The period over which we use or consume a product or service can be almost instantaneous or it could last a lifetime. My requirements could remain the same throughout the experience, change or even be altered through the use of the item or service I purchase.
Many vendors make assumptions about how a product or service is used without actually observing the use experience. Alternatively, they employ expert users who simply never mimic the real world customer experience. This is perhaps the major reason why so many products are designed so badly.
Example: Software applications
For many years, I was the final quality control test user of our software. My job was to set out to break the product, crash the system or simply make it do things it wasn’t supposed to do. I would do things in the wrong sequence, put in the wrong data, not complete mandatory fields and so on. I would always find problems and these would then go back to the software developers to fix. Whenever someone complained about my results, I would respond with “better I find it than a live customer”.
From a vendor point of view, we clearly want a satisfactory user experience. Therefore, it is critical we understand what problem or need is being solved and how the product will be used or service consumed. We need to ensure, to the highest level possible, that our product or service matches the requirement, as this is the shortest path to customer use satisfaction.
Problem fit is the most critical of all elements of the customer experience. While other stages of the buying process might be unsatisfactory, there is little you can do if it does not solve the problem or satisfy the functional need.
At a minimum, the vendor needs to ensure that the contractual “fit for purpose” and “merchantable quality” requirements are satisfied. It is hard to imagine a happy customer if these fundamentals are absent.
Generally, the issue of “fit for purpose” is covered by a warranty, providing the product was used for the stated purpose. However, it is critical to ensure that you have a tight definition of what the “purpose” is, that this is clearly stated and available for customers to access during their information search and evaluation stages.
A product that is “fit for purpose” should actually solve the problem for which it was intended. The vendor should clearly state this in the product description.
We have little control over the customer who buys something for the wrong reason, makes assumptions about a product or service that we are unaware of or takes on something they do not have the expertise, capability or capacity to use properly or for the right application.
However, in anticipation that this may happen, the vendor should make information available during the evaluation stage that addresses as many of these issues as possible.
Basic product or service quality levels need to be delivered if an item is to satisfy “merchantable quality” standards. Merchantable quality relates to what reasonable expectations of quality a customer can expect given the price and the description of the product or service. This is often referred to as the “reasonable person” assumption. That is, what would a person off the street expect in terms of quality. A product that does not meet this standard should not be available for sale.
My satisfaction with my use experience will be directly related to my expectations prior to purchase, as well as the learning I experience as I use or consume the item or service.
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Generally, the less I understand about the product or service before purchase, the greater will be the range of possible satisfaction levels during the use or consumption period. Conversely, the more I know about the product or service before purchase, the more likely I will be to select a product which suits my needs and the more likely my use experience will result in a satisfactory result.
The level of satisfaction will also be directly related to the importance of the problem I am resolving and the price of the item, relative to my net wealth. If the problem is compelling and I fail to resolve it fully, I may end up being deeply disappointed if my expectation was that I would solve the problem. Even a partial solution may not be sufficient to negate my dissatisfaction.
On the other hand, a marginal problem involving a small outlay that results in a failure may simply be dismissed with a shrug, basically not an issue.
Clearly, the better the expectations are set, the more likely it is that the user experience will be positive. So it is worth the effort to properly position the product or service, including clearly defining the problem or need being addressed, the type of customer who would best fit the item or service and the type of experience which should be anticipated.
The use experience is the most critical of all stages of the buyer experience. As a vendor, you need to have an assurance that you are doing everything you can to ensure this is as good as it can be. You should periodically collect feedback from your customers on their use experience to measure their levels of satisfaction.
In reviewing the use experience with customers, you should find out whether the information you provided during the evaluation stage was adequate, accurate and in a form the customer could understand. Also you should determine whether the customer made the correct interpretation of the degree of fit given the problem or need being addressed.
You also want to evaluate their expectations against their use experience to see if the expectations were set correctly. This feedback will allow you to gauge to what extent you may be able to better influence expectations for future customers.
Lastly, you want to examine whether the product was used as you anticipated and whether it did in fact solve the need. Sometimes you will discover that your customers used the product or service for a need you did not anticipate. This may lead you to reevaluate the problems your product addresses or to better design, package or market the product to either encourage or discourage such usage.
The use experience is critical in achieving a reasonable level of customer satisfaction. Without it, we cannot expect the customer to repeat buy or to act as a referral source.
We always need to keep in mind the end game of repeat sales and referrals for our goal of continued growth and profitability:
- Can we be reasonably certain that our customer will have a satisfactory use experience?
- Are we confident that they would purchase our product or service again given the same set of need requirements?
- Can we reasonably expect that the customer would positively refer the product or service to someone else who expressed the same need?
Tom McKaskill is a successful global serial entrepreneur, educator and author who is a world acknowledged authority on exit strategies and the former Richard Pratt Professor of Entrepreneurship, Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia. A series of free eBooks for entrepreneurs and angel and VC investors can be found at his site here.