Thursday, February 21, 2013

Product Management in Total Customer Experience



Today, the success of products is based on total customer experience - TCE.  As a product manager one has to look at all aspects of the product's usage by the customer and look at means to enhance the total customer experience.

In most products, there are six distinct stages the customer goes through when he buys a product:

1. Purchase
2. Installation
3. Integration
4. Usage
5. Maintenance
6. Disposal or Upgrades

Product managers will have to think through each of the six stages and optimize the product for enhancing the total customer experience. In this article, I will walk over the critical issues that every product manger should consider.

Purchase

Purchase of a product is never an easy decision. Only in case of few consumer products - there may be an impulsive purchase, but for most products, customers do think over the options, weigh in the benefits before they buy. So as a product manager, one has to look at customer experience even before customers buy the product. Here, I would like to take Apple as an shining example. Apple created a world wide chain of Apple stores  - where customers can walk in, experience the product, know more about the product and even test the product. Customers can ask questions and get clarifications.

Typically, purchase decision is influenced by:


  1. Product Demos - Customers want to see the product at work and solving real life problems . (or meeting real life needs). In case of enterprise products, customers would like to extensively test the product before buying. Customers would also like to see a live demo of the product to see how the product feels and works.
  2. Pricing or Total Cost of OwnershipCustomers would like to know the total cost of ownership - which helps them compare with similar products. Companies must address these issues upfront and make it easy for customers to purchase the product.

  3. Ease of Purchase. Customers would like to know where and how they can buy the product? Who the sales partners are? How quickly can they buy the product? How accessible and attractive is the place of purchase?

  4. Security of purchase. Buyer's remorse is quite common. Customers want to know that the product they are buying is genuine. Customers must feel safe when they buy and must not feel cheated. Also in case the customer wants to return the product, then customer must get an assurance of a full refund. If customer does not feel safe about the purchase, then he is not likely to buy the product.  


The ease of purchase plays a very important role in purchase decision. Product managers must address these issues by working with sales teams and ensure customers have a happy buying experience.

Apple & Dell are the best examples using the purchase experience as a differentiator. The Apple stores are classy and unique - which appeals to the buyers with a no-pressure sales. While Dell's online sales portal for customized PC's was a big hit with customers.

Installation

Once the product is purchased, then customers' main concern is how to install it?

In case of consumer products, the installation procedure must be simple and easy. Here again,  I would like to use Apple as an ideal example for ease of installation, while Linux is at the other end of customer friendliness.

Complex enterprise products will need professionals who can install the product for customer. Customers' experience during the install process: Timeliness, professionalism and no hassle installation adds immense value to the product.

Integration

All products work in an ecosystem. So customers look at how easy it is to integrate the product. For example, I case of cell phones - customers want to know which Apps are supported?

In case of enterprise software, integration with the existing ecosystems is critical. So customers are interested in knowing the ease of integration, cost of integration and time for integration. For enterprise customers integration of the new product with the existing ecosystem is a critical parameter. The entire user experience during the integration phase defines the customer expectations in the actual use/operations of the product.

HP's WebOS based TouchPad & Blackberry Playbook is a classic example of poor integration - which eventually led to its demise.

Usage

The actual User eXperience (UX) with the product play a big role in the overall customer experience. In case of consumer products - the ease of use is of paramount importance in customer satisfaction and repeat purchases. But also note that having a poor integration with the ecosystem leads to a poor user experience - no matter how great the actual user interface is. Depending on the actual user experience, customers may choose to continue using the product and even upgrade to a newer (better ) version or buy multiple units. So knowing the actual usage and improving the user experience of the product in actual use constitutes 80% of product management focus.

The customer experience during the actual usage of the product is primarily driven by: UI (User Interface), Functionality, Ergonomics, & Usability (Usability refers to the ease with which a new user can use the product) . For consumer products, Ergonomics and UI play a very important role, while for enterprise products, it is usually Functionality and Usability.  Training is often necessary to improve the usability of the product - so companies such as Oracle, SAP, Microsoft etc. have created extensive training systems to train the actual users.

In today's world, the software UX is increasingly driven by 'Touch" interface and intuitive use.

Maintenance

Maintenance of the product also plays an important role in Total Cost of Ownership and customer experience. All products need some form of  regular maintenance like routine oil changes in a car. Maintenance is often compared to sharpening of the ax blade - for better productivity.

From a product perspective, customer demand lower cost of maintenance and faster turnaround for all maintenance activities. This could mean - Push install which does not require user intervention in software or having on-site maintenance crew for industrial products.

Maintenance is one activity - where the customers come in close contact with the producer after the original sale. So this is a valuable touch point that can be used to collect feedback and take corrective actions in case of manufacturing defects. In the world of software, companies routinely release patches and service packs to deliver bug fixes and minor enhancements.

Disposal or Upgrades

All products have a definite life span and they have to be disposed after that. Disposing a product is often times just as complex as buying a new product - especially in physical products - Computers or industrial machinery. Increasingly, environmental regulations create challenges in disposing old products. So companies are offering a buy-back schemes to solve the problem for customers.

In case of software, the database generated by the software during its regular use will have to be migrated to new software - which is replacing the current one. The ease at which one can upgrade or dispose a product is increasingly becoming critical - so much so, that the buying decision is often strongly influenced by disposal/upgrade costs/efforts.

Closing Thoughts

Success of products is based on total customer experience (TCE) during the life cycle of the product.  As a product manager one has to look at all aspects of the product's usage by the customer and look at various means to enhance the total customer experience and thus increase sales and profitability.

4 comments:

Jimmy Jarred said...

Agreed. Success and growth of every business is completely based on customer experience. And you have nicely explained this fact in this article. This article is an awesome guide for all those people who wants to learn about this factor.
customer experience monitoring

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