“If usefulness is your first principle, you’re less inclined to get lost in your own jargon or legacy.” This comes from Mary Ellen Muckerman, who has just about 20 years of experience with Fortune 100 companies and big advertising agencies. She deals out two pieces of advice that maximize usefulness and through that, your ability to connect personally with the customer: evolve directly through feedback and evolve indirectly through observation.
Evolving directly through feedback would look a bit like Walgreens. They realized that they were no longer the leading drugstore, and decided that that needed fixing. So they built prototypes of the pharmacy and lead their customers through them on tours. The customers shared their fears and hopes about their personal health and from that Walgreens was able to receive upfront feedback. Then, they set out to redevelop their storefront. They’re now geared towards the smaller, daily elements of good health, and have brought the pharmacists out from behind the counters to really connect with the people.
They took in the feedback, and directly responded to it. However, this is not the only approach.
That’s because, as Steve Jobs famously touted, the customer is not always right. Because they aren’t 100% certain about what they want, Muckerman suggests that observation can do the trick, since direct feedback doesn’t cut it in this situation. If you want to truly respond to your clientele, look at what they are doing and figure out how to harness that in order to become even more useful to them. A great example would be M-Pesa. They realized that a huge amount of Kenyans were using the pay-as-you-go mobile phone cards as currency. Then, they used this observation as a sort of indirect feedback, and responded with a service that allows them to do transactions straight from their cell phones. As it turns out, 66% of Kenyans have used it at least once.
Instead of focusing so much energy on beating out the competition, Muckerman presents an alternative, which is really taking the customer into account when building user experience. She says it sounds common sense, but oddly enough customer usefulness is rarely at the heart of product, service and company design.
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