Monday, June 27, 2011

Hospitals need to simplify chargemaster management

Posted by Mark Brousseau

As hospitals seek to survive and thrive in the new world of bundled payments, ACO and medical home programs, many are actively seeking to employ more physicians and acquire community practices. In fact, a recent survey by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) shows a nearly 75 percent increase in the number of active doctors employed by hospitals since 2000.

This shift has intensified the perennial challenge of making employed providers revenue positive for the organization. A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that hospitals lose between $150,000 and $250,000 per year over the first three years of employing a physician (Kochner and Sahni; "Hospitals' Race to Employ Physicians" – March 30, 2011).

Against this backdrop, hospitals must establish a corporate chargemaster file to standardize aspects of physician charging for greater operational efficiency, optimal reimbursement and reduced compliance risks, says Keith Neilson, CEO of Craneware, which is exhibiting at HFMA's ANI Conference this week in Orlando.

To this end, Craneware is launching its Physician Revenue Toolkit to help hospitals manage multiple physician operations.

What do you think?

10 strategies for reducing healthcare supply costs

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Faced with growing medical-surgical supply costs as reimbursements shrink and healthcare reform looms, healthcare providers can reduce their medical-surgical supply spending immediately—and GHX is recommending the top 10 ways to do it.

The healthcare technology company released its list today at HFMA's ANI Conference in Orlando.

The GHX Top 10:

1.Save an average $12.00-$27.00 per order by conducting as much of your purchasing electronically with as many of your trading partners as possible.

2.Automate the procurement process, from the point of contracting to the point of payment, to streamline operations and boost efficiencies.

3.Centralize purchasing across your organization to provide visibility into and control over as much of your supply spending as possible.

4.Develop a master data management strategy, including the use of global industry data standards, to ensure that you are keeping critical information as up-to-date as possible and that you have “one source of truth” to feed clinical and financial IT systems.

5.Understand the total cost of ownership of your supply chain; in addition to the price paid, consider the financial implications of procurement, logistics, inventory management, charge capture and reimbursement, among others.

6.Create visibility into both the total cost and efficacy of the products being used in patient care, so that you can determine the role supplies play in both the cost and quality of the care your organization provides.

7.Focus on bringing more non-file and off-contract spend under contract, especially high-cost physician preference items.

8.Save an estimated 1-3 percent in avoided overpayments by validating contract pricing and making sure you’re using the most up-to-date contract information.

9.View the supply chain as a function that operates across your organization; establish partnerships with clinical and financial departments to develop and work together to achieve mutual objectives.

10.Collaborate with your trading partners to achieve mutual benefits. Share insights into what happens to products once they arrive at your facility and ask your suppliers for insights into how you can become a lower-cost customer to serve.

What do you think?

Healthcare reform boosts importance of business process improvement

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Health reform-mandated revisions, productivity adjustments, and proposed documentation and coding offsets pose a huge challenge for hospitals, says Ken Perez, senior vice president of marketing for MedeAnalytics.

MedeAnalytics is exhibiting at HFMA's ANI Conference this week in Orlando.

“Our research and economic models indicate that a 300-bed hospital will be required to reduce costs by more than $6 million in the year ahead to avoid erosion of its Medicare margins," Perez says. "The sheer magnitude of the financial impact of these multiple, complex and mounting reductions indicates that hospitals should focus even more attention on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of their core activity—the process and delivery of care.”

“Many hospitals are dealing with complex internal processes and financial pressures,” adds MedeAnalytics Associate Vice President of Product Marketing Cole Hooper. “It’s evident that hospitals will need to focus on process workflow and key performance indicators to improve cash flow and identify areas of loss."

What do you think?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Huge opportunity remains for AR automation

By Carrie Krell, campaign manager, Esker

Given the lack of market research data about accounts receivable (AR) automation, the Institute of Financial Operations (IFO) and Esker teamed up this spring on an AR automation study -- a fact-finding mission of sorts. The results are in, and they highlight key findings of qualitative and quantitative research conducted to gain insights into AR automation trends among companies in various industries.

Presented to several thousand AR professionals during the spring of 2011, the survey checked the pulse of the business world to discover how companies are sending their invoices to customers, the cost of sending those invoices, perceptions about the benefits of electronic invoice delivery, the key challenges of customer invoicing and the main obstacles to implementing solutions for automation within accounts receivable. In addition, the survey was intended to gauge trends in AR automation toward initiatives to reduce customer invoicing costs, improve invoice delivery and visibility, and facilitate customer adoption of electronic invoicing.

What the survey found is that invoice delivery processes remain paper-based at most companies, raising several key questions:

... How are companies sending invoices (postal mail, fax or email)?
... What is it costing companies to send out invoices?
... What are the key challenges of customer invoicing?
... What are the main obstacles to implementing an AR automation solution?
... How much time and money could e-invoicing save?

Based on the findings of this study, it is clear that AR departments have a long way to go in migrating from inefficient paper-based processes. The recommendation is for companies to keep a simple focus on delivery of customer invoices in assessing the value of technologies for AR automation. By focusing on delivery and investing in a solution that addresses their specific goals with regard to sending invoices, companies can take advantage of the opportunity to significantly reduce costs and improve efficiency.

On Tuesday afternoon, IFO and Esker will present a free webinar on the survey findings. For more information, visit:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

4 ways to use your customers to boost innovation

Posted by Mark Brousseau

The best technology. The best employees. The biggest budget. The strongest R&D department. Check, check, check, and check! If you think these are all the elements you need in order to build a consistently successful company, you’re wrong. Dan Adams says there is one other factor you’ll need to check off that list—an innovation strategy that works.

“The best way to ensure your company will be a success is to deliver more than your share of customer value,” says Adams, author of New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth. “Specifically, you need to develop differentiated products that provide benefits your customers crave. Products they can’t get anywhere else at a comparable cost. But you shouldn’t be guessing what they want. You should base your product innovation on what they say they want.”

Adams notes that back in 2007, Booz Allen Hamilton released an important study on innovation called “The Customer Connection: The Global Innovation 1000.” The company studied 84 percent of the planet’s corporate R&D spending and identified several distinct innovation strategies.

Most importantly, says Adams, the study highlighted one essential element of successful innovation that too many companies forget. Your employees aren’t the only people you should be engaging to create truly unique and profitable products. You should actually be focusing your efforts on engaging your customers!

The Booz Allen Hamilton study found that when it comes to innovation, customer engagement has a huge payoff. It noted, “Companies that directly engaged their customers had superior results regardless of innovation strategy.”

"And not just a little bit superior, a lot superior,” says Adams. “Those companies that used direct customer engagement while innovating versus indirect customer insight enjoyed great financial gains.”

In fact, the study found that the companies that based their innovation strategies on customer feedback experienced gains in the following key areas:

1) Profit Growth: Operating income growth rate that was three times higher.
2) Shareholder Return: Total shareholder return that was 65 percent higher.
3) Return on Assets: Return on assets that was two times higher.

“What should you do with this information?” asks Adams. “For starters, if you’re in a conversation about your company’s innovation and nobody’s talking about the customer, realize something might be very wrong. To put it in terms of the study, your company might be practicing ‘indirect customer insight’ instead of ‘direct customer engagement.’ This is a kind way of saying, ‘We’ve lost track of who our innovation is supposed to help.’”

If you think your company needs some innovation help, read on for a few words of advice from Adams.

Take it to the next level. For more than five years, Adams has been helping B2B suppliers engage their customers in the innovation process. In that time, he has almost seen it all! And he’s used what he’s seen to distinguish six levels of customer engagement during product development. What’s your level?

Level 1: Our Conference Room: At the lowest level, you decide what customers want around your conference room table. Internal opinions determine the design of your next new product.

Level 2: Ask Our Experts: At the next level, you poll your sales force, tech service department, and other internal experts to determine customer needs. Better—because more voices are heard—but still too “internal.”

Level 3: Customer Survey: Here you use surveys and polls to ask customers what they want. This begins to shake out internal biases…but doesn’t deliver much in the way of deep insight.

Level 4: Qualitative VOC Interviews: You send out interview teams that meet with customers to learn what they want. This is a quantum leap from VOO (voice of ourselves) to VOC (voice of the customer).

Level 5: Quantitative VOC Interviews: The problem with just qualitative VOC is that people hear what they want to hear. Quantitative feedback drives out assumptions, bias, and wishful thinking.

Level 6: B2B VOC Interviews: Unlike end-consumers, B2B customers are knowledgeable, rational, and interested. B2B-optimized interview methodology fully engages them to take advantage of this.

“If you aren’t happy with your level, don’t worry,” says Adams. “Through solid training and committed leadership, I’ve seen businesses leap from Level 1 to 6 in the space of a year.”

Remember who’s showing you the money. A successful company innovates for its customers, not itself. “That’s because nobody inside your company can pay for innovation,” notes Adams. “Only your customers can do that. So the more closely you engage those who pay…the more you learn what they’ll pay for.”

Make sure you’re asking the right questions. Too often, innovation is misunderstood as the process of coming up with the right answers. “The reality is that it is actually about asking the right questions,” explains Adams. “If the bright people in your company are focused on real customer needs, they’ll run circles around the bright people at competitors who are focused elsewhere.”

Learn to pre-sell. “I believe the Booz Allen Hamilton conclusions are especially potent for the B2B supplier serving a concentrated market,” says Adams. “If you interview the ten largest prospects in your target market correctly, you’ll engage them so they’ll be primed to buy when you launch that new product.”

“So the bottom line is if you want to boost your innovation, you should start by directly engaging your customers,” says Adams. “And do this in a way that allows you to understand their world, focus on their important, unsatisfied needs, and entice them to keep working with you.

"This innovation strategy is great because you are removing the guessing game aspect of new product development,” he concludes. “You won’t have to worry about whether or not your customers will like your new products because you’ll already know you are delivering exactly what they want.”

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Where is the AP Automation?

David Johnson, AP solutions manager, Perceptive Software

In a day and age where the corporate mantra includes: “do more with less,” “work smarter not harder,” or “Kaisen,” we still see many organizations processing accounts payable invoices the old-fashioned way. That is, many organizations still receive a majority of their invoices via paper, route them through the organization through intercompany mail--or just walking them from desk to desk, move invoices from pile to pile (waiting to be matched, matched/waiting to be entered, entered/waiting to be paid, paid/waiting to be filed, filed/hopefully to be found again).

Perhaps it’s time to say, put your money where your mouth is. Better yet, put more money on your bottom line by investing in an enterprise content management system that will make your AP processing significantly more efficient.

The Institute of Financial Operations recently conducted a survey regarding the automation of accounts payable with the results issued at their annual Fusion Conference in Orlando, Florida. According to their study, more than 75% of the respondents indicated that they receive a majority of their invoices via paper. Of those responding, 39% stated that their paper invoice volume exceeded 90% of their total volume.

When looking at the paper invoice volume, 32% indicated that their volume over the past year has not changed. When combining the following categories over the past year: slightly lower, unchanged, and slightly higher, the results showed that over 80% of paper invoice volume has essentially remained static. There appears to be no end in sight of paper invoices for these organizations.

There is a cost associated with the manual payment process too. According to this same study, 41% of respondents indicated their processing cost per invoice was $5.00 or less while 59% reported a per invoice cost in excess of $5.00. These processing costs savings do not include the potential for early payment discounts offered by vendors.

I attended Disney’s Accounts Payable Department presentation at Fusion on their world-class accounts payable processing. They reported a per invoice cost of $1.61 per invoice with the aid of automation. It’s worth noting that Disney processes in excess of 5 million invoices annually. Thus, a mere change in cost per invoice of $0.01 will affect their bottom line by $50,000.

So c’mon, do more with less and work smarter not harder, let automation bring bottom line results to your organization. Your competitors are.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Social media, P2P, and mobile payments: disruptive for banks?

By Glenn Wheeler, president, Viewpointe Clearing, Settlement & Association Services

The payments landscape has been transforming. Jockeying for position are some major non-banking players – social networking sites, peer-to-peer payment services, mobile phone providers and credit card companies. As the competition heats up, the time horizon for establishing supremacy in the market will get shorter and shorter.

Some believe that banks, long the dominant facilitator of payments, will have problems reacting and adapting to this new paradigm. Certainly the evolving payments market presents new challenges for banks, but the situation might not be as dire as some have predicted.

There is no question customers are demanding convenience. According to a recent Bank Systems & Technology article, “Mobile Payment Users Expected to Surpass 375 Million by 2015,” market research firm In-Stat predicts that the number of mobile payment users globally will triple by 2015. Where will this demand be met? Well, there are a multitude of channels for customers to gain access to mobile payments; many do not require a financial institution. Consumers have many options: there is “virtual currency” offered by social networking mobile apps such as Facebook, "tap and pay" apps via smartphone using near-field communication (NFC) offered by Google and telecom providers, and mobile peer-to-peer services from PayPal, among others. Undoubtedly, there are additional mobile payment channels being innovated as I type this.

Banks are keenly aware of the risk mobile payments pose to a key part of their business. However, it is the security component of mobile payments that deserves a second look. Security is a differentiator and one in which non-bank providers may have a hard time competing with the banks. By developing capabilities for payment transactions that bypass financial institutions, thereby circumventing the advanced systems that help secure and oversee transactions, consumers could be at risk. Naive consumers might falsely believe that they have the same type of security and protection that they do with their bank. From an individual concern, payment data could wend its way without needed security and structure.

Certainly the mobile payment market is fascinating to watch. Who would have imagined 20 years ago that your wallet could very well be replaced by a mobile phone?

But will this technology disrupt or energize banks? While mobile payments pose some challenges, I believe banks will rise to the occasion, and many already have. Billions of dollars have been spent securing the existing payment ecosystem and new entrants have to play by the same rules. This is one area where banks clearly have a leg up, and are well-prepared for the challenges ahead. Banks, mobile payment providers and consumers should keep this in mind.

What do you think?

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Underserved" market is opportunity for banks

Posted by Mark Brousseau

The “underserved” market is considered one of the fastest growing segments in the United States and represents significant potential for banks willing to develop new products and services -- with the appropriate risk safeguards -- and channels to distribute them, according to a study from KPMG.

The KPMG study characterizes the underserved market -- the unbanked (consumers without a transaction account) and underbanked (those without access to incremental credit) -- as having grown significantly in the United States during the economic downturn. The market represents about 88 million individuals with nearly $1.3 trillion in income, according to the KPMG study. Based on forecasts, as many as six million people could be classified as "underserved" in the next two years.

"As banks transform their business models to address a new marketplace, they need to examine the potential of the underserved market as new revenue streams are necessary due to increasing compliance costs and various fees coming under pressure as a result of regulatory reform," said Carl Carande, national account leader of KPMG’s Banking and Finance practice. "In the current environment, we see heavy competition among banks chasing customers with high credit scores, with decreasing margins, leaving the underserved market for those willing to invest in it."

Carande also says that banks, before moving forward, need to ensure that appropriate risk-protections are built-in for the bank and customer. "Risk management is a key element of the early opportunity assessment phase, as banks review their current state and design a portfolio of business opportunities for both the near-term and short-term," said Carande. "From there, it is a matter of creating a target operating model before moving to the end game of deploying a multi-generational plan."

According to the KPMG study, banks can pursue a range of key target segments among the underserved, ranging from those who do not use a bank to young adults with little knowledge of financial products.

"Customer segmentation is critical to serving the underserved market and each target segment requires a disciplined and strategic approach," said Timothy Ramsey, managing director in KPMG LLP’s Performance and Technology Advisory group. "Those banks that carve out a niche that makes sense -- and can successfully market and brand themselves accordingly -- will distinguish themselves from the competition."

"When serving this market, banks also have an opportunity to establish customer loyalty by helping these customers more effectively manage their personal finances and develop better saving and investing habits through educational, financial literacy programs," said Ramsey.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Top trends in retail online banking

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Bank customers have started to demand that their banks’ online offerings keep up with the times, according to new research from Celent, LLC. And for good reason: the online banking space has stagnated for far too long, the research and advisory firm contends.

The evolution of the Internet has provided consumers with rich and interactive experiences online. Unfortunately, the banking industry has not kept pace with the evolution of the Internet, and customers have started to demand that their banks keep up with the times. For the most part, financial institutions recognize their online shortcomings.

Celent says the question is: Why haven’t they acted on them, what can they do about it, and how can they keep up with ever-increasing customer demands? These questions become even more difficult to answer because financial institutions have just started to emerge from the impact of the financial crisis and are under extreme pressure to run sustainable businesses in the wake of increased regulatory pressures.

The good news is that next-generation online banking is on its way, according to Celent research. Some of these are in full swing; others are just emerging or expected to impact the space within the next three to five years.

"Online banking isn’t an alternative channel any more. It’s a mainstream channel," says Jacob Jegher, senior analyst with Celent’s Banking group. "This channel, however, requires a lot of attention. If banks don’t act swiftly, they risk critical customer relationships and revenue. It’s important that banks harness technology but don’t use it as their best foot forward."

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bank CFOs fretting health reform

Posted by Mark Brousseau

While CFOs are becoming bullish on the economy, they are concerned about health care reform, according to a biannual survey of banking and financial services Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and senior controllers conducted by Grant Thornton LLP.

Nearly half (48 percent) of the banking/financial services CFOs said that they expect the U.S. economy to improve in the next six months and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) are optimistic about their own company; however, 55 percent also report that they plan to increase the prices or fees charged by their company in the next six months.

Regarding health care reform, 49 percent of banking/financial services CFOs said that it will decrease their hiring (compared to 37 percent nationally), 52 percent said that it would decrease their company’s growth (compared to 40 percent nationally) and 58 percent said that it would increase their product pricing (compared to 49 percent nationally).

“Although we are seeing increased optimism in the banking and financial services sectors, firms are also bracing for the increased compliance costs that accompany both financial reform and health care reform legislation,” says Nichole Jordan, Grant Thornton LLP National Banking and Securities Industry Leader. “Unfortunately, this means that increased costs from interchange fees to expanded health care will be passed along to the consumer or will affect how aggressively firms can hire.”

When asked about the business climate in their own state, 61 percent of banking/financial services CFOs said that they are seeing a negative impact on their business due to the financial condition of their state and 66 percent reported that the actions of the political leaders in their state have not created a business-friendly environment. In addition, an overwhelming majority (95 percent) support public-private partnerships that seek to reorganize and improve the function of state and local governments and public services as a means to overcome budget challenges at the state and local level.

“Although much of the industry has focused on the impact of national financial reform, banks also need to understand how the political and fiscal environments in their own states can affect their business,” adds Jordan.

What do you think?

8 steps to creating B2B products your customers will love

Posted by Mark Brousseau

There’s a famous quote from Henry Ford that Steve Jobs has been known to cite: “If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted,” Ford reportedly said, “they would have told me ‘a faster horse.’” Yes, it reflects a bold product development philosophy. And this closed-door, tell-customers-what-they-want-even-if-they-don’t-yet-know-it approach works well for our modern day King of Innovation (and his development team at Apple, of course). But if you’re tempted to adopt the Jobsian method yourself, Dan Adams urges you to think twice.

“Don’t start wearing black turtlenecks and imagining your blockbuster new product just yet,” advises Adams, author of New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth and founder of Advanced Industrial Marketing.

“The reality is that the average new product success rate—once the costly development stage begins—is only 25 percent,” he adds. “Generally speaking, for those of us who aren’t Steve Jobs, the practice of developing new products first and then waiting to see if customers buy them is a terribly inefficient use of resources.”

For B2B suppliers, in particular, Adams extols the virtues of first understanding market needs and then developing supplier solutions to meet them. In fact, his New Product Blueprinting—packed full of very practical methods, skills, and tools that have been finely tuned on six continents and in hundreds of industries—centers on this “ask before you innovate” philosophy.

“The good news is that you can conceptualize products you know your customers need before spending a bundle on development and launch,” explains Adams. “And even more good news, this approach does not prevent you from developing exciting, breakthrough products. What’s more, it’s unlikely your competitors are using this approach today, so your competitive advantage can be enormous.”

Here are the key steps to becoming a new product mastermind in your own right:

Remember, Steve Jobs deals in consumer goods—a whole different ballgame from B2B products. In describing his iTunes development team, Jobs said, “The reason that we worked so hard is because we all wanted one. You know? I mean, the first few hundred customers were us.”

In contrast, points out Adams, when DuPont developed Kevlar, they first experimented in applications such as tire cords. They went 10 years before implementing the first field trial in protective body armor, which ultimately became their main market. If you’re selling to other businesses, it’s unlikely you know enough about your customers’ worlds to hit the nail on the head with every product you develop for them.

“Unlike Steve Jobs, who can create successful products based on what he knows he wants and what his Apple employees want, you have to ask your customers what they want,” says Adams. “Otherwise, you risk spending tons of time and money on a product that you think is great, but that ultimately elicits a sleepy yawn from your customers.”

Compare your IQ (Innovation Quotient) to Steve’s and act accordingly. There’s no doubt that you and your team are smart. And in fact, you and your development team may just be as smart as Jobs and his team. But it’s unlikely you’ve worked as hard for as long at mastering the skills needed to develop blockbuster products.

“Just because Reinhold Messner—one of the world’s greatest mountain climbers—makes a solo climb of Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen, doesn’t mean you can,” notes Adams. “But with training, oxygen, the right team, and an easier route, you might still enjoy the same view. My point is, if you want to win in the marketplace, tip the scales in your favor. Why not avoid unnecessary risks when you can?”

Because these risks can be costly. During a time period that Jobs was absent from Apple, the company had its share of new product flops. You might recall the Newton MessagePad. Or how about the Apple Bandai Pippin, the gaming console technology created by Apple, or Cyberdog, the Internet browser Apple created back in the late ’90s?

“Sure, it would be great if your next three products were MacBook, iPod, and iPad,” says Adams. “But if they are Newton, Pippin, and Cyberdog, will you still even be working at the same company?”

Learn how to attack the right market. When Apple develops a new product for the global consumer electronics market, it can be assured it is pursuing a market that is large, growing, and open to change. Unfortunately, it’s possible—and all too common—for B2B suppliers to pursue far lesser markets.

“If you make adhesives, they could be used in window construction, aircraft interiors, solar panels, and so on,” notes Adams. “Smart B2B suppliers focus their scarce resources on just those market segments with the best prospects for growth, adequate size, reasonable competitive landscape, and so on. You can learn much of this information by doing solid secondary market research. But you often need to spend time interviewing customers in potential market segments as well. Sometimes you’ll find an ‘over-served’ market that is looking only for lower pricing. That’s a good time to ‘bail’ and pursue a different market.”

Uncover customer outcomes. Steve Jobs makes a good point when he says you can’t just ask customers for “the next big thing.” But the next big thing is the “solution,” which is supposed to be the supplier’s area of expertise. The customer’s area of expertise is the “outcome”—what they want to have happen or what they want a new product to do for them. They don’t know how to make it happen. They just know they need it to happen. When you find out what kind of outcome your customers want, you can provide their solution.

“Knowing that these are the outcomes his customers wanted, what kind of products should he develop?” says Adams. “Perhaps something that looks like iTunes and the iPod. I use this made-up scenario to illustrate how the outcomes you hear from your customers might translate into new products. Once you know what outcomes your customers want, you can begin to develop a product that delivers them.

“Research shows there are 50 to 150 customer outcomes for every job your product is hired to do,” he adds. “And the reality is that talking to customers and uncovering these outcomes actually helps your team be more creative. For example, it’s likely your customers will reveal an outcome they need that you and your team might never have thought of without their input.”

Don’t “just ask” customers. When you ask customers for their outcomes, get creative. You need to really get your customers thinking and talking. In-depth. One- or two-sentence answers will rarely give you the information you need—and that’s what you’re likely to get unless you know how to probe.

“You can encourage customers to dig deeper using interview methods similar to those we developed at Advanced Industrial Marketing,” says Adams. “For example, we have special ‘trigger methods’ to get them out of mental ruts. We have fresh ways for probing their responses. And we have unique observation and customer tour tools to let you see exciting new opportunities.

“When someone says, ‘Don’t just ask customers what they want,’ it doesn’t mean you should isolate yourself deep within the bowels of your company to guess what they want,” he adds. “It means you should get innovative about ways to enter your customers’ worlds and understand the needs they cannot easily articulate on their own.”

Prioritize customer outcomes. What will customers richly pay you for? Only for delivering outcomes that are important and currently unsatisfied. That’s why Adams advises clients to get quantitative—to ask customers to rate how eager they are for certain elements of a new product. For example, you might ask on a scale of 1-10 how important it is to “search for a broad range of music.” Then ask that same customer to rate, on a scale of 1-10, how satisfied they are today with their ability to “search for a broad range of music.” Then focus your product development on outcomes that scored high in importance and low in current satisfaction.

“Most suppliers fail to ask these quantitative questions,” says Adams. “The result is they miss two critical points: The first is that it’s a mistake to let your engineers and scientists work on answers to questions customers don’t care about; secondly, to a certain extent, we all ‘hear what we want to hear’ in customer interviews, so quantitative data is needed to drive out internal bias and wishful thinking.”

Take advantage of the profit motive. Many B2B suppliers completely overlook an enormous advantage they have over consumer-products companies such as Apple: the ability to measure value delivered to their customers. How do you measure the “coolness” of a tiny iPod, the convenience of a fast music download, or the bragging rights of owning the latest iPhone model?

But the B2B supplier’s world is different. “I’ve helped B2B suppliers in hundreds of industries,” says Adams, “and their customers are usually in the business of making money. B2B suppliers can help their customers make more money by improving their processes and/or their products. If suppliers are willing to work at this, they can often measure or predict how a new product will let customers a) reduce costs, b) sell higher volumes, or c) sell at higher prices.

“Tools such as value calculators allow attentive B2B suppliers to understand the value their customers will receive from their new product,” he adds. “This teaches the supplier how to precisely ‘tune’ the design of their new product, how to price it, and how to promote it. This may not be as much fun as a new touch-screen phone, but it’s great for the supplier’s bottom line.”

Get creative with the solutions. Truly hearing the voice of the customer is necessary, but not sufficient. Here’s where you can and should emulate Jobs and his team at Apple—in the creativity department. Jobs doesn’t just encourage innovation; he requires it. He wants Apple employees to take risks, give feedback, and constantly think outside the box. Basically, creativity is a must.

“Once your team knows the outcomes customers care about, they need to focus all their creative energy on finding the solutions that result in those outcomes,” says Adams. “This is best done by engaging as many of the right minds as possible. But remember, this often means engaging those who work outside your company.”

“I leave you with a sort of caveat,” says Adams. “The new product development process that I’ve laid out might look neat and orderly, but in fact, it is often like a messy kitchen as the meal is being prepared. It won’t be unusual during the process for your scientists to invent great new technology before finding a home for it—think Post-it Notes or ScotchgardTM. Do you just leave those products quivering on the lab bench since customers didn’t ask for them? Absolutely not.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pre-paid cards set to skyrocket

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Pre-paid cards are primed for explosive growth in the coming year, according to a survey conducted by Firstsource Solutions.

Fifty percent of payment industry professionals surveyed expect wider adoption of pre-paid cards as more consumers move away from credit cards and cash. Nearly 30 percent of respondents said that more consumers would become “loaders” (i.e. depositing more money to their pre-paid accounts).

“We’re seeing a growing interest in pre-paid cards in consumer segments that weren’t originally drawn to using such a form of payment,” says Tim Smith, senior vice president, Banking Financial Services & Insurance, Firstsource. “Our findings support recent research about the upward trend in the pre-paid market which shows that an estimated $37 billion was loaded onto prepaid cards last year, compared to $18 billion in 2009 and $9 billion in 2008.”

Survey respondents indicated that there is a huge opportunity for the pre-paid market to expand its customer base beyond the most likely consumer targets. More than 40 percent indicated that increased scrutiny from regulators regarding loading and set-up fees will pose the greatest risk to the industry. Additionally, 47 percent said educating card holders on the nuances of a pre-paid will be critical to successful adoption and overall growth in the market.

Firstsource’s survey also examined sentiment on the current regulatory climate in the payments industry. While Dodd-Frank was top-of-mind for 45 percent of payments professionals, the Consumer Financial Protection Act has fallen off the radar for most industry executives (only 9 percent of respondents indicated it was currently a priority issue).

What do you think?