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Brands need to educate customers

News, 20 January 2015

CAMBRIDGE, MA: Helping customers learn can be as strategically important as learning from customers, a leading industry figure has said.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Michael Schrage, innovation expert and a research fellow at MIT Sloan School's Center for Digital Business, argued that many user experience design strategies fall short by limiting their approach.

While it is clearly important to use data and analytics to learn from customers and to improve usability and enhance satisfaction, brands could also do a lot more to coach customers themselves.

"Does anyone doubt that Steve Jobs, Jonny Ive, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have done a fantastic job of educating and training their best users and customers to (with apologies to TBWA/Chiat/Day) 'Behave Different'?" he asked.

Developing smarter and more knowledgeable customers has a number of benefits, from making the purchase process easier to increasing the ability to get value from an innovation.

"That may be a much better investment than boosting the smarts, knowledge or good manners of an employee," Schrage suggested.

Examples came from the airline and retail categories. He related how, in response to a question on what JetBlue's customers could do to improve the airline, an executive had replied they could be more polite.

It has now produced a series of videos to teach passengers about in-flight etiquette, with the aim of gently easing common areas of friction experienced in the air.

He argued that it was possible to use this strategy to create a competitive advantage. Hointer, a retail start-up marrying online and physical shopping in a new way, is, he said, "educating its shoppers to shop in a different way with different norms and different expectations".

The result was not only that these shoppers became more sophisticated, but that they were also more likely to become frustrated with other retailers where that experience was not replicated.

"That's where value-added differentiation and competitive advantage come from," Schrage stated.

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc staff