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Too many divergent viewpoints? Create a company avatar

It’s a common enough scenario: my company was asked to roll out a new banking product, the brainstorm of the large bank’s CEO who desired to better serve a minority client base (the hearing impaired). He said he understood that the roll-out would place far-reaching demands on staff for new support services and delivery systems, but he assured us that everyone was on board.

We started out with the standard investigations of demographics and target population banking practices, and we commissioned a focus group to learn more about the existing challenges for hearing-impaired people living in that region, and services they’d like to see added.

We thought we were ready to proceed with our invisible assembly line – the creation of a staff flow chart showing how we’d move the product from inception to production to marketing and delivery. However, when we queried C-Suite executives, middle managers, line workers, and the board of directors about their expectations for the new product, there were too many divergent views about which personnel should be involved and the best way to introduce it to the market. So we took a step back to square one – introducing the staff to the target customer.

We did it the old-fashioned way with flip charts and markers, face-to-face around a board room table with key executives, all department managers, and a sampling of line workers. Pre-meeting, we had provided transcripts from our focus group, to provide greater insights as to who might use the new product line and how. Using those hints, we then asked the group to sketch Jerry, the ideal customer for this product. How old was Jerry? Did he or she rent or own their home? What was their household income? How much, on average, did they have in checking and savings? What did they use a bank for – mortgage, savings (for what goal?), or checking? How far would they drive to a branch bank?

Then we moved on to functional and emotional matters. What were their greatest fears about coming into a bank? How did Jerry most comfortably communicate with us? What special help would they need to maneuver the website, which presently featured video messages? Did they need a translator for in-person discussions about mortgages or retirement plans?  How accomplished or reliant were they (or staff!) using TTY communications? What could we provide that would surprise and delight Jerry? As Jerry’s avatar arose from group suggestions and assumptions, the customer became a real person in people’s minds.

From that point onward, every feature was designed to please or assist Jerry, not the CEO or the web designer or the customer service manager. That change in mindset alone probably saved us weeks of product development time and inter-agency turf skirmishes. We all were focused on Jerry’s needs and we all wanted to be part of the creative solution to his/her banking challenges. Knowing Jerry, we also knew how to best spend every marketing dollar.

We all like to think that everything we do is for the benefit of the customer, but too often a project fails because of a department manager’s subliminal message to line staff is that it’s just the bosses new project du jour. A customer avatar goes a long way toward testing new product idea across departments and aligning everyone in the service of the best ideas.

About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses — the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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