Our overall brand perceptions are invariably shaped by our experiences. And loyal customer relationships can be severed in moments by a negative service interaction.
If you ask your customers what they think of you, your products and services, they may very well tell you. But what if the people using your products and services were the same ones that had designed them? How would that change their attitudes towards you, and what new ideas might the design process uncover?
It is the answers to these questions and more that superannuation provider, AustralianSuper, is starting to learn. Together with Deloitte, it has embarked on an exercise in the emerging discipline of co-creation – that is, working together with customers to design services.
At AustralianSuper, the co-creation process relates specifically to a revamp of its digital presence. And while the exercise is still in development, the strong response from customers has been promising.
According to AustralianSuper’s group executive for service and advice, Shawn Blackmore, the exercise commenced with the realisation that Australian Super customers wanted a more personalised experience from the fund’s website.
“We needed to go somewhere that would allow us to give more innovation and more personalisation and start to give an experience that matched what our brand was, but also what consumers were asking for,” Blackmore says.
It was in searching for a better Web solution that AustralianSuper came into contact with Deloitte Digital's Joel Lipman and team, and it was through engagement with Deloitte's chief marketing officer, David Redhill, and his team that the idea of engaging customers in a co-creation exercise was introduced.
The process began with the engagement of a large number of focus groups over a three-month period, involving both staff and customers. The basic question posed by AustralianSuper was: ‘How can we offer a user-friendly web service that differentiates itself in a cost effective way?’.
What makes the co-creation process different from traditional focus groups is that it only involves actual customers, rather than people selected from the broad community, and they are aware that their input will find its way into products and services they will actually use.
“We start with the members to find out what they would like to do,” Blackmore says. “We design it, then we then get the same user group back in to sign off and ensure it meets their needs. We then launch it and test it.”
Blackmore says the co-creation process has proven particularly useful in designing AustralianSuper’s new mobile application, which will be released later this year.
“We had a lot of pre-conceived ideas what a mobile app should look like and do,” Blackmore says. “And that was essentially all thrown out the window, because the members sat down and said they’d use none of that functionality, and it was not what they would expect from a super fund.”
Instead, members directed AustralianSuper to look more into the question of ‘what does it mean to be a member’, and to look to the employers that used AustralianSuper and the possibilities for a members reward program.
Blackmore says many of the outcomes would not have been reached had AustralianSuper simply looked inwards for ideas.
“Why would you try and do it yourself,” he asks. “You can tap in to many communities where you are actually going to have a lot smarter people, who are the end users, and will essentially do this for free for you - they will give you all these ideas.”
According to Deloitte’s Redhill, a growing number of brands are learning that their customers are very happy to help to co-create their own experiences with those brands. This includes Telstra, which has essentially recruited its customers into its customer service portfolio by enabling them to resolve problems for other customers.
“If the brand can insert itself between that good will of human beings without feeling that it is doing so for ulterior motives, if it can do so in a way that is authentic, then it can become a part of the conversation and an equal partner, rather than the facilitator,” Redhill says.
While the majority of AustralianSuper’s co-creation activities have taken place in face-to-face sessions, Blackmore says the goal now is to shift some of that conversation online. But fear of what members might actually say about AustralianSuper was one of the biggest points of resistance to the concept within his organisation.
“One of the biggest challenges internally has been the perception of opening up an online channel and asking for criticism,” Blackmore says. “There is a big concern about the risk. You have to have a pretty good policy to manage that, but a lot people internally were a bit nervous about even looking down that channel.
“But our theory was they are saying it somewhere, so we might as well invite it in and have a community where you can see it happening, rather than go on in a heap of other different communities on the web.” Blackmore says that now that AustralianSuper has commenced running online forums, it is finding ways to improve their effectiveness.
“That is going quite well, but there is a little bit of learning for us to use them better as well,” Blackmore says. “The use of storyboards and creative is critical because people want to look and feel and see how it works.”
The goal is to get to a cycle continuous improvement based on co-creation.
“Now that we have trialled it and seen the benefit of it we are going to ramp it up a lot more,” Blackmore says. “We want to challenge our model to go from fast followers to leaders online. Now that we have created a base and a foundation we want to move forward rapidly.”