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Business Advice

Advice to firms: Focus on customer experience

Consultant highlights need for companies to design service around customers' behaviour
The Straits Times - July 20, 2011
By: Joanne Lee
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Advice to firms: Focus on customer experience -- ST FILE PHOTO

COMPANIES should spend more time thinking about service design excellence as a step towards innovation, according to consultant Tim Brown.

Talking to The Straits Times when he was in town last week to speak at the Customer-Centric Initiative Symposium, he highlighted the need for service companies to concentrate more on customer experience to succeed.

He said: 'If you are leading a service company, the future of your business depends on building a passionate and loyal customer following. More than functionality and efficiency, you'll need to develop meaningful consumer experiences, a deep culture of service and a process for constant innovation.'

Mr Brown is the chief executive of Ideo, a consultancy that focuses on service design.

When asked to define what service design is, he said it is all about figuring out how to improve the experience that customers go through when they visit your business - physically at outlets or virtually online. Put another way, it is about going beyond socioeconomics and demographics, and designing around customers' behaviour.

'The very first thing on this service design path is that businesses should figure out how well they understand their customers,' he said.

Last year, Mr Brown worked with the Ministry of Manpower on how to make the employment pass application service better.

A question raised during this overhaul was how the ministry might inform foreign workers and local employers of the process in a clearer way. Another was how to help them navigate through its application process step-by-step.

The problem he identified was a simple one: Workers do not understand the communications. After the redesign process, he hopes the process is now 'clear, helpful and human'.

He also worked with Changi General Hospital to redesign and strengthen its orthopaedic clinic so it is organised in a more customer-centric way.

'Some services have a proposition which can be easily understood by customers, such as hospitality. But many services have inherent complexities: Financial services, health care and many government services fall into this category. It doesn't matter how great your offer is if your customers don't get it,' he explained.

One successful local company he hailed was OCBC. It was awarded the Crystal Mark on June 1 - the first Crystal Mark to be awarded in the financial services industry in South-east Asia.

The Crystal Mark was launched in 1990 in London by a British-based body called the Plain English Campaign. It aimed to get companies to 'remove jargon from all documents'. Since then, 19,000 documents worldwide have received the accolade.

Said Mr Brown: 'At the end of the day, the philosophy revolves around serving the emotional, social and financial needs of all the stakeholders in the mix: customers, employees, investors, partners and society at large.'



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