Christopher Miller

Senior Technical Product Manager

What “Egg-celent” Innovation Can Teach Us about the Importance of Customer Experience

Topics: Home.

I like to buy local and fresh. So, I was excited to see on our internal discussion board that someone in our office was raising chickens and selling farm-fresh eggs. I met the seller and, for a while, bought eggs from the poultry farmer every Wednesday at an agreed-upon place and time. The eggs were great; over time, it became clear that the experience was not. For example, I had to pay in cash – which I don't typically carry – so I'd have to make a special trip to the credit union to get money. And if one of us got tied up in a meeting during our scheduled time to connect, we'd miss the handoff and my wife and I would have to buy eggs from the grocery store that week.

It was getting to be a frustrating situation for both me and the seller. I even started to look at other possible sources for eggs. (Yes, there’s a thriving ecosystem of agricultural producers at our company!) Then, after a day where we missed each other two different times, she said, "I think we have to try something different – let's experiment with a new model." My ears perked up immediately, because my job at Northwestern Mutual is to do just that – to be on the lookout for ways we might experiment with emerging technologies to create value and positively impact business operations.

Her idea was to drop the eggs in a secure, public location and send me a picture of the location with access instructions. Then, I could pick up the eggs whenever I had time and use PayPal to send her the money. No more scheduling. No more coordinating. No more having to go to the credit union. And because we would be using a secure location, I could leave empty egg cartons for her there, which would earn me a discount on future eggs. The experiment worked, and now this is how we're doing business with each other – digitally. It has been so successful, in fact, this “egg-celent” process has now rolled out to other customers at the company.

What does this have to do with our work at Northwestern Mutual? Simple. The poultry farmer thought she was in the business of selling eggs. But really, she's in the business of getting the eggs into the hands of her customers, as easily as possible. By thinking about that process in a different way, she created a better experience for her customers – including me – and now I continue to be a loyal buyer.

While this example may seem silly, it fits the narrative that our innovation team and our company is trying to tell about the importance of customer experience. Putting experience at the center of what we do demands new approaches to our work, so we can think about problems and apply technology in new and different ways. We must be willing to experiment. (Or, in this case, get “egg-cited” about thinking outside the egg carton!) If we don't, we might lose our customers to another provider.

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