TPG believes that you must clearly know your customer first before you ever begin new strategies for capturing and building a rapport with them. It all begins with the customer and how they connect with your brand, and the expectations that they have for their involvement with the brand. Is it consistent at every touch point, and is it expected.
Today in the US over 50% of all respondents say they will leave a brand after only one (1) bad brand experience, so it is far more critical than at any time that you focus on how you deliver to each consumer in unique ways that bring them closer to the brand. We can help you understand how to succeed in that strategy.
How to Mass-Customize Your Product
But the next task is to render different “treatments” for different customers, and in order to scale this process economically you have to reduce the need for manual intervention or constant human oversight. The automated process for rendering different customer treatments is called “mass customization.”
I want to be careful not to minimize the complexity of this idea, and Joe Pine‘s classic 1993 book Mass Customization still represents the Gold Standard in outlining the process, but the actual mechanics of mass customization are much simpler than most people realize, because it’s not really “customization” at all.
Think of how you can break down your production or service delivery process into different components, or “modules,” each of which can be combined with other modules to make up an individual product or service offering. By pre-producing dozens, or hundreds, of modules to be combined into different offerings, you may be able to render thousands, or even billions, of possible product-service configurations.
It’s important, however, not to confront any single customer with thousands of possible product choices, because customers don’t really like having to choose. A customer just wants her problem solved or her need met. Choices slow a customer down and generate friction in the customer experience. So to keep the customer’s experience as frictionless as possible, start with whatever customer insight you already have, and then walk the customer through as few additional choices as necessary to arrive at the correct offering for that individual.
In addition to a product’s physical attributes (size, color, etc.), there are many aspects of your overall product or service offering that can be tailored to an individual customer’s need, and they all provide opportunities for personalizing your treatment of a customer. Here are a few ideas you can use to brainstorm how your own company might be able to mass-customize its offering to meet the individual needs of individual customers:
- Configuration: Without changing the physical product itself, perhaps you could pre-configure a system to your client’s needs. Acumen Vitamins, for instance, are offered in pre-configured daily assortments, often including a dozen pills or more, based on a health questionnaire and an analysis of a single strand of the customer’s hair. So maybe you could ship your new phones with the speed dials preset to the customer’s specs, or with the company directory already installed.
- Packaging: How many variations of packaging make sense for different types of consumers or business customers? Would seniors want smaller, lighter packages with instructions in larger type? Would professionals like different or more detailed product information? Which customers would prefer multi-packs, or perhaps mini-packs?
- Ancillary services: Should the equipment come with regular maintenance or calibration service? Should the new car come with quarterly detailing, biweekly wash-and-wax, or automatic pickup and delivery when it’s time for maintenance? Should the warranty for your device or product be tailored to the customer’s own intended use, perhaps in terms of copies-per-month, hours-per-day, or miles-per-quarter?
- Additional products: What additional products contribute to meeting a particular type of customer’s need? This might involve accessories (story books with LEGO sets, insurance with automobiles, cages with hamsters, or sweat socks with sneakers). Or it could involve replenishable supplies (oil changes with automobiles, pet food with hamsters). Or consider offering high-volume customers a greater quantity than everyone else gets – a dozen bars of soap, five dozen golf balls, or a half truck-load of product instead of a single pallet.
- Pre-authorizations: Some B2B companies help their customers enforce preset authorizations to fit different corporate approval systems. Vice-presidents are allowed to order leather desk sets and unlimited paper supplies, for instance, while secretaries are pre-authorized for routine purchases up to $200 per month.
- Invoicing and payment terms: Are invoices sent at the convenience of the customer or at your own convenience? Are they developed in the most desirable format for a customer, or for ease of issuance by your accounting department? When you notify a customer by email that his bill is now available online, do you provide any other helpful information in the email (like total due, or due date), or do you make the customer log in to find this out? Do you anticipate cash discounts? Some buyers prefer smaller payments and longer terms, while others seek to forestall payment and are happy to pay the price.
When you’re considering how to treat different customers differently, think carefully about all the possible aspects of your product or service that can be customized. Think, also, about the mechanics of mass customization. You can do it manually for a while, to prove the value of the concept as a customer service, but in most businesses you’ll eventually need to modularize and automate the process in order to make it cost-efficient.