Beyond the bubble

Article by
John Lavack

Thinking about change in business during, and after, COVID.

Even when we had to stay within a ‘bubble’, life went on. Working, shopping, hanging out, and other human interactions.

Now, businesses are faced with some new decisions to make.

How to continue to survive and thrive while reducing contact? When you are thinking about how to adapt to less human contact, don’t forget your customer. You must still go through a conscious design journey or they will leave.

Learning curves

Steep curves

Think about human contact in business as a continuum. Some business models are better suited to one side of that continuum than others.

I once bought a tailored suit completely online. The experience was awful. I had to measure myself and input the data into an online form. Choosing the fabric, color and style by scrolling through an image gallery, not knowing if I had made a good choice… This doesn’t mean that this business model can’t work with different levels of contact, though.

When I got the suit, it fitted, but it was tight and uncomfortable. Turns out a tailor has a lot of skills I don’t. Part of their skill is to guide me through the process so that I don’t end up looking like a stuffed sausage. The quality of the product, service and experience depends on their skills. Skills I lack. The result was a poor overall experience and product. With how that business was set up, improving the experience is only possible by my gaining the skills of a tailor. A steep learning curve which I don’t have time for. I wore that suit only once.

Flat curves

Shortly after we shifted to level three I was able to order a contactless coffee from my local. I texted my order and got a pick up time. Payment was a bit awkward. The shouty conversation with the barista was enjoyable though. All in all I had a much better experience than with the suit. The only thing that bugged me was the payment activity.

Wouldn’t it be strange if they asked me to bring the coffee shot and only frothed the milk for me? This coffee experience was better because it was easy for me to interact with the business. Why? Not my typical coffee outing, but I already knew how to perform the steps necessary. The end result was independent from any technical skills I have or don’t have.

This got me thinking. What decisions do we make to create new business models and customer experiences? Particularly in the current post COVID environment. What does it take to think beyond the bubble?

What suits

Taking our COVID environment as an example, what changes can a business make to limit the impact of another Lockdown? Keeping this simple, let’s take the example of shifting the business online – wholly or partially. Shifting online for the sake of keeping your business operating is great, sure. A successful business alone, this does not make. At least not for all business models. To me, this is a question about business design. And to me, design is about creating meaningful relationships and interactions between the consumer and the designed thing. For our purposes, the ‘designed thing’ is a business.

The first question to ask is why do I want to make the change? Is there some new legislation I need to follow? A new competitor on the block? An event which has triggered some change? A mixture? For argument’s sake, let’s say I am a tailor business responding to COVID.

My reaction as a business is to move parts of my operation online and limit contact. I make an online store with a booking system to book measurements.

We are talking about a pandemic; what do my customers expect? They worry and have less trust in physical spaces they can’t control. This represents a risk to my contact driven business model.

To increase trust, I ask my staff to wear protective gear and get tested for COVID. I can also let customers know that everyone who works with me has tested negative. In this way I am reducing risk to my business by making things more certain for my customers. Now I also have a new business goal – maintain a COVID ‘safe zone’ for staff and customers.

Finally, what is the impact of the change? Another way to ask this is to ask what am I changing in my business model and what stays the same? What do I gain and what do I lose? How have my customers’ wants and needs changed relative to my business?

Here I’ve thought of the process, but not the customer journey. I won’t go deep on this. Instead let’s consider the last part of the interaction – payment. You’ve noticed that paywave is on the rise, and not having it makes some customers balk. For our tailors business, I will ask my customers to sign up and collect payment online. No need for paywave. This requires me to collect and keep customer data, like their measurements. New data assets for me to manage. I can take this as an opportunity to get to deeply know my customers. Now I have a lot of opportunities to build meaningful customer experiences. I can even buy customer data from companies like FitBit to make more tailored experiences.

I have changed from a retail model to a click and collect model. One step further and I could turn into a subscription based clothing service.

How have I changed and what stayed the same? I still keep stock and staff and need floor space, but now I also need to consider how to manage and use customer data. As a bonus, I now have the ability to adapt to alert level bingo with less risk to my business. How? I have built resilience into both the process and customer experience.

How to move beyond the bubble

The above example is really simplified to illustrate the point: there is no substitute for careful design of business models and customer experience. Especially when I want to delight my customers. The effort is worth it.

Thinking like this opens up new and novel business models. Extending beyond the existing models. Such as physical shop, click and collect, online shop, and subscription service.

Changing is never easy. Luckily, with some good analysis you can do what it takes to move your business from where it is to where it could be. And start thinking beyond the bubble.

John Lavack is a Business Analyst, student of mathematics and data-science, and amateur board game designer. He spends a large part of his time thinking, creating, and playing.

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