How to Add Value for Your Customers

Aww… That Was So Nice of You!

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple, learn how to look after them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” (John Steinbeck)


In 1996 I encountered one of those life-changing articles in the Harvard Business Review. It was titled Value Innovation: The Strategic Logic of High Growth Companies, by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. In this article they defined “what separates high growth companies from the pack”, and came to the conclusion that the companies that were able to constantly and innovatively come up with new ways to add value for their customers were those that experienced the best profitable growth in their industries.

For someone who has a reputation for being very careful about spending money, I uncharacteristically booked a flight to Paris just to meet with these two authors, who were generous enough to give me a few hours of their time. Subsequently, they also published their best-seller Blue Ocean Strategy, which shared many tools and techniques for generating ideas for value innovation.

People in our client companies really struggle to be innovative in the seminars and workshops that we conduct, so eventually we decided to help them by identifying as many ways for adding value for customers as we could. This resulted in my book, (Rugby on Saturday is Just Not Enough,) but the list of 82 ways of doing so grew to many more as time passed.

They are listed here in the form of questions that companies can ask themselves when they get stuck. The first few questions are what Kim and Mauborgne call “The Four Actions Framework,” and many other ideas are also derived from their work.

As you would imagine, there are a few broad categories, and giving customers great service and memorable and/or personal experiences is one of them. Obviously, there is a broad category of delighting your customers through outstanding service. But there are others too: Adding value by “giving something for nothing” also features, especially when it’s something they can’t do for themselves. In other cases you add value by stopping or reducing something, or by identifying what gives them joy and doing more of that. You may also hunt down the frustrations and frictions that they hate and eliminate those.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you put together a unique “package” of value innovations that nobody else can offer.

Not all of the ideas mentioned here will work for you. For example, you may sell only to consumers (B2C) or only to other businesses (B2B), and some questions may be irrelevant. Or there may be some things that you can do which may be inappropriate in your industry. Nevertheless, even if only 70% of these ideas work for you, there are probably many possibilities for creating loyalty through added value. (The questions are not listed in any particular order, nor are similar themes bunched together.)

Value Innovation Questions to Ask

  1. Are you confident that your business get the basics incredibly right? Or do “dumb things” that should never have happened in the first place often go wrong? (This is the starting point of any decent customer loyalty strategy. Make a list of the top 20 frustrations, hassles, anxieties and difficulties that plague your business.)
  2. Can you reduce the price in some way? This is not always a good strategy, and in most customers’ minds price is linked to value. But sometimes you have to offer some kind of discount, and if you do so, make sure that it doesn’t “cheapen” your offer. After all, most customers – consumers and businesses – are under enormous pressure.
  3. As an alternative, can you keep the price the same but offer more value, especially things which don’t cost you a fortune? (See below for many examples.)
  4. Can you dramatically reduce, or even completely eliminate, things that cost customers money, or become their pain points, or make your products more expensive, more complicated, or diminish value for them? (Look especially at the things that your industry takes for granted, and which can be challenged by a new entrant.)
  5. Can you reduce or eliminate your customers’ time-wasters, or things that create time-related stress for them?
  6. What can you increase, or even create from scratch, that will improve your products, services, and/or delivery (or your systems and processes,) to add irresistible value to customers’ lives, or help them to be much better at what they do?
  7. Can you include your customers and understand their needs when you initially research, design and develop your products, services and systems? What would they tell you about their experiences?
  8. How can you make the customer welcoming and onboarding process more valuable and useful for your customers?
  9. Can you conveniently deliver your products and/or services at exactly the right time when customers need it, at exactly the right place, in the exact desired quantity, and in the exact condition that your customers want? If not, how could you do so?
  10. In businesses where customers traditionally buy and physically fetch, (or wait,) for their purchases, can you deliver products and/or services to them for a small fee, or even for free?
  11. Apart from delivery, what else can you possibly do at places convenient for your customers – like on their kitchen table at 11 o’clock at night, or in the middle of their annual holidays?
  12. Can you provide enhanced or special products and services for customers, (at a premium price, if necessary,) which they can use when they need to?
  13. What appropriate guidance and advice can you give your customers when they are “wasting” money, time or effort on something that can be done cheaper or better if they knew the possibilities? (What “shortcuts” can you show them to make them better at what they do?)
  14. What “unusual” payment terms can you offer different customers to suit their varying needs and preferences, (without making your finance manager grumble)? (Include discounts for early payment, extended payment terms to make it easier, or even selling smaller quantities to make it more affordable.) Could also include “modular” purchases that allow them to upgrade or increase as time passes.
  15. What growth opportunities can you create for your customers? How can you help them to make more money, or to sell more to their customers, or take business away from their competitors? (If you sell directly to consumers, ask similar questions.)
  16. Can you give customers support in the branding, marketing and promotion of your products and/or services? (Especially if you work with resellers of your products and services, such as agents, brokers, franchisees, or even retailers.) Extending this further, can you help them to promote their products and services better?
  17. Can you give support to your customers in the delivery and logistics to their customers? (For example, can you bypass their premises and deliver direct to their customers?)
  18. What training, advice, counselling or consulting can you give to your customers for their personal growth and development in their lives, or to increase the success of their businesses or their lives?
  19. Even better, how can you help them feel that they are making a good investment for the future generations in their families or companies? What are you building that can be seen as an “heirloom”?
  20. Asa special case of this point, can you introduce anything that has any therapeutic value or increase the well-being of your customers?
  21. Can you introduce your customers to your other customers or associates in order to strengthen their network, to form strategic alliances, or to benefit in some way? Also can they invite their friends and colleagues as potential customers to your business or your network? (You create an ecosystem of generosity, with you at the centre.)
  22. What other companies or people can you link with in joint ventures, or refer our customers to, that will complement what you do and create convenience for them?
  23. Can you create opportunities to innovate together with your customers in order to help them by offering new products and services that they long to buy? (Sometimes they may not know what they yearn for until you tell them or show them, but they will unconsciously know if you talk to them.)
  24. Can you use your knowledge, expertise and experience of your products, services, and other customers, to train your customers, or explain things to them in such a way that their own lives are transformed for the better?
  25. What intelligence or expertise do you have about their industry and yours, about suppliers and competitors, about various operations, processes, systems and procedures, which, if shared, can be of great use to your customers?
  26. Do you have access to information that your customers may find helpful or at least interesting? And do you give them access to that?
  27. What can you show or teach your customers regarding basic installation, maintenance, troubleshooting, repairs, or similar, so that they don’t have to call you out every time they have a problem?
  28. Can you totally customise and/or personalise exactly what products and services your customers seek from you? How easy is it for your business to make everything bespoke? (If that’s what they seek.)
  29. How much autonomy and freedom to choose can you give your customers in taking care of their transactions? And what can you do to help them with self-service if they want it?
  30. Can you gear up your business to be more responsive to the special needs of customers, to their crises and problems, and to their “mission-critical” activities? In other words, when things go wrong in their lives, how capable are you of identifying when it happens, and helping them?
  31. Are your staff able to deal with the emotional traumas experienced by your customers?
  32. What enhanced or special services can you offer customers that mean they don’t have to do certain difficult or irritating things anymore?
  33. Can you improve the physical packaging of your products to make customers’ lives easier?
  34. How can you ensure that customers and prospects have a positive experience when they first enquire about your company, products, services and/or systems? How easy is it to get information about what you offer?
  35. Can you make the place(s) where customers purchase your products and services more attractive and accessible? (Including digital places?)
  36. Can you make the transaction environment where customers interact with you and buy or use your products or services more secure?
  37. Can you improve the speed of all activities related to the purchase and delivery of what you sell to your customers?
  38. Can you improve the process of unpacking, storing and installing new products that customers buy from you? Also, can you improve your customers’ ability to store and pack the product when it is not in use?
  39. Do you regularly experience what your customers experience when they do business with you? How often do you go out and use your own company’s products and services, or go undercover to see what it’s like for your customers?
  40. Can you make it easy to maintain and upgrade products, services and information for your customers?
  41. Can you do your maintenance, repairs and upgrades without disrupting the lives of your customers, and/or at times convenient to them?
  42. If the use of your products creates “waste” or scrap in some form, what can you do to help customers to dispose of, re-use or recycle this?
  43. Can you make it easier for customers to dispose of the products that they buy, either in the form of some “trade-in”, or by taking back and replacing with something new for them?
  44. Can you make unaffordable and difficult-to-buy products and services more easily affordable for your customers? (“How can we make it affordable?”)
  45. Can you look across alternative industries, not only at substitutes for your products and services, but also at different functions and forms but with the same purpose? Does this lead to some new ideas for your business?
  46. Speaking of substitutes, can you add value for your customers by substituting part of the product, process or concept with something else. This could involve substituting materials, ingredients, people or approaches.
  47. Most industries compete within strategic groups. Do you understand what factors, especially along the dimensions of price and performance, will determine your customers’ decision to trade up or trade down from one group to another.
  48. In what ways can you create value innovation by looking across the chain of buyers: the purchasers, users or influencers of your products and services?
  49. What opportunities are created if you look across complementary product and service offerings, especially at customers’ headaches and frustrations? Are you able to offer them a variety of choices to meet their needs?
  50. What opportunities for value innovation are created if you looked across functional, (utility and rational,) versus emotional (feelings) appeal to customers? (This is the classic differentiation question: Is a Harley Davidson just another motor bike – or something deeper than that?)
  51. What opportunities for value innovation are created if you look across time, and the external trends that affect people over time? How will this trend affect your customers tomorrow? (Also ask, “What won’t change over time?”)
  52. What new innovative ideas can you generate if you observed and learned from other companies, other industries, other countries, or even other eras?
  53. Can you simplify your customers’ lives – physically, emotionally, and intellectually? (What complicates their lives and causes them to expend more effort?)
  54. How can you reduce the pain of your bureaucracy, (like invoicing/payment systems,) and can you give customers any “shortcuts”, (like discounts for EFT payments) to make life easier?
  55. Are your website, smartphone apps, and social media platforms designed to make it simple and easy to use applying the main principles and rules of UX, User Experience?
  56. Are your manuals, instructions, handbooks, menus, signs, contracts and other paperwork clear, easy to read and easy to follow? Do you avoid corporate on industry jargon that they are unfamiliar with?
  57. Do you use technology such as the internet, social media, YouTube, email, smart phone apps and text messages to add value for customers, (rather than to complicate their lives, or to use it only for your advertising and promotions)?
  58. Can you bundle and sell two or more related products and/or services together to make the lives of your customers easier and more convenient? In fact, you may even go so far as to integrate what you offer them into an “all-in-one” package like many digital platforms do.
  59. How often do you “live a day in the life of your customers” in order to understand what are their problems and headaches, even though it may have nothing to do with what products or services you sell them?
  60. Can you do anything for customers when they have to do repetitive, tedious, unpleasant or boring things over and over again?
  61. Can you help them to be more organised in their lives?
  62. Can you offer customers experiences where they can avoid busy peak times, or somehow help them to avoid crowds at busy times? Do you have the flexibility to serve customers at times when they want to see you?
  63. Can you speed up what you do for specific customers who are in a hurry? Is there a special till, counter, lane, or special queue?
  64. Can you shorten order lead times if they ask you to do so? (How does McDonald’s do it?)
  65. What can you do to reduce customers’ risks and sense of uncertainty? Can you help them with the dangers that they face, or costs associated with certain business risks?
  66. What legal, regulatory or legislative requirements and issues complicate your customers’ lives that you can help them overcome? What licenses and permits do they need that you can help them with?
  67. If there are critical dates or deadlines related to your products and services, what can you do to give customers timeous warnings and reminders about these?
  68. What warranties and guarantees can you give to your customers that will set their minds at ease – and demonstrate they confidence you have in what you offer? What else can you do to give them reassurance and confidence in your business, your products, services and processes?
  69. Does your “returns policy” help or hinder your ability to create customer loyalty? What else can you do?
  70. What would make your customers strongly desire to be associated with your brand, or to tattoo your logo on their shoulder, or boast about being your customers?
  71. Do you have a great corporate memory of special details and little quirks in your customer’s lives so that all your people are able to respond in a warm way? Can you even wish them “happy birthday” on their birthday? (Do you do so?)
  72. What can you do to make customers feel special and appreciated in some way, to demonstrate to them that they are “not just another account number,” and to show them that you are not at all indifferent to them?
  73. Customers love fun and memorable experiences. What can you do to create excitement and “entertainment” when they deal with you? What will make them laugh and remember your business with fondness for the next forty years, or even just put a smile on their face for a few seconds? Even simple little gifs or emojis can make a difference.
  74. How else can your business tap into the common positive emotions that drive loyalty? (Apart from others mentioned in this list, here are a few more to get you started: feeling loved, wanted, belonging, proud, nostalgic, (reminding people of something positive in the past,) clever, motivated or inspired, hopeful or optimistic, joyfully surprised, and much more.)
  75. Is there some way in which you can give your customers “I-would-have-never-have-done-this-myself,” experiences?
  76. And what is your equivalent of “Free Choc-Chip Cookies”? What is one distinctive thing that nobody else does that people will talk about to many others, and remember for a very long time?
  77. What can you do that will pluck at customers’ heartstrings, that will let them know that you truly and genuinely care about them – and the rest of the world for that matter?
  78. Do you have a unique or beautiful physical location, and/or physical aesthetics that make them want to visit you – just to have a break from the world? (Starbucks Coffee and Sam’s Mum’s Cookies in the reception.)
  79. In fact, how else can you improve the sensory appeal of your products, services and total offer so that it is pleasing to all of the five senses?
  80. What rewards, appreciation or celebration can you use to show gratitude to your regular, but especially to your best customers? (This is one aspect of typical “Loyalty Programmes.”)
  81. Is there anything that you are happy to give your customers for “free” that will really make them feel special?
  82. Are there circumstances when you are happy to waive standard fees that are normally payable by your customers?
  83. Or situations when you are happy to break the rules for them? (But don’t do this only when they are unhappy!)
  84. Would there be added value for customers if you occasionally brought them together in a “customer club” or a community? And why would they come?
  85. Can you give a community of customers a chance to discuss common problems, new uses, and possible enhancements or innovations for your products and services?
  86. Indeed, can you also find new uses for an existing product or process? This involves thinking about how the current solution can be applied to a different problem or context in your customers’ lives.
  87. Can you become a more “environmentally friendly” company in a way that appeals to customers?
  88. What can you do to give back to your community, and can you do so in the name of your customers? What can help them feel that they are helping other people, society or humanity at large, and leaving the world a better place?
  89. Are the people who work in your company skilled, knowledgeable, experienced, highly competent and world-class in everything that they do?
  90. Are all people in your business trained to spot opportunities to help customers even more, (and possibly lead to greater loyalty, retention, referrals and/or cross-sales)?
  91. Do the people in your business have access to the best tools required for the job, such as computers, software, mobile telephony, PDAs and other technology?
  92. Can you enhance customers’ experiences through the warmth, good nature, humour and positive attitude of your people?
  93. Can your people effectively deal with angry customers, manage the stress, insults, abuse and anger without “losing it” themselves, and use their skills to help calm frustrated and upset customers so that they willingly come back again?
  94. When recovering from customer complaints, frustration, difficulties and problems, do you have the ability to prevent future recurrence and take proactive internal action?
  95. Can you increase the reputation, esteem, eminence, admiration, standing and status of customers, not only within your organisation, but within their organisation, family, social or business circle? Sometimes we can simply increase the “badge value” to help them feel they have achieved certain status or accomplished their aspirations. (That’s what any canny loyalty programme can do effectively.)
  96. Can you help customers to grow and develop as individuals, to feel better about themselves, and to be proud of who they are or what they have achieved?
  97. Maybe a bit trivial, but can you do anything that can make your customers feel more attractive to themselves and to others, physically, in status, or in any other way?
  98. Do you have useful information that you can give to customers or let them access on your website?
  99. Do you communicate regularly and sufficiently with customers using a number of media such as newsletters, email bulletins, videos, meetings and similar?
  100. Are there any other structural ties that you can use to link you with your customers and that will add value for them?
  101. What do you know about your customers “other lives,” (like their families, hobbies, pastimes and holidays,) that you can use to add value for them when possible?
  102. What can you do to attract current non-customers to your business? Who are the customers that would not be traditionally able or willing to do business with us, but we can attract them because of the new value that we offer? What would make them say, “I’d kill to be able to buy that”?
  103. Is there anything you can do in your business to ensure that your customers see that they are treated with fairness and consistency at all times? (A sure way to frustrate customers is when they feel they were treated unfairly compared to others.)

And some bonus questions: These are meant to generate some creative ideas for you…

  1. Who do you want your customers to become as a result of your efforts?
  2. What if you did things exactly the opposite of what your competitors did them?
  3. What would make it impossible to make this in China for 50% of what it costs us?
  4. What if you had to do this for one-tenth of the cost that it takes right now?
  5. What if you could charge ten times as much as you charge now for this?
  6. What if you had to do this in one-tenth of the time it takes us now?
  7. What if we had ten times as much time as it takes to do this now?
  8. What would you want Oprah to say about you if you got onto her show? Why would a film-crew from the other side of the world want to come and record and report on your business?
  9. Is what you do fair, generous and makes you proud?
  10. What one thing could you do differently right now that would have a tremendously positive impact on your business? (Why aren’t you doing it right now?)
  11. What if all advertising in all mass media was banned tomorrow? How would you be able to communicate with customers about your value?
  12. What if Wal-Mart (or the world’s biggest company in your industry,) opened a branch right next door next Saturday?
  13. Do you have any solutions in search of customer problems?
  14. What do your competitors no longer do – but which customers would love if you could go back in time?

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