First the process of co-creation will be defined, followed several examples of successful co-creations of the customer experience.
5. Customer experience is the brand and co-creation is the process
A firm that migrates to a service-dominant logic will move from selling a commodity to co-creating the customer's experiences. If you utilize the brand definition in the introduction portion of this paper -- a brand is the summation of a customer's interactions with a firm and their products and services - one must come to the conclusion that building a customer experience equates to building a brand (Prahalad, 2004). The job of a marketer becomes one creating positive encounters; encounters which influence the customer's ability, willingness and opportunities to co-create with firm. (Payne, 2009).
The process of co-creation is evolving. In 2004,Prahalad and Ramaswamy, describe the building blocks of interactions. To co-create, a firm needed to facilitate dialogues, create access to information, understand the risk-benefits tradeoff and be transparent in is business deals. In 2008, Vargo and Lusch created a model of value creations and service-dominant logic. It represented the movement from product focus to customer focus. It consisted of a circle divided into quarters and each quarter contained a different phase of value creation. Each quarter was labeled an internal or external force, which had impact on it. The pairs for each quarter are:
Upper left quarter: Co-create service offering & draw upon internal resources
Lower left quarter: Co-create value processes and networks & overcome internal resistance
Upper right quarter: Co-create value proposition & draw upon external resources
Lower right quarter: Co-create conversation and dialogue & overcome external resistance.
In 2009, Payne et al. built upon these earlier models to develop more complete model for co-creating the brand relationship experience. Being true to the service-dominant logic, Payne and his colleagues using an interactive research methodology, worked with senior level executive and their direct reports to create and refine this new model. The model has four elements to it: 1) the suppliers brand relationship processes, 2) the customer relationship processes, 3) the encounters between these two processes and 4) additional resources of brand knowledge, including customer to customer interactions, employee to customer interactions, stakeholders endorsements and event, channels and origination and then information about competitive brands.
Let's move from the theoretical to the actual. In interview with G. Piccirilli, a former marketing executive at AT&T, suggested that one approach to creating meaningful encounters is to establish a customer lifecycle, moving the customer from prospect to brand advocate. To do this, a firm needs to partner with an existing customer and prospective buyer to learn about their likes and dislikes at different points in the relationship. The company has a better understanding of their customer and can now create processes, which will satisfy existing customer and attract new ones.
For some products the purchasing process can be very painful, having cable services installed, switching to a new health plan and buying a car all come to mind. Customers prepare themselves to go into battle before they call the cable company, before select their insurance plan during open enrollment and when be set foot into a dealership.
Car dealers have a history of selling the same car at many different prices and because of this car dealers are thought to be the lowest form of human beings walking the earth. (Please note this isn't true of most car salesman, but there are few for which this description is accurate. This description was used to emphasis the hatred that some people have for dealers.) Customers walk into a dealership expecting to be cheated; car sales people have not earned the trust of the consumer and the consumer begrudges the thought of negotiating a price. The relationship of the seller and the by is natural flawed and complex. The customer wants to get the lowest possible price for a car and the dealer wants to get the highest price possible.
In 1983, GM set out to create a brand new automobile company. They assemble a team of talented employees and assigned them the task of creating an automobile company from scratch. They were not obligated to replicate or use existing processes. This team could design the company and its products and services in a way that would meet the consumer's needs.
When the Saturn Corporation finally launched its first automobile in 1990, it was evident that they had used a co-creation process. For example, Saturn asked people about their experiences in buying a car. Through the stories told by their potential customers, Saturn was educated on the aspects of buying a car that the prospective car buyer did not like Saturn then set out to improve the acquisition experience.
When designing the purchasing experience Saturn worked hard to make it pleasant. Dealers were trained to create a low-pressure sale environment. To eliminate aggressive sales tactics, many dealers put their sales people on salary rather than on commission. Saturn also initiated a no haggling policy: the price of a car was the price on the sticker - period. Consumers did not have to wonder if they got a good deal because all the customers got the same deal.
Improving the customer experience paid off for Saturn. Saturn lost $800,000 in 4Q90 of operations and only sold 1,881 cars. By the end of 1991, Saturn had sold 74,493 units and in 1992 sales reached 196,126 units.
One other thing that Saturn also did was to create a user community. In 1994, 44,000 Saturn owners and their families drove their Saturn's to the factory location to celebrate owning a Saturn. Dealers bonded with customers, customers bonded with Saturn managers and everyone walked away that weekend more in love with the Saturn brand. Image what Saturn could of done with this users community if they had the technology that exists today. (www.fundinguniverse.com, 2010)
In 1972, Bill Marriott, Jr. took over the role of CEO when his father stepped down from the position. Shortly after taking the helm, Bill set a goal of expanding Marriott's lodging business and selected a strategy of building a portfolio of brands that would provide lodging options to a broad range of customers. To facilitate this grow, Marriott invested in information technology. This technology was able to collect customer information to develop a sophisticated brand -- tracking studies and provide date for market segmentation analyses (Accenture, 2006).
In 1983, Marriott set out to create a hotel for people wanting the same quality of as a Marriott hotel but at a lower price point. Marriott hired a consulting firm to help them identify the needs of business and non-business travelers. The information was collected using both qualitative and quantitative research methods. The consultants did a conjoint study having business and non-business traveler make preference choices of seven different attribute sets, containing a total of fifty attributes. Marriott learned that "some business and pleasure travelers were dissatisfied with the current hotel offerings. Some hotels cost too much and offer features not valued by the traveler while others that cost less offer too few of the desirable features." (Wind et al., 1989).
Using this customer data, the consulting firm created a customer segmentation model. The information helped Marriott decide to create a new brand and included features were needed to attract customers who were not staying at the full service Marriott hotels. This early form of co-creation of the customer experience led to the launch of Courtyard by Marriott.
A.B. Bryan, Jr., the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Courtyard by Marriott contributing to an article describing the study, wrote: "In designing the actual product, the research allowed management to focus on the items customers wanted, and we avoided focusing on things important to management, but not important to the consumer" (Interfaces, 1989).
The success of using customer input during the design process, led the company to establish it as the way it would create future brands. In a 2005 interview, when Belinda Pote, SVP of International Marketing for Marriott International, was asked "What methods have you used to understand consumers in emerging market? She replied:
"We engage our associates in new markets to better understand behavior and customer needs. We undertake brand- tracking studies to find out which attributes customer place importance on when choosing a hotel and how we compare with our competitors in that market. We talk to our customers as we develop relationships with corporate companies and we seek out strategic partnerships to build alliance" (Babitch, 2005).
Her statement is perfectly aligned with the service-dominant logic and is consistent with the methodology used in 1983. Marriott International truly was a pioneer in co-created product designs.
On the current investor relations pages of the Marriott International website, state that at the end of the fourth quarter 2009, Marriott International operates or franchises 3,420 hotels, residences, services apartments and resorts totaling 595,461 rooms, including 12,891 timeshare villas world-wide. They currently have eighteen different brands which includes…