Swisscom also collaborates with customers at an early stage to develop products. This is done through openness and proximity. According to Frank Seifert and Thomas Robinson, Customer Experience specialists, companies need to be open to such processes – and give up control.
Customers are becoming more and more important in our economy. What does this mean for Swisscom?
Frank Seifert: Through the Internet, customers have total information and pricing transparency. In addition, they can have other customers advise them with their selection. Here, conventional marketing is becoming less and less effective. We want to work together with these customers to develop our products. Today, market research is no longer sufficient to find out what the customer wants. You have to observe how people live, work and enjoy themselves. If we involve the customers at an early stage, we can quickly make the right decisions and will not develop products that fail to meet market requirements, which can quickly add up to a lot of money.
Thomas Robinson: And brands will become even more important in the future. Previously, face to face, it was easier to establish customer trust. The challenge for companies now is achieving this via online channels as well. Whether a company discloses information openly – both positive and negative – can help to build up trust.
“Innovations come about thanks to proximity, which is why, with Human Centred Design (HCD), we ensure that a project team is brought together with the customer at an early stage.”
What do you advise companies to do?
Frank Seifert: It’s about developing offers and products with customers in their ecosystems. That means, get out there before you develop a project, observe the customers in the context in which the product will be used and then go back and move towards the solution gradually in development loops. A key question that you have to ask yourself here is: “Am I willing to get involved with this and can I handle it?” You can’t say: “I’ll just do a bit of co-creation with customers.” It’s all or nothing. Co-creation also means giving up some of the control. Either to customers or to partners within the ecosystem. If I try to control everything and interfere with the system, things get tricky.
Thomas Robinson: Customers are extremely sensitive when they are integrated into business processes. However, if products and services help them to be more efficient, live better or have fun, they are prepared to collaborate and are much more tolerant towards product errors, for example in beta versions. If we only involve customers in order to achieve our business goals, they don’t come back – and they tell others as well.
What exactly does co-creation mean?
Frank Seifert: You have to bring multiple perspectives into the product development process as early as possible. You implement co-creation internally, at the very least, by involving employees with various different perspectives from the start. It is best to involve your customers at an early stage, too, either individually or many via platforms. In both cases, it’s all about bringing in diversity. And innovations come about thanks to proximity, which is why, with Human-Centred Design (HCD), we ensure that a project team is brought together with the customer at an early stage. Then prototypes are built based on this knowledge, and these are then developed further together with the customer. This way, the development cycles can be kept short and the investment risks minimised.
What is meant by prototyping?
Frank Seifert: One thing is clear: the customer does not develop the product for me. Our task is to be the translator of what I observe and hear and what I believe the new product to be. To approach this, I need prototypes with which I can test the assumptions as early as possible. I need to be able to place something in the customer’s hand – that is extremely important. This could be anything that triggers a reaction in the customer, helps me and is cheap. I need to be prepared to discard prototypes and start again at any time.
What is the goal of an HCD workshop?
Frank Seifert: If we have succeeded in working together in a truly collaborative manner. I mean, if people are not just sitting in front of their laptops on their own, but we can create a working atmosphere together that coaxes out absolutely everything, is inspiring and fun. If we incorporate the most varied perspectives and, through this, can achieve better results. Design thinking is a key element for this, because it is methodically robust and ensures that customers are involved in the product development process at an early stage and that the end result is a prototype that you can test directly with the customer.
Which customers come to you with which questions?
Frank Seifert: If you look at how much influence is moving towards customers, this should really be of interest to all companies. And the digital transformation now concerns almost everybody. Many people still think that new business models like Uber and Air BnB have nothing to do with them, but this is wrong. Examples of current queries: help me develop an innovative product or to improve the customer experience. Or: how to develop your own skills in order to work in a more customer-focused manner. Our customers come from all industries, such as banks, insurance companies, trade, transport companies or the food industry.
Do you have a current example?
Frank Seifert: SV Switzerland, a catering group that operates staff restaurants, is faced with employees who are increasingly mobile and therefore eat at the staff restaurant less frequently. Thus, they came to us and asked how they needed to develop their offers and products to make them compatible with the new world of work. During the course of the workshop, a host of exciting ideas and prototypes were created. For example, together, we looked at which offer could be provided how, when and where, how it could be packaged and how the waiting times and payment options could be optimised. In addition, many employees are extremely busy with work and family and don’t have much time to cook. One idea would be, for example, to provide a self-made menu that employees could pick up in the evening before leaving work, cook at home and eat for dinner. Another idea is to set up a collaborative midday meal – in a relaxed setting at a table – with lots of large bowls where guests can create and eat as they like.