Risk and reward

Work with customers

It’s so easy to make your customer into nothing more than a data field in your spreadsheet, but to drive growth, see them as people. The mantra that Aricent uses is “co-develop, co-design and co-innovate” so that they’re actually working with the customer to find solutions.

“Most companies have a map … so you know the route to take,” Nandy says. “We say we don’t have a map — we have a compass. We know which is north and south, but we don’t know the route. We’ll work the route together with the customer — that’s co-creation. … If you have a map, you won’t change the game. If you have a compass, you probably can make a new road and change the game.”

If you want to lead with a compass, then you can’t come off as a know-it-all to your customer.

“The compass thing happens in the area when you don’t know and the customer doesn’t know,” he says. “Both of you have an idea, but you have to start working in those areas of, ‘What next? What next year? What for the segment?’ It’s a way of self-discovery with the customer.”

The only way you can figure out which way the compass is pointing is to get in front of your customer and the competition.

“Typically you have to go to your customers and you have to go to your customers’ customer yourself, and then decide, with in-depth interviews and observations of what they’re doing,” he says. “You collect and come back and think them through, and you analyze, and through the analysis, you get your own insights and the implication of what’s true in your market or what’s true in your subsegment and so on.”

For example, by observing customers’ customers, Aricent noticed that people in their 30s and 40s, when asked to push a doorbell, would use their forefinger; however, people in their teens and 20s, who text message more prevalently, tended to use their thumbs.

“Those observations are what make you design things in a different way,” Nandy says. “That comes through observation, and you have to do that kind of thing, and it makes it very important.”

When you meet with people though, it’s important to get in front of the right audience.

“It’s not an issue of what you discuss, but it’s equally important who you start the conversation with,” Nandy says. “When you’re doing a discussion on what new features to add on, which would make your product gain market share, it’s probably with a product management team … but if it’s what new products to launch, what new services to offer, what new end users to address, it is probably a C-level — a CEO or chief marketing officer that you’re addressing.”

By talking to the right people at your customers and competitors, you’ll start to get a picture of what’s needed and the things that can help move your business forward.

“We get insights, insights lead to ideas, ideas lead to very interesting conversations with our customers, [and] customers come up with good ideas,” he says.

But with so many ideas coming in as a result of the conversations and research, how do you know which ones may be viable? Nandy says that you have to go back to your customers and explain what you’re seeing and present possible problems, solutions and ideas to them.

“Say, ‘Have you thought of doing this for your customers, or have you thought about launching this kind of product or service?’” he says. “They sit up, they clear their desk, and they call their team. They say, ‘Here’s some interesting discussion,’ so you stimulate that. If you get that reaction, you know you’re on the right track.”