Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become by Michael Schrage

Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become

RATING: 7/10…READ: July 25, 2012

The title says it all: Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?–All business, marketing, and design decisions should stem from this foundational question. Includes numerous examples throughout. The book is short and to the point. How Business books should be.

Get at Amazon


6 Key Insights on Who do you want your customers to become

Innovation is an investment in human capital—in the capabilities and competencies of your customers. Your future depends on their future.

Innovation is about designing customers, not just new products, new services, and new user experiences.

Customer vision is as important as corporate vision. Your corporate vision and mission statement should respect and reflect your vision of your customer’s future.

Align customer vision (what you want your customers to become) with user experience (what your innovations ask them to do).

If you can’t be your own best beta, find and design the customers who can.

Anticipate—and manage—the dark side of The Ask.

Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T was a fantastic innovation. But its biggest impact, by far, was turning ordinary people into drivers.

What is the Prius’s “innovation ask”? That auto owners become as ecologically correct and ingenious as the vehicles they drive. Toyota’s Prius literally and figuratively becomes as much a vehicle for eco-transformation as transportation.

Facebook asks its users to become more open and sharing with their personal information, even if they might be less extroverted in real life.

Amazon turned shoppers into information-rich consumers who could share real-time data and reviews, cross-check prices, and weigh algorithmic recommendations on their paths to online purchase.

Google asked customers to become people who wouldn’t think twice about spending a few moments to type in some words on their computer—don’t worry about typos!—and quickly scan the list of clickable links that instantly appeared.   The genius of Google’s innovation ask was making impatience a customer virtue.

Google is, indeed, in the search business, but its future success remains predicated on customers becoming better, more frequent, more discriminating, and more engaged searchers.

Siri’s company asks its customers to become the sort of people who wouldn’t think twice about talking to their phone as a sentient servant.

Starbucks asks customers to become sophisticated connoisseurs of complex coffees. Getting customers to appreciate coffee in all its forms is integral to the Starbucks value proposition.

Innovation should be treated as a medium and method for (re)designing customers.

The larger question—the “macro-ask”—is, if the customer were a product or a service, what would its most valuable and appealing attributes be?

Instead of debating how best to market, brand, or position their innovations, innovators should address how their innovations would best up-market, rebrand, or reposition their customers.

Jobs wanted customers to become as design-obsessed and detail-oriented around digital technology as he was. The ability of customers to embrace the values, craft, and quality of Apple design was essential to its success. Apple trained its customers to become design connoisseurs.

Where macro-asks are poetry, micro-asks are expository prose. Customers must “do” something to “become” something.

Simpler is better than complicated. Faster is better than slower. Responsive is better than resistant. Easier is (much) better than harder. These are design challenges.

“What kind of customers are our user experiences trying to create? Why?”

“How will making user experiences more innovative make customers more valuable to us?”

Standard marketing metrics like “customer satisfaction” are inadequate to this task. They measure past performance rather than possible customer futures. Aligning user experience with the vision of the customer should be the organizing principle for design.

Microsoft’s innovation asked for real commitments of time, thought, and effort. What did Windows innovation upgrades and updates ask customers to become? Experts. Microsoft’s complex—and complicated—flow of feature and functionality innovation asked customers to become students of Windows.

New kinds of digital media have created new kinds of customers. Web 2.0 innovation asks customers to become something substantially different from Windows XP.

When classrooms flip, teachers no longer formally “teach.” They tutor. They facilitate peer-to-peer study groups and encourage more advanced problem solvers to help other students. The dynamic is personal and interpersonal, not professorial. Classes become sessions where teachers assess problem-solving progress on a daily basis instead of via weekly tests and surprise quizzes.

What does Khan’s flipped classroom ask the student to become? As elf-paced learner who seeks mastery. A student who comes to class prepared to solve problems. A student willing to tutor, be tutored, or partner with peers to solve those problems. A student who accepts that mastery is demonstrated not just by test performance but by the ability to solve no fewer than ten consecutive problems. A student who must make the time and effort to study Khan Academy videos on her own and with parents and friends to make sure she understands key concepts and ideas.

What does Khan’s ask seek to make teachers become? A classroom facilitator and tutor to make sure students have the time and resources to work through their exercises. A willing monitor of digital dashboards that track individual student progress through the Khan Academy exercise sequences. A mentor who can effectively pair and/or team students to learn from each other as appropriate. Someone committed to helping self-paced learners gain mastery of their subject. A coach.

SUBPRIME INNOVATION: these innovations asked customers to become financially reliable homeowners who would dramatically increase either their cash flow or collateral assets within five years of getting their mortgage. Alternately, they asked customers to become homeowners whose property values would increase fast enough to ensure either an affordable refinancing or outright resale.

What are the downsides of what the innovations ask customers to become?

Does The Ask surface or exploit—rather than ameliorate—customer weakness?

McDonald’s fast-food convenience success provokes counter-narratives on obesity and excess. The proliferation of digital media produces backlashes on privacy, cognitive overreliance, and the commoditization of their customers. Pharmaceutical innovators come under fire for cultivating drug dependencies. Financial innovators find their computational complexity and sophistication declared predatory, exploitive, and too difficult to regulate.

What does the innovation ask your most profitable customers to become?

What does the innovation ask your “typical” or average customer to become?

What does the innovation ask your highest potential customers to become?

If the answers for these disparate customers are similar, then what makes the innovation distinctive? If the answers significantly diverge, then why—and how—does your innovation polarize what you’re asking your customers to become? Diverse customer segments often demand more diversified innovation opportunities to manage opportunity and risk.

Readers should recognize that innovation isn’t about an exchange of value at a moment in time but part of an ongoing investment in customers as appreciating assets.

They should stop looking at innovations as “solutions” to customer problems or delightful user experiences but see them as valued investments in who customers really want to become.