• March 1, 2005
  • By Lior Arussy, founder and president, Strativity Group

Be a Bag

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How inclusive is your customer experience? Do you conduct the usual customer studies and allow customers to send you their thoughts, only to leave them with no real choice but to accept your terms? Or do you adapt to a truly participative model in which customers can determine what they want and how they want it delivered? The above headline is not original--I stole it from a brochure produced by Anya Hindmarch, one of Britain's leading handbag and accessories designers. What caught my attention and inspired me is that Hindmarch allows her customers to participate in the creation of their handbags by providing a personal photograph that is then expertly transposed onto one of her beautifully designed bags. Talk about customer experience! Unlike most companies, which define customer participation in product customization by providing a suggestion box, Hindmarch takes it to the next level. She invites customers to assist in the design process, and agrees to put her brand logo on these unique, customer-designed products. The result is a tailored, one-of-a-kind bag, together with the endorsement of a brand name. She allows every customer to be as unique as each wants to be, and steers clear of the one-size-fits-all bag (and experience) available everywhere else. Most companies do not mold themselves to customer uniqueness, and the experience they offer is generally a one-way street. These companies often devise a way they believe things should be done, and then they mold customers into their one-size-fits-all solution with very little opportunity for feedback. In Hindmarch's model, however, both the designer and the customer participate in the creation and fulfillment of the experience. Each contributes distinctive insight and skill. This results in a very individual experience for the customer, a one-of-a-kind solution not shared by others. The "Be a Bag" experience is participative, individual, different, and inclusive. A participative approach does not have to cause major disruptions to operations. Little things like allowing customers to determine their payment terms or the time of the month when you send them invoices will go a long way toward a participative, inclusive experience. And it's not just about being nice. You build barriers to defection and foster committed, dependent, long-lasting, and profitable relationships. You reduce your dependency on price as your only differentiator, and give your customers non-price reasons to remain loyal. Finally, you veer away from the commoditization trap of eroding margins and little perceived value. Inclusion of the customer in the total experience is far from where it should be. Stopping at surveys means stopping short of great potential. The more participative and inclusive you can make your experiences, the more addictive they will become to your customers. This is the next front of differentiation. It is far more than the message on your brochure: It is where true customer intimacy comes to life. The more invested your customers are in the experience, the less reason they will have to go elsewhere. The more participative the experience is, the more customers will pay. So go ahead--let them be your bag. Open the doors for your customers to be true participants in the total experience. You owe it to them and you owe it to your business. Lior Arussy is president of Strativity Group. He is the author of several books, including the recently published Passionate & Profitable: Why Customer Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (Wiley, February 2005)
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