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Nintendo: The tech company with CX at its gaming core

This article was originally published on the CX Network, a leading platform for senior CX and Marketing leaders.

From the first portable controller to a touchscreen before the iPhone, what you can learn from Nintendo’s experience design.

People tend to forget it, but customer experience (CX) is not a trend, a nice to have or doing the right thing. It is a business strategy. One that drives revenue through a focus on customer value, enriching relationships and reducing price sensitivity and churn rates.

Jeanne Bliss, a CX thought leader, puts forward three fundamental truths on CX strategy:

  1. Customers are assets, not costs
  2. Customer experience professionals need to earn the right to do the work (i.e. deliver results and demonstrate the value they bring)
  3. Most importantly, it unlocks customer-driven growth

The financial returns of customer experience have been quantified by Forrester and the internet is full of other statistics on the benefits earned from truly great experiences.

I, however, cannot help but feel that our industry has kept confidential one of the greatest success story of this strategy.

Great fun meets excellent experience design

Home devices are where Nintendo’s forward-thinking shines.

Nintendo, the Japanese video games giant, is among the greatest in customer-centric business strategies.

They launched the Game Boy in 1989, the first genuine portable console, long before mobile phones were a thing. They understood there was a desire for consumers not to be house-bound to play games. Identifying this as a significant customer pain point, they filled the gap and went on to sell more than 100 million devices.

The Nintendo DS launched in 2004 as a device with two complementary screens, one of which is a touchscreen (three years before the iPhone). It stood out thanks to a more immersive and involving experience, harnessing the possibilities brought by the dual screen technology. It is the genesis of second screen in TV: accessing related content on a different screen for a more holistic experience.

This device sold 154 million units. It is the world’s bestselling handheld device and Nintendo’s bestselling product.

But home devices are where Nintendo’s forward-thinking shines. While the market consistently works towards making more powerful devices and better looking games, Nintendo reinvents its approach to experience: each new home device brought meaningful change from its predecessor.

Let’s analyse how Nintendo masterfully harnessed customer-centric strategies and design through the examples of the Wii and the Switch.

Nintendo Wii: Immersive gaming made real

Launched in 2006, the Wii aimed to expand the gaming market to a larger and more mainstream audience while catering to its historic customer base. Centring the gaming experience around a motion-sensitive remote, the Wii brought a unique touch to entertainment , which pleased both new and existing customers.

Here’s where Nintendo got design right: they put the gaming experience ahead of product specifications and performance.

A player could physically swing the baseball bat, throw the bowling ball and shoot at enemies. I recall playing a survival-horror game when younger, lights off (fully immersed) and reaching an apex of tension… and be terrified. So terrified, I cowardly stopped playing and did not resume for months – something I never experienced before with the competition.

Here’s where Nintendo got design right: they put the gaming experience ahead of product specifications and performance. A cross-platform game was less pretty on the Wii, but the experience was superior. The trade-off was a no-brainer for customers: they’d rather be immersed in the experience, shooting enemies, slashing monsters or driving their kart, than sitting in front of a slightly better-looking game.

The strategy clearly paid-off, as the Wii sold more than 100 million consoles worldwide, 20 million more than its two competitors – all thanks to a differentiated experience.

However impressive the Wii was from a design standpoint, the Switch is Nintendo’s true masterpiece.

The Nintendo Switch: The ultimate CX console?

The Switch, brought gaming to a new standard at its launch in 2017, like the Wii did a decade before (2006).

Meeting customers on their own terms is also key to the experience design.

Nintendo took one of the business’ greatest challenge – providing a truly omni-channel experience – and made it core to the design of the Switch. It is a console that can be played connected to your living room’s TV, on a table on its own or anywhere else, on the go.

Meeting customers on their own terms is also key to the experience design. A remote can be used in multiple ways: by one or two players, joined up, separated or attached to the screen, or even as a more traditional and mainstream remote. Motion sensors embedded on the screen enrich the gaming experience further through puzzles and in-game features.

Most important of all is the Switch’s unique ability to fit around the customer’s life, without compromising on the gameplay or the experience, regardless of playing mode – more than ‘omni-channel’, it manages to go beyond the concept of channels, very much like customers do when they think of a business.

This customer-centric design is critical as it enables the Switch to deliver more value and go beyond experience.

Nintedo: The CX transformation game-changer

Joe Pine and James Gilmore identified back in 1999 in their seminal book “The Experience Economy” that businesses move from commodities, to goods, to services, to experiences to  transformation. Transformation is the ultimate stage of evolution, where customers benefit personally and grow thanks to the experiences with the console – this is the standard achieved with the Switch.

Nintendo’s customer-centric strategy earned them their most profitable quarter in the decade.

Taking a personal example once again, the Switch enabled me to increase my attendance at the gym and workout far longer, more frequently and consistently than ever before. It provides me with engaging, entertaining and flexible entertainment in a way that no other console ever could (most of handheld consoles requiring the two hands to be joined up in holding the console in order to play comfortably).

I went from dreading exercising to not minding it and, surprisingly, wanting to stay longer than planned (to finish that one level of that great game).

With the Switch, Nintendo reached the last stage of the experience economy, enabling a healthier routine, fitting around, enhancing and transforming lives – a claim that currently no competitor could credibly substantiate.

Nintendo’s customer-centric strategy earned them their most profitable quarter in the decade; raising their profit forecast by a third.

The gaming company has reached the exclusive milestone of selling more than 100 million units (therefore earning more than £10 billion in revenue) for three of its products, which also happen to be three of the five bestselling consoles of all times). Hopes are high for the Switch to join this very select club.

Nintendo’s success demonstrates that leading product and experience design with the customer in mind will ultimately pay off and unlock customer-driven growth. The company has been able to prove time and time again, across the decades, that making next practice a reality is not only a profitable strategy, it’s the most profitable strategy of all.

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2018: The year of a more leveled CX playing field

This article was originally published on the CX Network, a leading platform for senior CX and Marketing leaders.

This isn’t the year of futuristic innovations and a complete industry overhaul, 2018 is about customer experience maturity across the board.

Year after year, we see people talking about the next 12 months as announcing a fantastic revolution, with innovation transforming life as we know it and redefining the standard in customer experience.

There is no denying that computing power has been increasing at an insane pace and that the gap between great innovations has been reduced time and time again, but computing power is not the only ingredient to enhanced customer experience.

Call me cynical, but after years of exploring the latest innovation in customer experience (tech-enabled or otherwise), my personal prognostic is that we won’t see a massive leap in customer experience in 2018 – beyond extremely niche offerings or PR stunts.

Over the past few years, we’ve been promised a completely changed playing field through augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR, chatbots/artificial intelligence (AI) and smartwatches. Very few situations have been able to become more than simple gimmicks; good for PR or for die-hard fans.

Maybe 2018 is the year it happens, but I doubt it.

On the contrary, I believe that the excitement this year should be around a more leveled playing field. It’s about those businesses who are newer to the CX-mindset. They are the businesses that have been getting their house in order, dealing with legacy systems and inside-out strategies to truly focus on their most important stakeholder: the customer.

I believe 2018 will be the year where more and more businesses become mature enough to demonstrate their own take on customer experience and how they use technology to enable their unique proposition to shine through and scale.

We won’t see a massive leap in customer experience in 2018 – beyond extremely niche offerings or PR stunts.

I’m genuinely excited to see how two, three or four businesses will be competing with each other using strong customer experience as a major vector.

Gartner predicted it a few years ago, and all points towards it are finally materialising itself: 2018 will be the year of diversity. So open your eyes and witness how the same technology and capabilities can offer vastly different solutions to customers based on an organisations’ DNA.

This is just the biggest trend I see happening.

However, I’ll still be looking out for (and reporting back on) the cutting-edge examples. Fear not, Customer Experience Next Practice is definitively part of the agenda for 2018.

This prediction is an excerpt from CX Network’s Customer Experience Predictions for 2018 report. 

 

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Defining the new normal with AI: How the Nordics are transforming CX

This article was first published on the CX Network. It was later re-published on the AI Intelligent Automation Network.

What can global organisations learn from the AI-road being paved by Nordea and Nordic Choice Hotels?

Every now and then, I find myself discussing with acquaintances a phenomenon I usually describe as “The Nordic Innovation Paradox”.

Ask anyone in the streets, at the office or at home, what is the first thing that comes to their mind when they think about one of the Nordic countries? The overwhelmingly majority is certainly going to be faced with answers such as “IKEA, their flat packs and meatballs”, “LEGO is my whole childhood” or “I had a Nokia 3310, it used to last forever” – and yes, every single living soul at that time had a 3310 or a very similar looking phone.

The paradox is, these five countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden), gave us so many innovations that are fully embedded in our lives. Yet, somehow the public opinion seems to only remember these three brands.

To name just a few of the most impactful inventions, we have the Finnish-born heart rate monitor (yes, the feature that allowed you to rationalise buying your fitness tracker or smartwatch), the Norwegian paperclip (yes, they are behind the seeming feeling of structure and organisation in paperwork) and the Swedish seatbelt (something you use every time you hit the road… or so you should).

Fortunately for us, although they don’t always get all the credit and recognition they deserve, our Nordic friends did not give up on innovating for everyone’s benefit.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on top of everyone’s mind and it isn’t surprising that some Nordic companies are party to it. And it’s time to discuss two examples of how these unsung heroes intend to enhance customer experiences in the very near future.

Putting customers’ time first at Nordea

Imagine a bank on a crusade to fit with customers’ schedules and that goes as far as operating around the clock, all year long. This is Nordea. And they decided to take it a step further by engaging in artificial intelligence.

It first started back in March, when they announced the hiring of Liv. What is so special about Liv? She’s a virtual colleague, performing repetitive tasks faster and more efficiently than their human colleagues, freeing them up to focus on more value-add tasks and thus providing enhanced experiences to their customers. Liv is not only a fast learner, she is also very easily empowered to make the right decisions through rule-based robotics initiatives.

And making colleagues more available to dedicate more time towards great experiences isn’t the only way Nordea is harnessing the power of AI for the benefit of their customers.

Back in July, they announced a partnership with a start-up called Feelingstream with the vision of tackling response times customers face when dealing with customer service. The AI-based text-analytics solution can interpret inbound customer communications (reportedly hundreds a second) and intelligently forward them to the right recipients within the business, cutting away the agent-based sorting (or excess of handoffs) as witnessed in so many businesses around the world.

The solution is being trialled in Finland now and is expected to provide much shorter wait times before a customer can be put in touch with an agent. Should synergies between Feelingstream and Liv be explored, Nordea might well be on a winner and on the verge of reinventing customer services!

A digital-first hotel strategy at Nordic Choice Hotels

Experience in hospitality often leads to extreme emotional responses. One might be far from their family for business purposes and see it as a stressful burden, while on the other hand someone else could be on their honeymoon, at their dream destination. Many businesses have been distinguishing themselves over the years, delivering stand-out, unique and memorable experiences.

Nordic Choice Hotels has committed $29 million to invest in their digital strategy, enabling their Clarion, Comfort and Quality hotels to stand out from the competition with a distinctive blend of physical and digital experiences. The architect making this transformation happen is NCH’s Chief Digital Officer, Lisa Farrar.

SEE ALSO: Nordic Choice Hotels’ Digital Retention Strategy

In August 2016, one of the hotels (Clarion Hotel Amaranten in Stockholm) within the estate reportedly became the first in the world to offer suites with a smart assistant to support them. The Amazon Echo found in the rooms is being enhanced with functions that are tailored to the hospitality universe.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg and NHC is only at the start of making their vision happen. Among the elements that have been revealed to the public, Nordic Choice wants your phone to be your hotel key (already released by Starwood Hotels and Hilton), to provide you a reception-free experience (like the Hotel Buddy in Germany), a voice-controlled room environment and room service, notably thanks to their own iteration of the Amazon Echo.

Farrar also believes technology should facilitate an increasingly more personal experience, with the room having your personal pictures and clothes of your size awaiting you. Obviously, a personal experience is already made possible through services such as Cachet World (a platform offering, among other features, the ability for guest to personalise their hotel rooms by purchasing add-ons such as designer bedding or beauty essentials) in high-end hotels, but the customer is still required to contribute and tell the hotel what they want.

There is little doubt that the latest technologies, such as AI, present the potential to deliver all the above in a seamless and delightful way – and that’s exactly what Nordic Choice seems to be aiming towards; they clearly are investing the required resources to make this vision happen.

Keep in mind that Farrar only started her journey last year, but it clearly is a journey to follow and keep up with, as it has the potential to inspire customer experience professionals across industries.

The verdict?

One thing seems clear, Nordic companies such as Nordic Choice Hotels and Nordea are prime examples of paving the way in harnessing AI for differentiated and enhanced customer experience. This simply is customer experience next practice in the making.

 

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