It’s time I wrote something about ACOILUSD. I have this conversation frequently with my colleagues in Brazil and elsewhere and I just had it again with a chef friend of mine over drinks at a local bar[1. Yes, I’m that kind of guy.]. If you interact with any other human beings then you produce products and ACOILUSD matters to you.
ACOILUSD is a framework that can help you to ask the right questions when developing a complete product. A complete product is more than just the widget that you may be trying to sell, it’s the complete experience that the customer goes through when engaging with your widget; from when they first hear about it until they don’t want it anymore. Some designer-types like to call this the customer journey but their illustrations tend to be too detailed and occasionally too abstract to be easily remembered. Their hearts are in the right place but ACOILUSD is much easier to remember.
First, it’s important to define what I mean by product. If you’re an MBA or have been influenced by MBAs then a product is a tangible thing that you sell to your customers, except if it’s software, which isn’t a tangible thing, but it’s still a product, but remember that a service isn’t a product even though everything that applies to products applies to services, too, but it’s not a product. You can tell I’ve had this conversation too many times. It’s very tiring. I prefer to take my cue from economists. A good example is the definition of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), “the total value of the goods and services produced…”[2. Merriam-Webster: gross domestic product]. In other words anything produced, good or service, tangible or intangible, durable or ephemeral, is a product. This turns out to be handy when you’re thinking about how to apply concepts like ACOILUSD.
ACOILUSD is an acronym that, at a high level, provides a way for you to think about all of the ways that a customer interacts with you and your product[3. I don’t know who invented ACOILUSD, but I’m grateful to them.]. If you ever sell (or rather provide) anything then ALL aspects of ACOILUSD have been addressed whether you thought about them or not. You’ll be more successful if you think about them though. Here’s the expansion of ACOILUSD…
A is for Aware
If a potential customer isn’t aware of your product then nothing else will happen. This, of course, includes all of the myriad forms of advertising both in traditional mediums and on-line. It also includes word-of-mouth. I’ve heard claims that word-of-mouth can account for 80% or more of awareness for any product. This alone is justification for paying careful attention to the quality of all aspects of your product. If a customer has had a bad experience with your product they are unlikely to recommend it to anyone else. Of course, if they’ve had a very bad experience this leads us to …
C is for Choose
When a potential customer is made aware of your product they are immediately presented with a choice. If you’re lucky enough to have competitors then the choice may be between you and your competitors. As quickly as possible you’ll want to position your products with respect to those competitors,[4. A great book on positioning is Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind] highlighting why your product is better than what your competitors are offering. This is where you describe the key attributes of your offering and you set your customer’s expectations. Keep in mind that Choice is informed by what you say, what your potential customer has heard, and by whatever beliefs your potential customer may bring to the consideration.
Whether or not you have any competitors offering similar products there are always two alternatives that your potential customer will consider; do-it-yourself and non-consumption. Do-it-yourself is any method that your potential customer may apply to address their need without buying a product from you or any of your competitors. Non-consumption is the potential customer deciding that they really don’t have a strong enough reason to address the need that your product addresses. The process of positioning is still the same, but these “competitors” should never be left out of the mix.
Non-consumption is a particularly interesting alternative. Sometimes identifying non-consumers and the reasons why they choose not to consume your product can help you to refine what you’re offering. Many times non-consumption is OK since the last thing you want is a customer who isn’t really part of the market that you want to address. In this case it can save you a lot of cost, pain and suffering if you help this potential customer decide to look elsewhere. Sooner is better than later.
O is for Order
Order is anything that your potential customer needs to do in order to obtain the benefits that your product has to offer. This can be as simple as giving you money, if it’s just a simple transactional relationship, to as complicated a contract negotiation outlining roles and responsibilities in an enduring partnership. Order can be simple to the point of being nearly invisible, particularly if your product is “free”. If you’re reading this you went through the ordering process by clicking on the link and bringing up this page.
While in Choose you may find that you’re addressing a market that you can’t compete in or doesn’t exist. Order, though, is your first opportunity to make really poor design decisions. When a potential customer chooses your product you may have milliseconds to convert them from a potential customer into an actual customer before they get frustrated or lose interest. Amazon is a master at this. I’ll shop at Amazon in preference to many other sources because ordering is so easy. In Amazon’s case it’s really about remembering all the things that I’ve told Amazon about in the past and not having to repeat myself. Once they have my credit card number and my shipping address everything else they have to offer it just a small number of button clicks, sometimes only one, and I’m done. I spend much more time on Choose rather than Order, which is a chunk of what retailing is really about[1. Among other interesting things like audience development.].
This is where CRM, Customer Relationship Management, kicks in. While you may keep track of people who have pondered your product during Choose, Order is where a customer indicates that they want a relationship with you. As with any relationship, it’s good to remember who you’re in a relationship with. Too often businesses will go into sell-and-forget mode[1. The one night stand of the business world.]. Once the transaction is complete they don’t care who bought their product or if they ever engage with them again. Many times they believe that subsequent engagement is a problem (a cost), not an opportunity. Fortunately, that attitude is fading a bit, but it still lingers.
I is for Install
Install includes whatever is required for the customer to prepare to receive the benefits that your product will provide. This includes satisfying any required prerequisites, any required configuration, and capturing information about the customer that may be required for the product to function at its best. Install is your next great opportunity to screw up. I’ve tossed more than one phone app simply because it was too hard to setup.
Install is also your product’s first opportunity to survive in the wild. Even if your customer has done everything they needed to in order to get your product to function there can be aspects of their environment that will cause it to fail. Never, ever assume a pristine, static environment where the jewel of your product will be gently placed on a satin pillow for all to admire and enjoy. It’s more likely to be tossed into the ruble of a large and diverse collection of prior decisions and expected to perform in spite of the company it finds itself in. Think through these scenarios before you introduce your product and address new ones promptly after introduction. Your customers and your business will appreciate it.
L is for Learn
Learn is about tapping into and sometimes altering your customer’s behavior and the contents of their brain so that they can get the most out of your product. This is where ease-of-use is considered. Ease-of-use spans all the other aspects of ACOILUSD. Ease-of-use rests on the principle that “The easiest thing to learn is something that you already know.” Some, like Microsoft, don’t get this and are constantly making frivolous modifications to their user experience for no real benefit. Leaving customers annoyed or leaving them behind as a result. Keep in mind that learning is an energy intensive, somewhat painful, activity for most people. They’ll only engage in it when they feel the reward is worth the effort.
What if it’s necessary for your customer to learn something new in order to use your product? In that case, do the math. Think about how to make that learning as easy, pleasant and natural as possible. Try to avoid forcing them to “unlearn” something in order to learn what they need to use your product. Apple is terrible about this when they write software for Windows; think iTunes. Don’t be arrogant. Ease-of-use is not artistic expression. Build on your customer’s knowledge is small, or more accurately cheap, bites. If possible always insure that there’s a reward on the other side of the educational experience. Usually the reward is getting the product to do what it’s supposed to do. Make sure that the benefit of learning always exceeds the cost.
U is for Use
Use, of course, is where you actually deliver on all the promises that you’ve made to your customer. It’s the Why of the entire engagement. This is where the bulk of your interaction with your customer will be if everything else has gone well. Most of what needs to be said for Use is specific to your product so I won’t spend a lot of time here.
One general principle for Use is, whenever possible, find ways watch them use their your product. The best outcome from this is to make an even better product and experience for your customer. Don’t be creepy, make sure they know that you’re doing this, and whatever you do remember that information about your customer is an economic asset. They give it to you in trade for value you give to them. Any other acquisition is theft!
S is for Support
Support is how you deal with exceptions in your customer’s experience. An exception is anything, and I really mean anything, that your customer didn’t want when interacting with you or your product. Support generally isn’t about aspects of the product or relationship that makes them unexpectedly pleased but support can be one of those things. While it’s not something you want to arrange for there are many examples where a great support experience has improved brand reputation and caused repeat business. In my experience Apple understands this. I’ve spent 20 minutes on the phone with an Apple rep who stayed with me until the problem was solved. If you’re into support cost penny-pinching that’s enormously expensive but they’ve more than covered that cost in repeat sales and word-of-mouth recommendations from me.
Support is also a way to get a high-fidelity look at how your customers use or want to use your product. Ironically, I suppose, this is based on the principle of “you learn more from failure than success.” At no other time will you get such a detailed view into what they are trying to accomplish and how they’re trying to use your product to do it. This is a perfect opportunity to either identify new products or to improved the characteristics of your current product. It may be as little as changing what you choose to emphasize when you’re positioning your products against your competitors.
D is for Dispose
All good things must come to an end and Dispose is about acknowledging and thinking about this before you offer your product to your market. A customer may jump to Dispose from any other point in the customer journey for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. The quality of your Dispose experience can significantly impact your likelihood of future business.
From a customer’s perspective there are a variety of reasons that could lead them to Dispose. Here are a few examples…
- They’re happy with your product but the need has gone away[1. This may be a launch point into a long conversation about the Innovator’s Dilemma and the dynamic nature of markets, but that should be a different post.].
- They’re happy with your product, but you’re offering an upgrade that replaces it[1. Score!!!].
- They’re unhappy with your product and they’re going back to Choose to check out the competitive alternatives.
- They’re unhappy with your product and they’re posting bad things on Facebook and Twitter.
- They’re unhappy with your product and they’re talking with their attorneys.
- They’re unhappy with your product and they’re talking with the authorities!
What are you going to do? It’s better to think about these things before they actually happen.
A second aspect of Dispose, that is too often neglected, is what happens when you decide you don’t want to be in that business anymore. What lingering commitments do you have with your customers that need to be cleaned up? How soon do you need to anticipate this? Just walking away certainly isn’t good for your brand and occasionally isn’t even legal. Denial isn’t a strategy. Keep your exit plans up-to-date.
The above touches on a lot of things that I’ve learned from observing and participating in product-based businesses over several years but let’s bring it home. If you provide value or want to provide value to anyone else then you are the first and most important product to be developed and “sold”. If you want to get a job, get a date, or lead a nation, many of the points above apply. Everything you do for someone else is in some way a product. ACOILUSD is one way, though not particularly warm and fuzzy, to think about your product and how you deliver it.