Getting (and Teaching) Your Customers to DIY

Its the journey and not the destination (courtesy of dadadreams)

What is the best way to capture your customer's hearts and minds?  How do you make them feel a sense of ownership for your brands, products and services?

The secret I think lies in getting them involved as much as possible.  Don't serve it to them all completed and garnished on a platter.  Instead, get them to do some of the work themselves.

In an increasingly turbo-charged technology-enabled world, powered by the ubiquitous web and hyper-efficient processes (SCM, ERP, CRM and others), consumers to exert increasingly less effort to consume  a product or service.  Communication technologies and competition have made everything available in the snap of a finger (or click of a mouse), 24 by 7, with a no questions asked money back guarantee.  If your pizza is delivered late by 15 minutes, you get another one free.  

The wheels of commerce are running so smoothly that there isn't much that a customer has to do anymore to get anything done (provided one has the cash).  While saving the time and energy of customers is a positive thing, it may also lead to the transaction experience becoming increasingly impersonal, cold and robotic.  Effortlessness could lead to restlessness and finally apathy as hyper-efficiency becomes commoditised.  

The way around this?  Get your customers to do it themselves.  Sometimes, the more they invest their personal effort and attention into something, the more they will relish its end result.  And love you for it too.

Just look at the popularity of steamboat restaurants in Singapore.  Why do they still flourish despite the need for customers to participate in the hot, sweaty business of cooking raw meats and vegetables, deshelling their own prawns and crabs, or cracking that raw egg into the boiling cauldron?  I suppose nothing tastes better than something you have personally scalded.

Recent phenomena like the make-a-teddy-bear business is another clear example of the value of involving your customers in creating their own products.  By investing his or her own creativity, ingenuity and perhaps sense of humour into that ball of fur, that cute cuddly animal will be far more real than one bought from the shops with the label "Made in XXXX".

Other examples of businesses that have leveraged on the power of Customer DIY include restaurants that allow you to make your own popiahs or pizzas, art and craft shops for kids, tailors (who will allow you to select your own fabric, styles and cutting), cake shops that allow you to customise your celebratory confections, and ice-cream or bread-making kits.  

The rise of Web 2.0 and user-friendly web applications and platforms like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Youtube have led to the growth of what some pundits called user-generated content (or UGC).  By lowering the barriers of entry to publishing and marketing one's own media-rich content online, social media has given rise to an entire army of "prosumers".  People are not just satifised with passive consumption - they want to actively produce something too.

A word of caution though.  Don't let your customers do the nasty and messy bits themselves.  While they may enjoy licking the cake bowl or squirting the icing on the cake, few would want to wash up after that.  Knitting a sweater from scratch takes a fair amount of work and few would want to do that, but allowing customers to create a beautiful pattern on the almost-compleed cushion cover may just do the trick.

Other than leaving your customers to customise their own products or services, you should also teach them how to do it.  I often find it amazing why the sellers of digital cameras don't bother to teach amateur photographers how to best use their equipment (many electronic retailers are downright rude and descending in Singapore).  Or why retailers of kitchenware (except for expensive equipment) seldom include cooking classes or to bundle a few simple recipes from the onset.  

In an age of increasing customer dissonance, it may pay dividends to get them back into the picture again as co-producers and co-creators of their final product.  And if they do not know how to fish, you should teach them how to do so. 

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