Paddy Long    |     +44 (0)7835684851
Customer experience design
Work with me
If you can't package the experience,
you can't sell it

Understanding that services can be seen as products is a relatively new thing. Services, as in hotels, public transport and the mail have been around for a very long time and equally, so have products, as in computers, chocolate bars, TVs, stereos and many hundreds of thousands of other consumer goods. So why have services started to take-on the product description and why now?

While the word ‘product’ speaks directly to something that is produced, we also use it to describe something that is made to be consumer facing. For me, the word means something both produced and packaged so that a customer can choose if they’d like to purchase it, or not.

Customers usually purchase an object inside a packet, box or wrapper which tells them what the object is inside, the features and why they are valuable the user. In other words, the packet tells the customer exactly what they’re going to get when they start using the object. This same packaging principle should be true for service experiences too.

In fact an experience can be provided through so many media, including designed objects, environments, services and behaviours, that the different product types available today have diversified significantly. The experiential product has risen to fame especially quickly in recent years with the rapid evolution of ‘digital’ as a means to visualise services in more interactive ways than ever before. Digital interfaces are exceptionally good at collating and packaging the features of less tangible products such as internet packages and mobile phone bundles or more complex products with multiple features such as holidays and flights.

With a clean slate it’s comparatively easy for tech startups to adopt the product approach with the services they offer. By drafting a concrete set of features that aim to benefit users they can test the effectiveness of the product easily. The term Minimum Viable Product or MVP in itself represents a cultural shift towards productised services. If a young business doesn’t understand exactly what features they’re testing and who they are designed to benefit, it will be exceedingly hard to change direction when necessary or make the business grow, if by a stroke of luck, it’s successful.

Larger establishments that have been running successful businesses for decades but now face competition from startups, often struggle to productise their offer. For example, if you buy a train ticket in the UK, you know you can get from point A to point B, but the rest of the experience remains a bit of a lottery. You pay the same price whether or not you get a reserved seat, your experience can vary based on what kind of reserved seat you get (it might be next to the toilet, might be a table seat or an aisle seat with available options changing when you make the reservation) and you don’t know if there will be a buffet car or trolley service onboard, or what time they’ll be serving. Can you imagine buying a new laptop and the box telling you there might be 13 inch or 11 inch screen inside and that a mouse may or may not be included? My guess is you’d probably want to make sure you know exactly what you’re going to get, and if it’s not clear you’d buy another product.

At a time when the consumer is becoming more accustomed to understanding exactly what they’re going to get before they buy it, this removal of uncertainty is vital for service providers to remain competitive. It’s not a simple task and large companies often grapple with vast operational complexities which make it hard to offer every single customer the same experience. Sometimes however, these companies are so focussed on managing operations that no-one takes responsibility for managing the products. Without ownership, it’s very hard for products to take shape and for business to remain competitive. However, you can imagine that if an insurance company or bank were to list every single service feature a customer will be given, it might be overwhelming. Customers really don’t want to be bothered with long lists of things that are irrelevant to them. For example, a customer probably doesn’t care about the ceiling colour in a train unless it makes for an exceptional difference to their experience. What is important however, is to understand what customers value the most and to position product features around those core needs.

When companies understand what things different kinds of customer value, they can also tailor products (or service features) to appeal to different markets which would be impossible with too little definition around the service offered. Moreover, being able to package your service or productise it will give you much greater control over what you charge, when and to whom to maximise revenue. In this way the product approach can be used to bundle and unbundle different feature-sets that can be priced differently. However, exceptional care must be taken not to devalue an experience by creating endless bolt-on features or losing site of the core value proposition itself. It’s critical to get an understanding of what makes your customers come back to you over your competitors every time and set your product up in a way that encourages their return.

By putting an accurate definition around the experience you sell your customers, they will understand what they’re getting before they buy it,  have their expectations met when they use it and be more likely to invest in your business time and
time again.      |      Telephone:   +971 (0)552 665 794