Do not be afraid of “cookie-cutter solutions” – but focus on the “piping”. (Episode 57)

Do not be afraid of “cookie-cutter solutions” – but focus on the “piping”. (Episode 57)

Interview with Raj Sadasivan, (former) Chief Global Digital Customer Experience and Innovation Leader at Schneider Electric.

In this episode of The Creativity Suite we are going to talk about creativity and customer experience. My guest is Raj Sadasivan, Chief Global Digital Customer Experience and Innovation Leader at Schneider Electric. (NOTE: Since doing this interview Raj has left the company and moved to another employeer.) Schneider Electric, as you most likely know, provides software, hardware and services for energy management. They have over 150,000 employees around the world.

Raj is a champion of the customer experience, and of building solutions around the customers needs. He spoke with passion about how so many companies focus on their products, services and solutions and how then try to sell that to their customers, instead of truly putting the customers at the center and build around them.

It was during our conversation around customer experience that we started talking about “cookie-cutter solutions”. Raj mentioned the danger of cookie-cutter solutions and that made me think.

As a non-native English speaker I like to look deeper into English phrases to see what they really mean. I, of course, had heard about someone having “a cookie-cutter approach” to something, and knew what it meant, but I did not fully understand the metaphor until I – during the conversation with Raj – googled “cookie-cutter”.

When I saw what it was a spark went off in my head.

The thing called a cookie cutter is that metal mold used to cut out shapes (like for example stars, hearts, circles, and gingerbread men) out of a piece of dough.

The cookie cutter makes it fast, easy and convenient to get a lot of similar looking pieces with the same size and form.

The downside, you could say, is that they all look the same. Or is that actually their advantage?

In one way they are a very simple example of automation of a process and of standardisation. They help a baker tremendously, so in other words they are a really useful little tool.

A “cookie cutter approach”, on the other hand, is when “the same approach or style is always used and not enough attention is paid to individual differences.” It’s something negative. A “one size fits no-one”.

But actually a cutter cookie approach is not wrong in it self. We just need to introduce a different layer on top.

Many businesses are right now spending a lot of time, energy and resources on automating and standardising their products. That is great, but that is only helping your company become faster and more efficient. It has very little to do with the customer.

That is where “piping” comes in. Piping is the personalising layer on top of the cut out cookie.

It’s in the piping of a cookie, as the baker puts on the icing on the cake, that he or she has an opportunity to individualise each cookie. When my daughter uses a cookie cutter to stamp out a heart and then write “I love you daddy” and pipe out an airplane in pink icing because she knows that I love to travel – then there is nothing in me which says “Why did she use a standard heart-shaped-mold to make me this message?”. All I see is her cute, personalised message to me written in icing.

The example with my daughter can be transformed to a company working with their clients.

As Raj said to me: “Everything that should be automated, should be automated”, and then he added. “and everything that should be individualised should be individualised.”

Companies seem to be obsessed with the first part of that statement, and more or less ignore the second half of it. And yet, it’s the second part that is crucial for customer loyalty. It should be“Customer Centric” not “Company Centric”.

I will go so far to say that it might just be the biggest blindspot in business.

This does NOT mean that everything that COULD be automated should be automated, or that everything that COULD be individualised should be individualised – the key here is the first “should” in the two statements.

Let’s look at some everyday services (Spotify, Linkedin or the McDonald’s) and how they could benefit from some piping,

Why am I not as able to change the look and feel of my music player in Spotify? (Many other software offer different “skins” for the user to decide what the user experince should feel like, and people have always loved to personalise their music players (stickers etc on Walkmans and boomboxes comes to mind).

Or why is LinkedIn not letting me as a user decide what my Linkedin feed looks like?

Or take the McDonald’s app that does remember my latest orders, but why can I not create a few “favourites” in the menu of what I normally order to easily get access to those items?

These are just three random examples, but the point is that the examples would all be “piping” – a personal, individualised, layer on the very top of the user experience creating this warm, fussy feeling as a user that this is just for me. (Behind that layer it can be all “cookie-cutter solutions”.) And as this works for simple products like the ones mentioned above, it would also work for most more complex products and services.

Raj explained to me how they had turned their customer facing web touchpoint at Schneider Electric from having multiple tabs with information about different kinds of capabilities to just one touchpoint where the customer could individualize what information/capabilities they were interested in and then only that relevant information/capability is shown.

I asked Raj: “What is the opposite of having a cookie-cutter approach?” and I really liked his answer – he replied: “To have a brain…”And then he added that the most important aspect when working with developing customer centric solutions is to be determined and persistent – as this mindset is very rare and you are bound to run into issues with people’s who’s initial instinct is to think of solutions from traditional company perspective. And the other important mindset you need is “focus” – to never loose track of the fact that you are building your products and services from the customer demands, needs and dreams.

Figuring out all the things that should be personalised and individualised for a user is a great way of thinking from a customer centric view point. The icing on the cake – or should that be “the icing on the cookie” – is that you will create products and solutions that your customers will just love to use.

That is what it means to have a “Piping mentality”.

Now the question to you becomes: What should be automated in your business. And what should you individualise?

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