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Rethinking Customer Engagement

In Flow Customers Are the Start Point and End Point

· FLOW processes

By Haydn Shaughnessy

The biggest challenges businesses face right now are scale, scope and speed. Successful companies are targeting markets of billions (Alipay, 2 billion customers by 2026); an unprecedented product or service inventory (Amazon Business added over 1 million products to its list in one year); and innovation at a rate unimaginable even a year ago (Skyscanner is targeting, potentially, 2 million updates to its systems annually).

The purpose of our book Flow is to address the cultural aspects of this type of high performance.

There are really useful articles out there on the complexity of moving to the kind of automated innovation model that Skyscanner has in its sights. In fact Skyscanners staff write about these. We are more interested in what it takes for leaders and teams to take on the scale, scope, speed problem.

Two more principles of FLOW

In FLOW we put visible work at a the heart of everything we do. The work is drawn from an emerging trend in software, some of it pioneered by Fin and his teams at Aviva and Paddy Power. We also discuss introducing visualisation into multi-layered innovation projects where the goal is to create new business platforms. By taking FLOW to the business side of the house in this way, by focusing all innovation around visualisations, we can create the bridge that IT and the Business needs.

Writing the book together has allowed us to outline a simple set of principles for how to create a culture for scale, scope and speed. We outline 12 in the book but two are really important:

  • All good decisions stem from good social interaction at work, therefore you need venues, visualisations to interact around

  • The collective intelligence of teams with good social interaction can shape and co-create work processes on the fly, giving unprecedented adaptability.

Scale, Scope, Speed

Many of the most exciting developments in innovation come from business platforms like Netflix, Alibaba and Amazon. The tendency in discussions about platform strategy is to believe they can be mapped out in advance, maybe based on others' experiences. You build a strategy and then you execute just like Netflix did or Uber did.

In fact it is the other way around. You begin to develop and execute a series of projects and these become the learning experience and strategic options that become your platform.

This can be difficult to grasp but conventional planning died years ago. We are in the age of continuous delivery and integration.

In Lean Innovation there is of course the idea of Minimum Viable Products that might or might not make it to market depending on the quality of customer feedback. However, in flow the focus of innovation is how we get things done as much as what we do.

Flow helps companies if they can grasp that:

  • They need to be be innovating on multiple levels simultaneously at a cadence they are not used to.

  • Strategy will be emergent; it will evolve as projects become clearer.

Multilayered innovation and the Customer Innovation Wall

Innovation has to be multi focused and multilayered. To begin, companies need to rethink their market segmentations. Even if they have good enough AI to address a market of 1, which is doubtful, they are going to develop their products and services for segments. Since social media came to the fore, however, segmentations have become poorer rather than better.

Segmentation used to be about demographics and gender. Now it is driven by personnas that I think create a disconnect between marketing and product/service innovation. Personas are crude. And at best companies will create four or five of them. They are driven by assumptions and are stand-ins for real segmentation.

On the other hand if you take social media seriously you can create dozens of new segments. I use Michael Hussey's Stat Social software suite to analyse hundreds of thousands of social media accounts that are relevant for a client. By looking at all the interests of a population of that size, many of whom will be followers, you can create segmentations that are truly enlightening.

What you see below is a customer segmentation that runs to about 40 categories - I can't show these for confidentiality reasons. The pages on the left are ideation sessions that I ran with the consultancy Collective Next and Jennifer Sertl. The ideation is designed to focus people on what assets they have that can help grow a platform strategy, what assets are missing and what that means in terms of seeking out an ecosystem of partners to get to the next level.

The Customer Innovation Wall is a way of saying "our strategy will be driven by the interests of the people we are serving". The use of visual techniques makes the Wall a venue for discussions about those customers and the assets of the firm and the ecosystem.

New levels of adaptability

There is some other magic sauce for moving from here to an initial project breakdown that sends work on its way to the Project Wall and KanBan Wall. Critically, in my view, the visual process is working in two directions.

It gives product teams a visual breakdown of a project (though more needs to be done to create the granularity that Fin needs), as well as making the link back to the customer visible for everyone to see; and it gives smart executives a real insight into the assets they have, the assets they need and the partners who can help serve customers in ways that really matter.

Why these principles are important is the adaptability they create but also that the adaptability is a co-created asset not one handed down from an authority.

Authority becomes what Elinor Ostrom called polycentric. In FLOW authority isn't owned by anyone. It emerges as teams grapple with issues and bring their own ideas to the development of new solutions. Of course that means there has to be a really strong process - and the strong process is up there on the walls continuously co-designed by the people using it.

The application of this concept in innovation is very important. Scale, scope and speed mean companies have to innovate more than ever, across more products and services, to deliver to much finer market segmentations.

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