Value at the end of the line

Organisations invest considerable resources in getting customers to acquire their goods and services. They will promote their products in a variety of media, hand out samples or engage a sales team, for instance.

In addition, some organisations will map out the steps that their customers go through when using the product. That allows firms to identify opportunities to improve the customers’ experience – for instance, by eliminating ‘pain points’ – and, therefore, increase profitability.

What tends to get less attention, however, is the end of the line. That point when the customer stops using the product – either because it reached the end of its life or because the customer’s needs or preferences changed. Yet, here, too, organisations can improve the customer’s experience and create and capture value. Here are a few examples. Looking forward to reading your own examples, too, in the comments section.

Consumables
When we finish that coffee or sandwich, empty yet another bottle of shampoo or run out of tonner in the printer, there is an opportunity for the firm to sell us another one. There is also the challenge of disposing of whatever is left.

Organisations can add value by helping customers recycle leftover products or packaging. For instance, in the UK, Nespresso provides plastic bags to collect used capsules. Once it’s full, customers return the bag to Nespresso. According to the company’s website, the coffee grounds are used as natural fertilisers or heating, while the aluminium capsules are melted and reused.

That is a very different from the experience we recently had with another company. We ordered some consumable goods that were delivered in two rather large styrofoam boxes. When we called the company to ask what to do with the boxes, we were told to ‘dispose of them as you wish – it would not be economical or carbon-efficient for us to collect them’. Translation: it is your problem, dear customer!

If recycling is good, reducing waste is even better. A case in point is the Café next to my office. There, products are sold in packaging that breaks down quickly in general waste. This way, customers do not have to worry about separating whatever is left in the their trays at the end of the meal, which is quite handy if you are in a hurry.

Durables
Goods that do not wear out quickly and are consumed over a long period of time pose different challenges.

Typically, there is a long gap between successive purchases and, therefore, the consumer needs to go through the hassle of collecting information about alternatives, comparing options, etc… For instance, our electrical toaster stopped working over the weekend. The product guarantee has expired, so we cannot have it replaced and the manufacturer informed us that having it repaired would probably cost as much as buying a new toaster. And then, unexpectedly, they offered 25% off the purchase of a new one. Negative emotions (broken toaster, not replaceable, …) were very quickly turned into a positive one.

Furthermore, it may be difficult or costly to dispose of the durable good because of its size, weight or recycling requirements. Mattress companies, very helpfully, offer to take away your mattress and dispose of it for you. Anyone who tried to carry a king sized mattress down a narrow staircase and into the back of a car will know how valuable a service that is.

In other occasions, there may still be some economic value in the product. Organisations can add value to their customers by making it easier for them to re-sell the products in question. One example is Amazon, which allows customers to sell their used or unwanted books, DVDs, etc… on the website. Car dealers, too, will usually take in your used car and credit some amount towards the purchase of a new one.

In summary, there are many opportunities to improve the customer experience at every stage of the customer journey. That includes the end of the line, for both consumable and durable goods.

I would love to read your examples of companies that help you dispose, recycle, replace or re-sell products that you no longer use.

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