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Upgrade the Role You Play in Your Customers' Lives

Jan 17, 2008
Positioning your offerings to play a more central role is the heart of this article. Most organizations have defined their role in serving customers and beneficiaries in a much too narrow way. That's like an airline only offering to sell vacation travelers a one-way ticket.

Here's an example: One of my students wanted to develop a breakthrough solution for flying relief supplies in war-ravaged and drought-stricken areas. He initially focused on flight safety, on-time arrival at the landing strips, and other flight-related measurements. I pointed out to him that what he was focusing on didn't make any difference if the food, medicines, and supplies didn't rapidly get to the people who most needed them.

Responding to that observation, the student chose instead to see his job as supervising a system for delivering the supplies to those who needed them. This focus meant coordinating with those who trucked and carried the food from the airstrips and being sure that distribution methods were effective in refugee camps and other disaster relief areas. With that shift in focus, food and medicine began arriving sooner and in greater quantities for those who had the greatest need.

Here's an example from Asia: An organization had been providing wheelchairs to disabled people living in an institution for 10 years. During a visit by the head of the organization to check if more wheelchairs were needed, a young lady who was sitting in one of the wheelchairs shyly noted, "Mister, thank you for your help but we would like to work . . . we do not want to have to beg all of our lives."

That comment opened his eyes to what the real needs of the recipients were. Today, the organization also provides teachers to the institution so that job skills can be learned. Several people have been placed in office jobs where a wheelchair isn't a draw back, such as receptionist and typist.

With time, this shift in role by the organization will lead to an exponential breakthrough solution as those who need the wheelchairs become economically self-sufficient in respectable jobs and can leave the institution, thus allowing many more people to be served by the institution.

Let's look at another example. You probably remember Jell-O Jigglers, the gelatin dessert that was fun to play with. For the Jell-O team, that promotion could have spurred them instead into a new role . . . providing healthier, more playful food that parents and adults could prepare and enjoy together in portion-controlled sizes.

A look at other General Foods brands during the era when Jigglers were introduced shows what could have been done. Birds Eye frozen vegetables could have been diced to make components for Lego-like structures baked into tasty treats based on designs put into frozen vegetable packages. Feeding the dog could have been made into more fun by pressing the soft-moist Top Choice extrusions into amusing molds provided in packages.

Dry Jell-O Pudding could have been sold with containers suitable for filling with protein-reinforced pudding to make humorously shaped frozen treats. Vitamin enriched Kool-Aid could have been frozen into the same shapes using the same molds.

Sugar-reduced Tang could have come with recipes to make colorful layered breakfast drinks like dessert parfaits you see in fine restaurants. Stove Top Stuffing could have been reformulated to lower its glycemic load and made easier to pack in molds for making whimsical structures that would fit onto a plate.

New and expansive roles are often the right place to be searching. Organizations are moving in to take over broad areas of companies' and individual needs. The first enterprise to seek such an expanded role often develops a disproportionate advantage . . . if performance is good. Think of this expansion as similar to driving alone on a new high-speed autobahn while everyone else has to fight bumper-to-bumper traffic on expensive toll roads.

What do I mean by new and expansive roles? Perhaps someone is already playing each of the following roles. But whether or not anyone has done so, these potential roles should help you identify ideas that you should be racing down the innovation highway to provide.

-Life coaches who work continually with those aged 13 to 26 to help them effectively pursue their educations and careers.

-Divorce managers who facilitate the transition from marriage to becoming single again while helping ensure that parental and financial performances are optimized.

-Career enhancement marketers who help their clients decide on which skills to develop, which jobs to take, and how to manage a career track while obtaining favorable publicity for their clients.

-Supplier-design optimizers who work with your organization's suppliers to come up with new and redesigned offerings that will be more effective and lower cost than what you provide now.

-Community developers who establish best practice groups to provide voluntary expert help to your organization.

-Venture capitalists who invest in developing poor people with high potential.

Here are some questions designed to help you define broader, more valuable roles for beneficiaries and customers:

When and where are customers and beneficiaries wasting time or resources?

How can such waste of time and resources be overcome?

What roles might be accepted by those who need the most help?

How can adequate resources be obtained to provide these offerings?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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