Designing customer value systems

A Customer Value System is a mental model I use to take a more holistic and strategic approach towards designing better user experiences.

The concept is based on the premise that we experience value when we have been helped to reach a desired outcome and satisfy a need. To help us do this, we consume a range of products, services and experiences; which in turn are provided by organisations made up of systems of people, processes, capabilities, assets and many other components working together.

Organisations themselves are systems of systems and they exist in even bigger eco-systems of customers, investors, competitors, regulators and stakeholders.

With lots of organisations competing to help us satisfy our needs, the most successful are the ones that are able to design and optimise their systems to maximise customer value. More customer value results in more business value (revenue and relevancy); and a reinvestment of business value to find innovative ways to deliver more customer outcomes, helps to create a virtuous circle of customer and business value.

Naturally all this can become quite mind boggling, but thinking in terms of systems helps to provide a completely new perspective on the way things work. Here are some thoughts:

  • Cause and effect – Changes made in one part of the system will effect other parts and it is not always obvious which parts will be effected. A decision made by marketing to run a price promotion to grow product sales might help them meet their departmental targets, but it will also place extra pressure on production, and beyond that impact the procurement team’s ability to source enough raw materials at a viable price. Systems thinking encourages us to think outside our silos and work with a broader range of stakeholders to ensure we are aligned in our goals.
  • Links and connections – Systems are only as strong as the links and connections between their components. When those links are weak or completely fail, the customer experience can go very badly wrong. We’ve all experienced the frustration of being passed about from customer representative to customer representative when trying to complain about an issue to a bank or utilities provider. Should it really be our problem that the web-chat team use a completely different software system to their colleagues in telephone support and are unable to simply transfer us to them?
  • Customer journey – Shock, horror!!! Customer’s lives don’t revolve around our products and services. In fact using our innovative, shiny new widget is just one small part  of the customer’s journey to reach a better version of themselves. By understanding the wider context of the customer and what they are trying to achieve, we can offer better solutions to their needs.
  • We cannot control systems, we can only influence them – No person in the organisation, not even the CEO, can control the overall system. Systems can only be influenced by things like culture, policy, strategy and design. Old style command-and-control environments may provide a level of reassurance, but the reality is nobody really has overall control.
  • Systems thrive on trust – Systems that are built on trusting relationships require less contractual agreement and senior sign-off, allowing more agility, innovation and responsiveness.