USCO project: Listen to the customer

​A customer-centred approach is more than just a trendy phrase. Understanding the customer's needs and wishes is fundamental these days, if a company wants to do well in competition. These days, consumers want the most straightforward means for managing daily errands on their smart phones; whether it be grocery shopping or banking. Fennia Group which offers insurance services has taken note of this:

- Our customers' expectations for their insurance company have grown, and this field is no different from others in this respect. The use of services on mobile devices must be effortless at the time when use of the services comes to mind, says Fennia's Development Manager Päivi Österman.

What then is a good digital service? Customers, who actually use the service, can provide the best answer to this.

- For this reason, we are currently holding a "Do not develop without the customer" theme year, Fennia's Chief Development Officer Timo Ahvonen laughs.

Ahvonen continues by stating that as a rule, all new products and services are at first hypotheses on what could actually work in the user's daily life. Generally, the first hypothesis is by no means the final solution.

- The worst possible mistake is to make a final product without testing it. It is actually much easier to develop a product without the customer. And in particular, if it must be ready by a deadline, testing is often left to the customer to deal with, Ahonen explains.
- The product is then repaired later on or in the worst case scenario, the makers notice that the solution does not work at all in the expected manner.

USCO project provides lessons for co-creation

Timo Ahvonen and Päivi Österman work at Fennia on service development projects. Ahvonen heads the development unit, which is responsible for e.g. the management of the project portfolios of 1,000 Fennia employees. At the moment, he is working to introduce an agile development model as a fixed part of Fennia's operating practices. Österman in turn is responsible for developing the measurement of customer experiences as well as the inclusion of customers in the development of services.

Fennia and seven other organisations are participating in Laurea's and the University of Tampere's USCO (Using Digital Co-Creation for Business Development) project. The objective of the project funded by Tekes is to develop the ability of Finnish companies to utilise digitalisation in the customer-oriented development of services. The utilisation of various co-creation and service design methods plays an important role in this work.

Of the USCO project themes, Fennia is most interested in development of the customer experience and co-creation i.e. how customers can be closely included in the development of services:

- Getting a grasp on the customer experience and its measurement have become key issues for us over the past year, as has co-creation with our customers, Development Manager Österman describes.
- For that reason alone, this project is well-timed. Tips from professionals, what is learned during training and sparring help have been exceptionally valuable.

In early 2017, a dozen or so people from Fennia have participated in the USCO project's training sessions, which are intended for the project companies' experts and management. The themes covered during training include digital work, customer experience in digital channels as well as service design tools in a company's everyday operations.

Developers must listen to and understand the customer

Fennia collects customer perspectives in the form of questionnaires at different contact points and corporate sales people collect feedback from customer during visits. Customer experience research is continuously moving in a more quality-oriented direction, and Fennia has tested out various co-creation customer workshops.

Ahvonen and Österman have noted that Finns are happy to open up their service experiences and share their ideas.

- A developer must be able to listen to what a customer says, understand what he or she has heard and alter his or her own solutions on the basis of this. This is often the most difficult thing of all, summarises Chief Development Officer Timo Ahvonen.
- If we take for example a technical customer application, the further a developer has developed his or her own hypothesis the more charmed and in love with the solution he or she becomes. This makes listening to customer all the more difficult.

According to Ahvonen and Österman, believing that a customer will provide a ready solution to how the service should work is a common mistake:

- The customer describes his or her daily life and what he or she does. A service developer must be able to interpret this information, Österman says.

- The customer's message can often be that this is what not to do, in which case the developer can exclude certain solutions. Sometimes, good ideas can come about from other contexts, from which revelations that could be applied to our work can also be found, Ahvonen continues.

Co-creation requires that an expert approaches his or her work with a genuinely customer-centred attitude. According to Ahvonen and Österman, the developer cannot only think of the customer as someone to thank when the work is done, the customer must be at the forefront of the developer's thoughts throughout his or her work process. This is the only way to develop a better customer experience.

- As the saying goes ’Go the extra mile’. You must go a step further because otherwise you will not set yourself apart in competition and will not succeed. The customer experience is a fundamental source of competitiveness, Chief Development Officer Timo Ahvonen emphasises.


The article was originally published in Finnish in Laurea Kehittäjä magazine. Learn more about the USCO project here.

Modified 10/26/2017 1:24 PM

​Fennia's chief development officer Timo Ahvonen and development manager Päivi Österman.