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Elements of Customer Co-creation

By Tojin T. Eapen

Co-created services, both in the traditional service industry and in product-service bundles, can be improved by integrating five key "experiential" elements: hyper-personalization, seamlessness, shareability, information specificity, and user empowerment. These elements are largely enabled by the use of new technologies, particularly communication tools such as apps.

Hyper-personalization refers to the ability to tailor services to the specific needs and preferences of individual users. This can be achieved through the use of data and algorithms to understand and anticipate customer needs, as well as through the use of interactive technologies that allow users to customize their experiences.

Seamlessness refers to the ability to deliver a smooth, continuous, and uninterrupted service experience. This can be achieved through the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation, which can help to streamline processes and eliminate friction points in the customer journey.

Shareability refers to the ability to easily share information, resources, and experiences with others. This can be facilitated by the use of social media, messaging apps, and other communication tools that allow users to connect and collaborate with one another.

Information specificity refers to the ability to provide detailed, accurate, and relevant information to users. This can be achieved through the use of data analytics, machine learning, and other technologies that can help to extract and present information in a meaningful and useful way.

User empowerment refers to the ability to give users control over their experiences and the services they receive. This can be achieved through the use of self-service technologies, as well as through the use of platforms and tools that allow users to customize and modify their service experiences.

Hyper-personalization

Hyper-personalization involves providing a highly customized service experience that is tailored to the specific needs and preferences of individual users. This simple concept has the potential to revolutionize service offerings by enabling businesses to differentiate themselves through highly personalized experiences.

For example, consider the case of a regular café where coffee is typically served without significant personalization. By applying the principles of hyper-personalization, it is possible to understand and anticipate the exact temperature preferences of individual customers. Many people have preferences for the temperature of their coffee, and it is common for coffee to be served slightly too hot or slightly too cold. With hyper-personalization, it would be possible to understand these preferences and serve coffee at the precise temperature that each customer prefers. This level of customization has the potential to significantly improve the customer experience and create a more loyal customer base.

John visits his favorite coffee shop and co-creates his coffee with the café. Steve, the barista, knows that John prefers his coffee at exactly 195.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on past data, Steve also knows exactly how much sugar to add to John's coffee. Steve makes the coffee and gives John a coffee warmer to maintain the perfect temperature. While at the café, John takes the time to experiment with combining different coffee beans to create a new flavor. He names the new flavor after himself and shares it on social media, inviting his friends to try it out.

A system of hyper-personalization can be made increasingly variable to accommodate the specific preferences of individual customers. For example, a café might learn that customer "X" prefers their coffee at 196.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 194 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Other examples of hyper-personalization include restaurants serving food based on information about a customer's health conditions, and personalized medicine using genetic information to provide highly specific drugs and treatments. In each of these cases, the goal is to provide a highly customized service experience that is tailored to the specific needs and preferences of the customer.

In order to effectively implement hyper-personalization, it is important to access accurate user information. While data analytics and "mining" aggregate information can be useful sources of information, it is unwise to rely solely on these methods. Over-emphasizing data analytics can sometimes lead to a surreptitious engagement with customers, where information that is not willingly provided is drawn out in a roundabout manner. This is not in the best interest of either the service provider or the consumer.

Instead, the key to the success of hyper-personalization is a desire on the part of both the firm and the customer to fully participate in the co-creation process. A high level of customization and personalization is often not possible without the consent of the customer, so efforts should be made to build strong customer relationships and encourage customer engagement in the co-creation process. By working together, firms and customers can co-create personalized service experiences that meet the needs and preferences of both parties.

Information Specificity

Service providers often do not fully understand or appreciate the value of providing timely, specific, and contextual information to customers. Service users frequently crave information that is not readily available to them. For example:

  • A shopper may want to know how long they should expect to wait in line at a store if they leave home at a particular time.
  • A customer evaluating medical procedures may want to know the success rate of a specific procedure on patients over the age of 80 who also take medication for diabetes.
  • A customer at a fancy French restaurant may want to know what a particular dish is, how to pronounce it, and what it tastes like.
  • A mother may want to know what other parents think about a particular play school for their son.

In each of these cases, the availability of specific, timely, and contextual information can be valuable for service users and can enhance their overall experience. Co-creation plays a vital role in the provision of timely, specific, and contextual information to customers. Firstly, it is important for the service provider to understand what information is highly valued by the customer. Secondly, while this information can sometimes be provided easily by the service provider, in many cases it will have to be co-produced. One way to do this is to tap into user communities and work with them to gather and share relevant information. By actively engaging customers in the co-creation process, service providers can more effectively meet the needs and preferences of their users. Consider the following scenario:

John is flying to Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport from Dubai and has a two-hour layover before his flight to New York. Unfortunately, his flight arrives 30 minutes late, which has him worried that he won't have enough time to reach his boarding gate at the right terminal. This is John's first time at Charles de Gaulle, so he isn't sure how long it will take him to get to his gate. He logs onto the airport app to get information about his location and the best route to his gate. The app tells him that it will take 25 minutes to get to his gate at his current speed. A member of the airport's user community suggests that he use the club car to get to his gate faster, and even suggests that he can stop by Saul's for a quick bite of their famous panini.

Some customers may value certain information made available in the context of a service highly, while others may not consider it important. For example, some customers may want to know where the ingredients for a product came from or whether a shirt was made in sweatshops. There are several research questions we can ask about this topic, such as: How does the presence of wrong co-created information affect the quality of a service? The answers to these questions can help businesses understand the importance of providing accurate and relevant information to their customers.

 Shareability

The third characteristic of co-created services is their shareability, which refers to the ability to share information about the service experience. In the context of co-created services, shareability can refer to two things: the ability to share imagery related to the service experience, such as photos or videos, and the ability to share the attributes of the service experience, such as descriptions or instructions, in a way that allows it to be recreated by others. This characteristic is particularly relevant in the age of social media, where people frequently share their experiences with others online. By enabling customers to share their experiences with others, businesses can increase the reach and impact of their services. Here is an example:

Maggie recently took her family on a trip to Disneyland, which she spent three months preparing for. She read online reviews and talked to several people to plan the perfect trip for her family. After the trip, she shared photos of her visit online. Today, her friend Ming mentioned that she is planning to take her son, Chip, to Disneyland on his birthday next month. Ming asks Maggie if she can share her itinerary with her, and Maggie agrees. She sends Ming her plan through the online planning website Acme. 

This scenario illustrates how co-created services can be shared among friends and family, allowing others to benefit from the knowledge and experiences of others when planning their own trips or events.

It is important to remember that a key characteristic of service is intangibility, which means that it cannot be touched or physically experienced in the same way as a tangible product. This is especially relevant when it comes to co-created services because they often rely on intangible elements, such as interactions with people or the overall atmosphere, to create value for customers. As a result, shareability becomes a crucial aspect in managing expectations for co-created services. By allowing customers to share their experiences, businesses can help others understand what to expect from the service and how it may meet their needs or preferences. This can help create a more positive and satisfying experience for all involved.

Seamlessness

Studies on service satisfaction often focus on individual services, rather than examining the interactions and transitions between different services. This can be problematic because a lot of customer satisfaction can be lost during the transition between services or at the boundaries between different services. For example, a customer visiting a hotel in a beautiful location might not fully enjoy the experience if they have to endure a uncomfortable bus ride to get there. To address this issue, highly co-created services should be seamless and take into account both the pre-service and post-service transitions. This means considering the entire customer journey, rather than just the service itself, to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. By doing so, businesses can help increase customer satisfaction and improve the overall quality of their services. Here is an illustration:

Grant and his family are planning to shop at Daisy, an upscale clothing store. They have recently purchased expensive computer equipment from a nearby store and don't want to leave it in the car, so they send this information to Daisy through the mobile app. Before they arrive, their personal shopping executive, Tim, calls to let them know where they can park their car. Tim also offers to keep their purchases, including the computer equipment, at the store until they are finished watching a movie. He tells them that there is a special discount for Daisy customers at the nearby cinema, along with chauffeur services and free food for purchases over $500. 

This example illustrates how co-created services can be tailored to meet the specific needs and preferences of individual customers, helping to create a more personalized and satisfying experience. One way to address the challenge of service transitions is for service providers to offer end-to-end services, but this does not always solve the problem. In these cases, service integrators and customer communities may be able to work together to co-create service experiences that link together the offerings of different service providers. There are several key research questions we can ask about this topic, such as: How can we measure the quality of a co-created service at the transitions between different services? How does the seamlessness of a co-created service impact its overall quality? Answering these questions can help businesses understand how to create a more cohesive and satisfying experience for their customers by considering the entire customer journey, rather than just individual services.

User Empowerment

User empowerment refers to the ability of a customer to fully control how they want to be served. This can include making decisions about the type of service they want, how it is delivered, and any additional features or amenities they may want. By empowering customers to take an active role in the service experience, businesses can create a more personalized and satisfying experience that meets their specific needs and preferences. This can be particularly important in the context of co-created services, where the customer plays a significant role in shaping the service experience.

Sam and Wendy are planning to buy a new car and have scheduled a visit to the local Universal Motors (UM) showroom. They log onto the website to customize their experience at the store and request a private test drive. Sam, an expert on audio systems, wants to know more about the features of the car's in-built music system, while Wendy wants to show the car to her niece Allie, who is visiting for Thanksgiving next week. They provide their requirements online, and UM designs a customized experience for them, including a meeting with an expert on audio systems. UM also allows Sam and Wendy to take the car home for a day on Thanksgiving so Wendy can show it to Allie. 

This scenario illustrates how co-created services can be tailored to meet the specific needs and preferences of individual customers, helping to create a more personalized and satisfying experience.

Sometimes, service customers prefer a curated service experience where they receive support throughout the process. In other cases, customers may prefer self-service options. This can depend on the individual preferences of the customer and the specific needs of the service. There are several research issues related to this topic, such as: What factors affect the effectiveness of curated service experiences? How do self-service technologies improve user empowerment in co-created services? Understanding these factors can help businesses tailor their services to meet the needs and preferences of their customers, whether they prefer a more hands-on or self-directed approach.

Designing a Successful Co-created Experience

When evaluating the quality of co-created services, it is important to consider both objective and subjective measures. Objective measures may include metrics related to efficiency and effectiveness, such as cost savings or time saved for the business or customer. Subjective measures may include customer satisfaction and perceived value, which can help capture the overall quality of the service as experienced by the customer. Ultimately, the success of co-created services will depend on their ability to meet the needs and expectations of their users in meaningful and valuable ways. This may involve considering factors such as shareability, user empowerment, seamlessness, service transitions, and the relational expectation between the customer and the business. By considering these factors, businesses can create co-created services that deliver value to all parties involved and contribute to the overall success of the service.

To learn how leading Fortune Global 500 companies such as ABB, Bosch, Google, Samsung, and NetApp have used Innomantra's Functional Innovation Methodology to turbocharge their idea management process, schedule a meeting today at calendly.com/innomantra.

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