Nothing can be more frustrating and painful to a product manager than the prospects of seeing one's product or service at the crossroads of its slow down or demise.
In this case, you should have already taken note of indicators that you are approaching this crossroad.
Ufortunately for start-ups, they do not have the tools or the experience to anticipate this.
A Concept in Constant Evolution
A product or service is always in a constant state of evolution simply because the users of these products or services have needs that change constantly.
If you have a product or service concept that was designed with real customers(as against a perceived one) in mind, the evolution of this product or service will be seen.
A good product or service manager will be able to see it evolving from one stage to another or from one life cycle to the next.
If you got your eye fixed on the target, your customer, you will see their needs changing.
Consequently, you respond to these changes by either adding features to your product or service, or changing the product or service entirely.
If you started your customer service program around an offering with no clear product or service concept, you will find yourself in a perpetual state of tweaking your customer service programs without really knowing why some features work and why some don't.
You are the proverbial blind man concluding an elephant is hairy because you're holding its tail.
Now, how do you get your product or service concept right the first time?
You go back to knowing your Customer!
If you think you're doing fine with the way you're managing your customer service, you don't really have to do this.
Haven't you notice it's easier to compete when most of the enterprises in the community are doing their customer service wrong.
You win by just doing nothing.
Get Your Service Concept Right the First Time
Prior to creating the concept, you must have a very clear idea of what you are trying to do to your perceive customer.
Are you solving a really nagging problem?
Are you removing their "pain" so they can go on doing what they must be doing?
Are you helping them gain more profit or cutting down cost?
Do you know exactly how to solve a problem or remove the pain?
Can you see the process or procedure in your head as it happens?
Can you draw a rough diagram or flow chart of how the process is actually happening?
If you take the product or service apart, can you see how each part functions or leads to another procedure or process?
If you can clearly put the answers to these questions and resolve most of these issues, you now have the raw material to creating your service concept.
The Dimensions of A Service (or Product) Concept
The service concept can be created by effectively getting the right combination
of the following:
Features are descriptions or words we use to describe the nice things we see about our products or service we perceive is relevant to the customer or provide triggers in the mind of the customer of what is relevant.
A technical description of a product can be its set of features. Completion dates, duration of service, ancillary products delivered with the service can be the service features.
"Benefits" is the generic word we use to refer to the solution our service delivers or the things that ease the customer's "pain".
The benefits must specify exactly what pain is removed, how much cost is lessened or how much profit is gained.
If you are offering computer maintenance for example, the benefit of maintenance coverage is less downtime, no unexpected service fees, better management of maintenance cost, assurance of spare parts for the machines covered and full documentation of asset history and status.
All these benefits are not perceived by the same types of customers.
Users benefit by less downtime and assurance of spare parts.
Your customer's finance department will value the more stable service fees and better management of maintenance cost. Top management will be able to monitor computer assets for purposes of planning and deployment.
Deliverables are items related or part of the product or service that must physically be handed over to the customer.
It is important that deliverable items be use to mark the beginning and end of the delivery of a product or service.
Deliverables may come in the form of an official receipt, delivery receipt, warranty form, a gift, a coupon, or a report.
Your customer must see a tangible item delivered to signify the beginning and end of a service whether that service is paid or for free.
Components are functional parts of a product or service. In a product this could be very easy to see. It will be quite different looking at a service.
In a service, your customer must see you actually doing something for them.
For example, when designing a maintenance service you can probably break the
components of the service into diagnostics, preventive, and remedial service under a brand called Premium Service or Platinum Service.
Product or Service Brand
Your product or service brand is the official or formal name under which you will sell or market your product or service.
Today we generally refer to this as your product or service brand.
You must choose a name that will make your customer remember the product or service and tie that product or service name to you.
You can gain good leverage if the brand name you choose creates a picture in the mind of your customer of the benefits gain from your offering.
Your service concept is a creative combination of all of the above.
Your customer must be able to picture the value of service or product as it is being used.
The key is that there must be a picture or visualization of the features, components, deliverables working together to deliver the perceive benefits from using or consuming the product or service.
Get your service concept in writing. This is the only way to find out if everybody sees the same thing.
If you or your service team can't seem to agree on the service concept, how can you expect a total stranger like your customer to get a hint of what you're offering is all about.
Here's a hint if you got your service concept right.
Building Your Service Concept
Get your service or product people to work with your marketing or sales guys to come up with a product or service flyer or pamphlet.
Your service or product guys can probably define the components and features.
Your marketing or sales guys must be able to understand and visualize these features and components in their head.
Both of your product (or service) and marketing (or sales) people must agree on what exactly are the deliverables. These deliverables will constitute the company's "contract" with prospective customers.
Deliverables will definitely end up in the terms and conditions of your service agreement (or contract).
The next step will be to come up with the right choice of text and editorial style to convert these features and components into benefits.
Remember the section "The Customer" where the question "What does your customer need?" was raised to get to know your customer?
The benefits should directly meet the customer need!
If all your people seem to agree with what they're doing so far, then you have just nailed down your service or product concept.
Once you roll out a service or product, you need to keep tract of how the benefits are delivered or which of your products or services are performing well.
You also need to remind your customer what product or services are delivering the benefits they paid for.
You need a name to go with the product or service and tie this name with the benefits enjoyed by the customer.
You need to create a service or product brand.
This name is what you will commonly see prominently printed on brochures, handbills, flyers, streamers and pamphlets.
This is your brand.
I have helped develop service concepts for training, computer maintenance, climate control systems, retail, security services, and a number of product and service brands.
Unless customer service and marketing people truly appreciate what makes up a service concept, it will be very hard to weave and connect the many elements of customer service down to doable procedures or delivery systems.
The next post will be about your Service Process. Do log on again!