The Invisible consumer is (Also) the Hero of the Story

February 6, 2019 • ILE LAB • Richard Sheridan

Richard Sheridan’s comment on Boaz Tamir’s post, “The Invisible Customer is the Hero of the Story“:

Boaz –

I love the story, including the reference to Joseph Campbell.

I will encourage you to consider one additional angle over time… you may ultimately wish to refer to the consumer (or the user) as the invisible hero.

When I speak to corporate audiences I implore them to consider their “purpose” and I use the context of The Arbinger Institute’s Outward Mindset as the basis for my encouragement. Each organization should deeply consider two basic questions …

1. Whom do we serve?

2. What would delight look like for them?

I then tell them to take the three obvious stakeholders off the table: customers, investors and employees. Of course, we have to serve them … our customers provide our revenues and form the basis of our profits, our investors provide us the capital to build our capacity, and our employees do the work that brings it all together. We must serve all of them and bring them delight, too.

Yet, what of the invisible consumer of our products and services. The people who don’t pay us for what we do, yet use our products and services every single day?

For example, consider a life insurance policy. The consumer is the beneficiary of the policy (at the time of product maturation, the customer has passed away). The beneficiary will never pay the life insurance company, and may not even know who they are. Yet, when they make that dreaded phone call to the claims department, they are in one of the darkest hours of their lives as they have lost someone very dear to them, someone thoughtful enough to have wanted to protect them in the event of an untimely death. How will this consumer be treated? With empathy, compassion and understanding? Or as one company who came to visit Menlo realized in my questioning … as a potential fraudster. You see, this life insurance company had recently outsourced their claims department to an offshore firm and had instructed them that their number one job was to prevent fraud. One woman in the group literally had to wipe away tears as she contemplated what I had just confronted them with.

Consider the (now stupid) chip reading credit card machines (at least the ones here in the US). After 40 years of successfully using credit cards for purchases (some cognitive psychologists have determined that using a credit card actually registers as pleasure in the brain, and spending cash registers as pain), I now find I have become a stupid user when I go to make a credit card purchase. Do I swipe the magnetic strip, or insert the chip? I find I now have to ask to avoid the penalty box of doing the wrong thing. The screen blinks several times and, each time it does, I think the transaction is complete and I want to remove my card, yet the blink, the next blink, and the next all say the same thing “Please do not remove card.” Heaven forbid that I am “tricked” into pulling the card out too soon as that requires about a 60 second “reset” in order to begin the process again. So I leave it in. Then it begins an annoying beep to remove my card as if I need a final reminder that I am a stupid user who isn’t paying attention to the screens flashing by.

I have hosted credit card companies at Menlo in large groups and I tell them this story. They lament that this isn’t their fault because they did not create these Veriphone readers. I remind them that this doesn’t matter because to the consumer, the whole world is connected and I register this pain with THEIR product.

I have now solved the problem by using Apple Pay. With its new facial recognition feature, the transaction is completed by simply looking at my phone. I am back to a simple pleasure once again. Yes, I had to enter my credit card information once into my phone, but I am now completely dis-intermediated from their product. I never touch it anymore, I don’t have to take it out of my wallet, I never admire their branding and card design. Then I remind them that Apple has $300B in cash in the bank and I’m guessing they are lobbying to become a credit card company and one day we will talk about “credit card companies” the same way we talk about newspapers, travel agents, payphone, Kodak, bookstores like Borders and retailers like Sears. (I can make a poignant point here in the classroom space where I am delivering this message, because the exact space where we are now located in downtown Ann Arbor was once the world headquarters for Borders Books. Borders, founded in 1972, was the premier bookstore. Amazon launched in 1994. Borders went out of business in 2011. They had 17 years to figure it out. They didn’t. They couldn’t. They disappeared. They had over 1,000 stores and 20,000 employees.

Our High-tech Anthropologists® study users and consumers in their native environment on behalf of our customers to discover what would delight them and design that delight into the products and services we are building for our customers. In true “go to the Gemba” fashion we believe the only way to do this is to go out into the world and study the people we serve IN THEIR NATIVE ENVIRONMENT and begin the process with observation without interruption, long before interviewing them. We want to learn their vocabulary, their goals as human beings, their current workflow (and workarounds), we want to see the mistakes they make regularly (think of my credit card machine experience) and design those mistakes out of the system. It would take our team about one month to design a better Veriphone experience!

Thanks for getting me going on a cold (but warmer than the last few days by far) Saturday morning Boaz! Hope you are well!

Rich Sheridan
February 2th, 2019

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