Tag: data

Inviting Customers Into the Product Design Process

Customers buy in the modern world where expectations have changed, where patience is short, where exceptional service and delivery are expected, and where they expect things to be either value for money, incredibly simple or very fun. Satisfying the customers’ needs and expectations should be the driving force behind any product creation. Customers like being engaged, listened to and taken seriously. They like to provide feedback and solutions to help products become more user friendly. So why not take advantage of customers’ willingness to share ideas and experiences?

The process of design involving two or more people sharing ideas, is known as co-design. Customer co-design enlists the services, knowledge and ideas of current and future customers to design, develop and maintain a product, process, system and/or experience. Co-designing with customers is mutually beneficial. Customers will feel valued and understood. You will be able to design solutions that really work well for them, resulting in faster acceptance of new offerings and greater customer loyalty. By working side by side with customers, the people in your organization gain valuable insights into customers’ needs. By acting on those insights, your team gains faster adoption of new products, services, or processes. Customer service, an integral part of most organizations, is the first place to look for customer requirements and for customer co-design opportunities.

It is suggested that you proactively engage with customers and develop a customer co-design atmosphere. Here are a few opportunities to achieve that.

  • Form a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), where you recruit your most insightful customers to help identify and assess their and other customers’ unfulfilled requirements;
  • Incorporate the Voice of the Customer (VOC) into your organization’s culture. This entails encouraging customers to talk among themselves in focus groups, forums, social media etc. and observing how they offer solutions to each other’s problems;
  • Design the processes that impact customers to be more efficient and effective by understanding how customers perceive the processes and incorporating their suggestions for improvement;
  • Take advantage of the business network that supports your customers’ other needs. Your organization cannot provide everything that your customers need. Partner and collaborate with other organizations and your customers to provide all-round satisfying products and services.

The future of business competition and prosperity is based on the successful processes of co-design and co-creation, where customers play an integral part. The key to designing a successful product is to use customer co-design early and often. Give your employees, at all levels, the authority to interact with customers to obtain firsthand knowledge of what they would like from your products and how they would use it. The intelligence that you will gather from customer interactions will be priceless.

Solving Problems With Insights

I believe that often to solve a problem we need new insights. But what are insights? I’ve looked up this word in a number of different sources and this is what I came up with:

Insights are the hidden nature of things; the cause and effect relationship that is not obvious to the naked eye.

insights

That’s a bit abstract, I know, but my main takeaway from all of my research is that for someone to have had ‘insight’ into something, they must have seen something that the rest of us don’t see when looking at the same situation. What they see may not necessarily be the insight itself, but the situation may be sufficiently puzzling to warrant research until you discover the underlying cause: the insight.

I found that Freakonomics presented a good example of this. The authors described a situation where juvenile crime was declining despite experts’ beliefs that it would increase. The experts concluded that crime was declining because the economy was booming. The authors, on the other hand, studied the same data and concluded that the economy had boomed before and juvenile crime did not decline so something else must be at work. What they found was that years prior, legislation was passed that allowed women to have abortions. This was particular important for women that were drug addicts, or were social outcasts for other reasons, whose children often were the ones becoming juvenile criminals. The country had now reached a point where these children would be juveniles, but since they were never born, there was a significant decline in potential criminals. Without this insight, we may have believed that the solution to crime was to grow the economy.

So how is it that experts looked at the same data as the authors but did not get the same insights? My theory is that sometimes we see what we expect to see.

Consider this example: profits in your business are declining at the same time that the economy is in a recession. All over the news everyone is blaming lower profits on the decline in economic activity. So, you conclude that we’re doing the best that we can given that the economy is tanking. You looked at your data and you saw what you expected to see: a relationship between lower economic activity and lower profits. Unless the economy improves and your business does not, you may never dig deeper.

Or what about tourism in Barbados? We were told back in 2009 that the tourism industry was declining because of the global economic slowdown. We said okay, that makes sense. But here we are in 2014, the industry is still struggling and the global economy is not. What now?

So how do we know that what we believe to be the cause of a situation really is the cause? Test your assumptions. You may be right, in which case you can speak with more conviction. You may be wrong, in which case you dig deeper.

The unfortunate thing with this solution is that it assumes that you have the data you need to test the assumption. In our business example, if your business does not collect information on revenue by product, location, sales agent, etc. it may not be possible to see if for example you lost a key sales agent and that is why profits are falling. And if you only collect information on tourist arrivals by market and there is no further segmentation into customer preferences, you may never discover that closing a key hotel was the main reason why the number of tourists declined.

The data challenge is not only what is collected, it is also the length of time for which it has been collected. Few companies can boast that they have detailed customer and accounting data from the time they started the company. Some systems simply do not allow that type of storage. It’s hard to pick up patterns with short histories. Suppose your company existed back in 2002 when the world’s economic growth slipped in the wake of 9/11 but you have no data from that far back. How would you be able to tell whether profits slipped during the last recession too?

And so, here are my conclusions:

  • ‘Insights’ can only be ‘insights’ if they are correct
  • We can only prove that they are correct if we conduct the necessary tests
  • We can only test our assumptions if we have data
  • And that brings me to my fundamental challenge: how do we get new insights in the Caribbean with no data?

AE 2014 Research Agenda

Research is a big part of what we do at Antilles Economics. It is also one of the least understood areas of our business. In this post, I’ll provide more details on our 2014 research agenda.

We have split our research agenda into two categories: research for clients and research for knowledge building.

Research for Clients

Our research for clients falls under our Research Service and caters to clients that require more in depth, customised research. Prospective clients would outline their research needs and we would form a team and determine an approach to answer their questions. Clients therefore drive our output. I’ve noted below a sample of past topics researched for clients:

  • Determining the optimal organisational structure for a non-profit organisation
  • Determining the impact of legislative change on demand for pharmaceutical products
  • Estimating the economic impact of climate change
  • National financial stability analysis

To learn more about how to become a client, you can contact us at 246-253-4442 or

Research for Knowledge Building

Our research for knowledge building attempts to add to the body of literature on a topic of interest. Our usual outputs are journals and other peer-reviewed articles. But in 2014 we have decided to also make reports available to the general public on our website and via email to our followers. We have three main themes in our 2014 research agenda: Green Business Opportunities, Exploring the Use of Data and the Evolution of the Demand for the Caribbean Tourism Product.

We’ve been researching on the green economy and the economic impact of climate change for years. In fact, Winston has published a number of papers on the topic and was one of the main contributors to the Green Economy report for Barbados published in 2012. In 2014, we will switch our focus from the national impact of a green economy to the business opportunities inherent in shifting towards more environmentally conscious economic activities.

The second big theme for 2014 is the use of data in organisations. Every organisation collects statistical information, but not all optimise its use. Furthermore, many organisations do not systematically source external data. We thought it would be insightful to determine the extent to which data informs decision-making and prevailing attitudes towards data.

When we were developing our tourism forecasts, we noticed that in some markets, seasonality and demand have evolved. This shift has implications for how organisations dependent on tourism structure their operations. For example, maybe the timing and/or focus of large marketing campaigns should be adjusted. Or maybe temporary increases in staff are required at times outside of the traditional winter season. Once we observed these shifts, we were determined to understand more.

For this type of research, we would also welcome partnering with other organisations on topics of mutual interest.

AE Group of Influencers

You can also let us know what you would like us to add to our 2014 research agenda by joining the AE Group of Influencers. In keeping with our goal to be responsive to the needs of our clients and followers, we introduced the group in our first post of 2014. It’s a fabulous way to direct the reports produced by AE. Not only is it free, but it gives participants a confidential way to ensure that the questions they have on their market or profession are answered.