Get the Customer to Do More
Online check-in for flights is a great innovation. Instead of standing in line at the check-in desk I can select my seat and print my boarding card at the computer on my desk (or on my smart phone). For me, the passenger, online check-in offers time saving, control and convenience. For the airline it means less administration, fewer check-in desks and competitive advantage (I would rather fly with an airline that offers it). It is an example of a service innovation where part of the task has been transferred to the customer. We are seeing this kind of idea from all sorts of service providers.
Take health care as an example. Patients themselves are increasingly turning to the internet and to self-help groups. In the UK NHS Direct gives advice and help to approaching 10m people a year by phone and internet. This saves many visits to the surgery where people have to wait their turn to see a doctor. PatientsLikeMe is an internet based user group that helps people to explore their symptoms, conditions, treatments and research reports. They claim that by learning from other patients and sharing the user experiences you can take control of your illness. Kaiser Permanente is a health firm that supports diabetes sufferers. It encourages them to undertake self-diagnostic checks which are analyzed by specialists who then advise courses of action over the phone. New York medical center Montefiore has reduced hospital admissions by 30% for older patients by using sensors which enable doctors to monitor their progress remotely. The combination of monitoring, self-help and remote specialist support has the ability to deliver improved health and lower costs.
IKEA has become a highly successful furniture retailer using a model where the client does much of the work. Not only do you have to assemble the kits yourself but you act as store man when you retrieve the goods in their warehouse.
Another celebrated case is the crowdsourcing pioneer, Threadless, which is a company that produces T-shirts. It gets its customers to submit designs for new tops and then to vote to choose their favorites. Threadless then produces the most popular designs and unsurprisingly they sell well.
Take a look at the processes involved in the delivery and use of your goods and services. Break it down into a series of steps. For each step ask the question – ‘Can we get the customer to do this?’ If you can transfer part of the task to the client you might end up with a win, win – better for them and better for you. Just like online check-in.
Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, both published by Kogan-Page.