Customers, users or fans?

The stuff I find most exciting is making something work for the users or to put it in more modern terms: people have a great experience when using something I helped create. So I focus on users and user experience. Some people rather talk about customers and customer experience. Whatever the name, it is basically the same isn’t it?

Person meets company

Things are quite easy: on the one hand we have people with their lives, work and dreams and on the other hand we have companies with their products and services, organisation and culture.

When people meet companies

When the entities meet, there is quite a lot going on.

  • First, the person, as a customer, experiences the interaction with the company.
  • Second the person experiences the product and services of the company when using them.
  • Third, the person also experiences underlying values or messages that go with this and form the brand.

Users, customers, fans

An online store selling other companies’ products can do little about how it is to use the produts themselves. Such a store has a strong focus on our customer side and will make it easy for us to happily spend our last obol on the products with the highest margin.

A manufacturer of a product distributed via such a store can do little about the customer experience of the store. The creator can do a lot about the experiences users have when using the product. Thus such companies focus on our user side and find new ways of improving our lives and make the one or the other dream come true.

A producer of soft drinks apparantly relies yet on another aspect. At least some studies showed that, when testing blindfolded, quite a few people preferred the taste of that soft drink they would have told you is the one they liked less. Such companies focus on our fan side and instill a longing for the values or the social status the brand purveys. Car producers, cloth labels, and sports shoes producers come to my mind as being very successful doing just the same thing.

Business gives focus

The products and the market context heavily defines, where a company will put its focus.

The video games creator of the last millenium had their revenue stream from selling the game. Entertaining games attracted more players, lead to bigger fan communities and this created new customers for the game and the sequels to follow. The focus was on the user – the gamer – and how to make a great game for them.

Nowadays, there seem to be a trillion games in the app store for free. The creators cash in on in-app content. The game needs to be good enough, certainly. But the innovation – with a lot of psychological tricks – goes into creating an environment, were the big fish, the whales, get addicted to spending thousands of euros for loot boxes, special weaponry, and much more. The focus and the innovation goes into the customer side.

A telco provider is providing us the possibility to communicate over distance. In the earlier days of telecommunication, users experienced the service through the operators and the provided phones. Nowadays, having a huge variety of apps on our phones, the telco provider is almost non-existant from a user perspective unless something does not work to plan. We interact with telco providers mostly just as customers of their services.
Consequentially telco providers put a lot of energy into innovating their stores and services, making buying and paying for the services easy. For a telco provider, our user side, i.e. how we bridge the distance between us and others, is mostly left to other companies and these companies make the money.

Focus changes where companies innovate

A company looking at their customers will come up with different innovations than one looking at users or their fans. And that is quite natural.

For example, a cinema seen form a customer perspective, is a place to sell movies. Seen from the user side it could be a place to enjoy a great evening with friends and family, to get a glimpse of the glamour of Hollywood or to have a some insights into life.

Each side will lead to specific innovations:

  • customer: make it easy and enjoyable for us to happily spend our last obol on the products with the best margin.
  • user: find new ways of how we live our lives, do our work and make the one or the other dream come true.
  • fan: instill a longing for the values the brand purveys and make us their biggest fans.

There are important differences

It looks like customer and user, even so they may be the exact same person, can be totally different from the viewpoint of a company:

We look at buying behaviour, customer jurneys, touch points and how customers interact with the company.We look at users’ lives, work and dreams and how products and services change these things.
Our metrics are Conversion Rate, Net Promoter Score or ratings in the App Store. We use UX metrics like attractiveness, ease of learning, pragmatic quality and more.
We innovate how we interact with our customers so customers promote us and buy more and more of our services and products.We identify needs people never knew they had and innovate how people live their lives and do their work so they are more productive, happier, engaged.

Just as a side note: The results for metrics from the customer side like conversion rate can stem from completely different causes. E.g A low conversion rate can stem from bad shop design, too high prices, a campaign that attracted the wrong people, a product or service that is not good enough, bad press and much more.

When you create products, you in most cases should look and innovate on all three view points: customer, users and fans!