The other day I was speaking about customer value creation at a customer experience conference.  Most of the attendees were from the services industry.  At one point, an audience member (and conference organizer) asked me “what’s the difference between customer value creation and good old solutions?”  I answered “not much at all.”  He was happy with the answer but I wasn’t.

I thought about the answer and decided that solutions are an important subset of the whole value creation universe.

Solutions:

Solutions are usually viewed as a connected collection of products and services that solve individual business problems.  The solution may be modified slightly for subsequent opportunities to leverage the experiences already gained.  For example:

  1. A business may sell a medical device like a whole blood analyzer.  The seller then expands the offer by including a high-uptime service contract and a reagent (the chemical mix used to test for each unique parameter) contract where usage is remotely monitored and replenishment orders are shipped without the buyer having to take any action.  The buyer’s only worry is taking care of the patient.
  2. My favorite example:  I once met the President of a specialty printing company who described his “best” solution.  He printed large banner, hung from the ceiling of retail stores like Walmart and Target, and used to attract shoppers to specific departments in big box stores. His company did not just print the banners and ship them to each store.  Here is a simple view of his solution.
    1. First, his company works with the chain’s marketing department to create the final artwork of each banner
    2. Well before the installation date, they manufactured and stored the banners.  This can be thousands of 10 or more individual types of banner
    3. As the installation date neared, the company shipped banner sets to his contracted installation teams in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico
    4. On the same specified night, after the stores closed, his teams entered the stores, removed the existing banners, and installed the new ones.
    5. The banners that were removed were disposed in an environmentally safe manner
    6. The store manager and central planners were notified when the work was complete

To read more about the whys and wherefores of evolving from a product provider to a solutions provider download this white paper.

Value creating products and services:

These products and/or services are generally standalone and hence simpler, and less costly than the full-blown solutions.  They also address a larger market than the solution, are easier to sell and use, and are more likely to be copied because they do not require any significant expertise from the delivery side of the business.  Here are some samples:

Consider the remote controlled garage door opener.  This picture is of one of my two openers (the other one is identical in functionality but from a different manufacturer):

Not high tech but it works well enough that I was never tempted to upgrade.  However, I recently saw this new opener and now I am thinking….

Each of the accessories costs about $40 and solves a problem not related to door opening but occur in the same physical area.  Pretty innovative!

Consider the automobile.  Today’s car can do almost everything but lets focus on just one – becoming a Wi-Fi hotspot.  Frequently, a number of employees of the same company are in one car travelling to a customer.  Each person may want to use her portable computer to edit her presentation, read background documents, or catch up on industry news.  And each probably does have a Wi-Fi dongle. The built in hotspot appears to be either a convenience or lifesaver. It has nothing to do with the car but everything to do with the experience and value received by each passenger.

Key Takeaway

In business, it’s all about creating value.  It is very unlikely that anyone will buy a product or service unless they perceive that the benefits they will receive exceed the costs.  Today, you see that there are two large sources of value; either from standalone products or services and integrated products and services which fall under the banner of solutions.

Smart business people try and offer both types of value creation answers so they can best serve their target customers.