The best advice I ever received when I was looking to start a consulting business was this... "To guarantee success... find a need, and fill it."
There is no value in creating products or services for which there is no need. On occasion, an organization will come up with a game changing product and redefine a whole industry (think RIM in the early days - replacing pagers with email anywhere, Apple with its iPhone and iPad - bringing smart devices to the masses), but for the most part, the businesses that thrive are those who have found their version of finding a need a filling it.
It seems they excel at anticipating what their customers would need, and when. It seems they have almost put themselves in the place of the user, and walked through what a successful experience would be.
Interacting with these organizations is eerily intuitive. The website is informative, expectations are clearly defined, there are no unpleasant surprises, and if it is a product, you could likely hand it to a child and they would be able to figure out how to get started.
As you read this, I'm sure you are remembering your own experiences in dealing with companies offering this type of product or service. This may be anything from the great little restaurant you frequent or the car dealer you have bought a second, or third vehicle from because you loved the service.
But not all businesses are thriving.
There are far too many companies, service organizations, and manufacturers more concerned with products, and specifically how many of those products they could sell in the next quarter, than they are with the experience of their customers in interacting with those products.
No one will deny that Appley had made a huge impact with the iPad. Even if you are not an Apple fan-boy or fan-girl, you can't deny the device is simple to use. I can hand mine to my 3 year old grand daughter and she flicks and swipes like a pro to find her games and books.
I got an iPad for my parents (who are in their eighties). A week later, they wanted to buy a second one so they don't fight over who gets to use it. These devices have opened up a whole new world of opportunity and discovery from the comfort of their La-Z-Boy recliners.
And the beautiful part... I have spent mere moments providing them tech support. When you consider that I've had to help them with setting up almost every other device (i.e. their first computer, programming numbers into phones, setting up HD television, replacing the 8-track player with an iPod) this is almost a miracle.
In my role, I get to preview and try a lot of different devices, software applications, and computer hardware. I do have to say that much of it leaves me underwhelmed like the array of slate based devices that have come my way recently.
I also know that I would never, ever recommend that my parents use one of these other slate-type devices.
The iPad comes with the Apple ecosystem. The iPad, while intuitive to use, is like celery -designed to move the dip (or in this case the experience) from the bowl to your mouth. The other devices are like celery without the dip. The experience runs out of steam pretty quickly.
Steve Jobs has been quoted out the yingyang recently... but let me add one more quote.
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology.” (WWDC 1997)
So what can an IT leader learn from this?
It would seem that many of us in IT leadership missed the lesson on customer experience:
- We have a service catalogue, but have never defined what a successful experience would look like.
- We ask our users to use products and services that we ourselves would never use in our own department.
- We launch new technology initiatives without ever speaking to the people who will actually have to use the system.
- We get defensive when we are questioned about missing functionality or dismissive when new features are suggested that we didn't think of.
- And on and on...
It doesn't sound very nice to be a customer of this type of IT department.
But unfortunately many of our users have these experiences daily.
What is different, is that given the influx of personal devices and cloud based applications and services, that our users now have a choice. For example, Marketing departments can set up a contract with SalesForce.com and completely end run your department.
Don't think it isn't happening, or won't happen to you.
Let me suggest a New Year's resolution for you.
It's time to change the way IT is done in your organization.
Dust off your service catalogue, sit down with your team.
Take each of these services and discuss what a successful user experience would look like. It's not about what's most convenient for your team, but what would make the user experience the best it could possibly be.
Then talk about how you are going to make it happen in the coming year.
Then do it.
If you "start at the end", you are leveraging proven wisdom for running a successful organization.
(Special thanks to Doug Savage of SavageChickens.com for having a great licensing policy that lets me use one of his brilliant cartoons in this posting. Be sure to check out his site.)