dynamic Attractiveness

Attractive is an unfolding, dynamic, ongoing learning process.

It’s about adding attributes to make it attractive or more attractive; subtracting anything unattractive or immaterial; always fine-tuning to strengthen the product-market fit — in other words, building a better rapport between them.

To be continued: Value Chain Marketing — Competitive


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