Monday, February 8, 2010

Maximize value for your customers or they’ll leave. How to sell more.

The Empire State Building.
If you write a blog, the reader expects your social information service to be something they want to read. Many readers will pick up anything and discard it with the same randomness of inattentiveness as a channel surfer.

But there are those people who do have more of a need for related knowledge and are Googling about a certain topic like sales or marketing. They will distinguish the value of one post over another based on the relevance to them.

If you are reading this blog, then you are a customer of this information service. If you still watch television, you are a customer of the entertainment industry. And for many, the entertainment value of just having the television on to anything is sufficient. It could have been According to Jim, Knight Rider, or Cavemen and it would hold your attention for as long as Billy Mays could.

This is the second in a series of posts covering what goes in to making value through the help and guidance of Information Technology Infrastructure Library. In the future posts you’ll see:
The last post was :
Utility sufficiency

A television program only has to fill up the air waves to become sufficient to cover the functional part of the service definition. We’re not talking about how good the utility is of the service. It’s just gets us in the ballpark. The more functional and useful it becomes to us with a narrower and narrower expected flow of topical information or entertainment level, the better the utility.

A station that broadcasts about “The Life of a Plant” and then does nothing except show you a plant growing 24 hours a day is constraining its content to the bare minimum. You can’t argue that it’s not a television program. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol pushed the boundaries of sufficient utility in some of his reality films like “Empire” where he filmed the slow-motion shadows of the Empire State Building for over eight hours. Another incredibly boring and innovative film event was “Sleep” which showed a friend doing for eight hours what most of the viewers wished they could do and some probably did.

Other people in the minimalist movement of art pushed boundaries whenever they could to see where it broke. You saw white canvases, black squares, and even raw materials. Music gave us anti-art pieces from the 1950s on like John Cage’s 4’33” which consisted of absolutely no notes played on a piano. Remember that people still paid to go watch the event which shows that there is some value to it.

Utility constraints

As an information service or product becomes more focused on the customer, the more the customer is going to increase their perception of value. Just having lots of tweets to sort through doesn’t really help a person that wants to know what’s going on around them. To that person, seeing a huge pile of unorganized tweets constrains them because they now have to spend more time finding what they want.

Twitter was not providing enough value and other GUIs like TweetDeck and Seesmic came to rescue the overload of conversations. One of the best ideas they had which Twitter now uses is the tweet list, a device that helped provide more value to each customer by collecting folks to follow, without officially following them, in groups.

And now you can localize tweets by your IP and in mobile phones. As you start to eliminate constraints to your geo-sensitive customer, they find what matters close to them and your value increases. That’s why we will be seeing more and more geo-tagging of tweets on cell phones. Business services want to know where you are so they can talk to you at the right moment.

In television, value is added by increasing the viewing angles so everyone can see the LCD set with the same brightness removing a constraint. Radio plays to a constraint of enjoyment of music because advertisements annoy their customers. By packing songs in a long set, the total enjoyment is more than if they were broken up by ads every couple of minutes.

By decreasing the constraints, you achieve a quality product in the eyes of your customer. Darren Rowse often talks about blogging on his ProBlogger site. He recently enjoyed a great meal from which he found value and learned some blogging lessons. He found that his experience was in no way constrained to the dining room and extended to his house that night and the next day. The menu didn’t overwhelm the diners and interrupt the meal’s conversation. The restaurant walls didn’t stop outdoor aromas from being enjoyed inside.

Even Andy was probably interested in communicating that a film experience is more than what is constrained on the screen in the transition of light over the Empire State Building rather than showing a minimalist film because by the time you are cooped up with about 20 other people who paid good money to be bored to tears, you start yelling at the screen. That’s when the fun begins. The entertainment then leaves the screen and you and your fellow naïve underground film aesthetes start entertaining each other. John Cage’s 4’33” also attributed value to what was happening in a performance other than the piano sounds.

Utility consistency

I don’t like to take guests to a meal that I have bragged about having the best soup choices in the city and then go to find out that they only having variations on chicken noodle today. The chicken vegetable noodle may be the best in the city but you’ve declined in service performance from the expectations of the customer and thus, you’re not the soup king in the customer’s mind anymore. That variation is what causes customers to lose value and to seek another restaurant. They want a certainty that each time they get a meal, it will be delivered with as much satisfaction as the one before.

It’s important that if you tweet or blog, that the missives whether long or short are consistent. The subjects should be related. The numbers should be constant over a period of time. And the type of tweet should be the same. I like to create lists of people who are consistent and call them no-noise lists on Twitter. That means the tweets are on topic and few personal tweets confuse the flow. Here are some of my pet peeves for what gets a person knocked off of one of my no-noise lists:
  • topical tweets and then talk about where I’m flying next
  • good retweets and then some out in left field comment
  • no tweets for days and then 10 tweets in a row
  • tweeting a contest entry more than three times
  • news reporting on topic and then telling me about sleeping and waking up
Utility assets

The customer gains value when you add extra assets to a service. This increases the utility or functionality of the service and it shows up in the varied choices on your menu of products or services (the service catalog in ITIL). Performance increases by adding technology choices or assets to the product but customers don’t like it when the next product off the line has fewer assets even if they didn’t use them in the last product. Microsoft Excel doesn’t remove the macro even though the majority of the users don’t use it. They will detect a loss of value if it disappears. Remember to be consistent.

Increasing the number of choices in the soup line will increase the utility of the restaurant but will it make the customer happier? Actually yes, in general, because it raises the performance average. If one soup displeases you like the orange yucca delight, there are several other ones to keep up the perception of value. There’s a better probability that the variations on your services will please more customers. If you have the resources, you can offer soup to nuts and get more people’s expectations satisfied.

Expand your menu based on the assets you currently have. If you sell a basic product or service, you can make allegiances with other vendors to get access to other assets. You’ve seen the Ford/Eddie Bauer collaborations and foods co-branded between two manufacturers. Your expansion could be based on an addition of a web site that you’ve had all along that sells small applications that propels your little cell phone and your company into staggering profits like Apple’s iPhone.

So, you want to maximize your value before your customers leave to find it elsewhere. To do that, here are the four parts of utility that help you increase your total value again:
  • make sure you have the right stuff
  • eliminate what customers see as a restriction
  • keep your product/service constant
  • mix up as many variations as you can to sell
Get all those parts working for you and your product will be targeted right down Value Lane towards Customer Satisfaction Court.

Image via Wikipedia

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