Reveal Hidden Customers with the Customer Value Chain

You know of Porter’s value chain framework – helping businesses to model how each step of the product creation process contributes value. Well, this made me think about how sometimes products we create are for an audience once or even twice removed from the primary purchasers of the product. I’ve started to refer to this mentally as the ‘customer value chain’.

Thinking in this way helps me uncover additional customers who I may need to think about, who may not be the primary purchaser but nonetheless have tremendous power to influence the purchase and continued usage of a product.

customer value chain

For example, a well known broadcaster sells subscriptions for cable TV packages to the working crowd in a certain age range who have decent purchasing power and expendable income. The temptation for a customer experience architect is to dive in and immediately begin doing research, designing, and testing based on these people, as the primary customers who will be purchasing the product.

However, on reflection, you would discover, as I did, that the real users are in fact the teenage children of these customers, and it is pester power that in many cases leads to purchase, continued use and upgrades. There may even be an intermediate decision maker, in this case one parent,  and the other parent, who we thought was our main customer, was just the person who happened to pay the bill. Our real customers were the teenagers.

This applies to many situations in life, from the gadget and toy makers, where more and more children are researching their Christmas wishlists, to the educational institutions that normally focus on students and faculty, but miss out on parents.

The key question to ask yourself at the start of every new project is, who are our real customers? Are they hidden one or two steps away? And how can we make the experience we are designing appeal to them?


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