A few years ago a lot of us expected people to walk around the streets wearing a Google Glass while receiving all kinds of information through a small interface in the top corner of the glasses and giving it orders by talking to it. The hype surrounding the Google Glass was big. I remember people wanting to pay large sums of money to get their hands on one and show it off. Fast forward to today, the picture is a bit different. If you were to walk around wearing a Google Glass today, you probably would be getting laughed at instead of being admired. More often than not, we have very high expectations of new technology. However, sometimes we just have to admit not all new technology is the expected game changer and might not be as disruptive as we hope.
The risk of focusing too much on implementing new technology
The way new technology is being hyped, especially in this era of digitisation, creates a risk for companies. The risk of focusing too much on implementing new technology for the sake of digitisation. This is enforced by a sense of urgency, or better yet, a fear of being late or even missing out. Seeing companies showing off the application of new technology during presentations at conferences or in marketing blogs creates the feeling of being behind the competition, resulting in an enforced drive to implement new technology as soon as possible.
“Just applying new technology should never be a goal in it self, it is just the means to achieve a certain goal.“
The result of this obsessive focus on new technology is the delivery of new high tech products and services which customers either do not care about, do not use or if consumed are not happy with at all. The focus on technology comes with the risk of forgetting that when it comes to developing new products and services, we should be focused on the problem we are trying to solve. The creation of new products and services, or in other words, innovation, should be done to solve a certain problem or to deliver a better solution than the one in place. Just applying new technology should never be a goal in it self, it is just the means to achieve a certain goal. In that sense, digitisation is an enabler. It enables reaching goals set by a company, for example, to provide a great customer experience.
Be where your customers are
One of the ways how digitisation enables companies to provide a better experience is that it allows companies to be where their customers are. APIs (application programming interface) are a great example of a technology that enables that strategy. APIs empower companies to expose their services and products to the outside world, outside of their owned touchpoints. Providing services on non-owned platforms is crucial if you want to deliver a hassle-free experience to your customers, allowing them to contact the company or do business with it without installing any extra apps or having to switch channels.
„Not forcing a customers to go to the channel KLM chooses for them and instead allowing customer to do what they want on the channel they want.“
A concrete example of offering services on non-owned platforms are the services that KLM offers via Facebook Messenger. Traditionally, if a customer would want to ask KLM a question he needed to call their callcentre, if a customer wanted to make a booking he would have to go to the KLM website and if the customer had a question at the airport he would have to find a KLM service desk. These are all examples of so-called company-first solutions, it is easy for the company, however, not so easy for the customer. Instead, by exposing the KLM services to the non-owned Facebook Messenger platform, facilitated by APIs, KLM can turnaround this company-first thinking into customer-first thinking by doing what is easy for a customer and not only what is easy for the company. Not forcing customers to go to the channel KLM chooses for them and instead allowing customers to do what they want on the channel they want. For example: a customer could chat with a KLM agent on Facebook Messenger to receive the lowest fare for a certain destination, the customer can immediately book that flight on the same platform and receive his booking confirmation, boarding pass and other documents in the same manner. A much more hassle free experience than continuously switching channels.
Recognise the customer and close the feedback loop
Allowing a customer to interact with your company on the platform of his choice is one step forward in providing a better customer experience, recognising the customer is another. Wouldn’t it be great if your returning high value customers are recognised and their preferences are known when interacting with the company? Here lies a second enabler role of digitisation to offer a better customer experience. By combining customer data sources containing customer data and customer feedback, storing it in a central data lake, building services on top of it and exposing that information to customer facing teams equipped with the right equipment such as tablet the company can better solve the customers’ problems. Imagine a customer just left a negative comment on social media about KLM due to a negative experience he had with the company such as the delay of a flight. If during the next flight of this customer the staff can see on their tablet that a customer on a certain seat had this problem they can talk to him, help him to be on time for a connecting flight or possibly even book him onto a later connecting flight if necessary. Here, digitisation helps the company to recognise the customer, act quicker and close the feedback loop.
The most common failures by developing new products and services
These examples of how digitisation helped KLM to improve the customer experience may sound positive, and most stories you’ll read or hear about applying new technology are positive. However, the truth is that not all new products and services are a success, they die a silent death, like the Google Glass. Causes vary. For some products the problem was that they were developed putting the needs of the company instead of those of the customer first, resulting in a product that will not be used by customers. In other cases there was a mismatch between how a company thinks a customer behaves compared to actual customer behaviour resulting in unhappy customers. Another classic error is the focus on trying to implement as many new technologies in the product as possible and overlooking if you are actually solving your customers’ problems. And even if we get it all right, we put the customer and his problems first and we have a good understanding of his behaviour. Sometimes a product just isn’t getting the results we hoped for.
What we have learned at KLM
What we have learned at KLM is that we can never assume a new product will outperform the old just because it is powered by new technology or that a digital alternative replaces an analog solution. We have to prove, through experimentation, that it actually is better than the old. On digital platforms this is facilitated by traditional a-b testing and thanks to the digitisation of the offline world with technology such as beacons, we can increasingly experiment in offline environments while generating data to evaluate the performance too.
„No product development track is without risks“
While moving through an increasingly digitised world and delivering both great and not-so-great products in the past years, we at KLM learned that it takes a customer-first mindset, focused on solving problems instead of just introducing new technology to have a better chance at delivering successful products and thereby creating a better experience for our customers. However, no product development track is without risks. No matter how many brilliant developers, designers and customer intelligence people are working on the product and no matter how promising the applied new technologies. Sometimes a product or service just doesn’t work out but if you live by the mindset that everything you deliver is not necessarily better than what is currently in place and you rigorously test to prove it is better, you’ll be fine.
Marc Tollens ist digital analytics manager bei Air France-KLM.