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I'm a consultant and advisor  for social enterprises - using business to change the world.

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Creative Solutions to Customer Problems

Whenever we encounter a customer with a problem, the temptation is to run with the first solution we think of.

This misses a great opportunity for innovation.

My colleague David Carbines has a great analogy, which I’ve paraphrased:

 

Imagine a customer, frustrated with their overgrown suburban lawn.

What could we offer them?

 

The first idea is easy, almost too easy. How do you trim the lawn?

1. Sell them a lawnmower. Maybe it’s a push one, or with a motor, or it’s ride-on, depending on their budget and the size of their lawn.

 

2. Rent them a lawnmower. Why own something you only need on occasion?

 

3. Have someone come around to mow the lawn, like Jim’s Mowing.

 

Those were easy. Now let’s think more laterally. Why did the lawn get overgrown? Maybe they’re sick of it?

 

4. Install artificial lawn, a one-off purchase that needs no maintenance

 

5. AstroTurf, great for the wealthy sporting enthusiast.

 

6. Cobblestones, or maybe paving tiles. Elegance without the upkeep, especially for those without dogs or young children

 

7. Put in an in-ground trampoline, suddenly your house got cooler.

 

Those are good substitutes. What about the customer’s worldview? Is their something that would make them happier with what they tell themselves?

 

8. Sell them a goat, nature’s lawnmower. Better yet, your street could pitch in, and each take the goat one day per week. Or you could have one dropped around for the afternoon like Jim’s mowing… you see how this works. It makes for a great conversation starter.

 

9. Change their minds, sell the idea that long grass is fashionable. Don’t discount this, it could happen. Maybe the thing to change is the customer’s perception of the problem, instead of coercing them into buying more and more.

 

Right there, we see a stack of different approaches to the same customer. They’re not all good ideas, but there’s certainly a few that could be worth exploring.

Too often we get bogged down in trying to pitch a better lawnmower, when in reality most homeowners aren’t interested. Your job is to think laterally about what your customer needs, then create new value propositions that might appeal to them.

This is the ethos that led to the success of Netflix, Uber, iTunes, Kindle, Airbnb, Snapchat, etc. Each decided to put forward a strange alternative to their competitors, and customers gradually saw the light.

Try this for your customer segments. What’s your equivalent of the goat, or the cobblestones or changing their mind?

 

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