Hearing customer voices, business and students learning together

Darren Oemcke
Hydra Consulting

Matthew Salier
New Venture Institute

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Abstract
Creating connections with customers and consumers is the business moat of right now. All of the new media platforms and tools have changed not only the rules, but also the battlefields of customer engagement. To be successful you must hear customer voices and learn how to create genuine and abiding connection with them.

We developed a program of Customer-Driven Business Planning to teach tools that have either been developed or matured in the mobile, post-social and right-now environment in which modern business must operate. We initially developed it as a third-year business subject to replace the teaching of conventional business planning with a program of hearing customer voices.

By developing it with and having it taught/facilitated by an experienced business founder and management consultant, we were able to create an environment of real relevance for students. The New Venture Institute, Flinders Business School and Hydra Consulting partnered to pilot this model an undergraduate program in semester 2, 2016 as Business Planning for New Ventures as part of the initial development of the Bachelor of Business (innovation and Enterprise) partnership with the Fox School of Business.

The creation of the new subject addressed a concern that business planning is often approached at an undergraduate level as a theoretical exercise with constructs that are removed from the day-to-day experience of business. Business planning has become a fast-moving field and there was an opportunity to create a subject that kept pace with fast-moving changes in business practice. We were keen to make sure that we applied the most modern approaches to the teaching of business planning.

The subject was developed as a joint learning exercise for start-up or established businesses as well as the students.

In this program we undertake a ‘guided implementation’ of the following tools for building a foundation for customer connection and how they can be used to create and launch new products and build your understanding of what your customers really want.

• Value Proposition Design
• Business Model Design
• Product Development Sprints (Google Ventures Model)
• Job To Be Done methodology and
• Growth hacking.

We teach and develop facilitation and open-ended questioning skills and how to utilise data from customer engagement to build business insight.

In the pilot semester a class of 15 students worked on two projects that were facilitated by the Wine Industry Suppliers of Australia (WISA), who agreed to participate in the pilot year, based on their previous relationship with the facilitator (Darren). The first an established trade-show, WineTech, partnered between the Wine Industry Suppliers of Australia and Kym Jones Exhibitions and the second a partnership between start-up OpenTute and WISA to deliver WinePortal a new on-line learning portal for the wine industry and the first full implementation of OpenTute’s learning platform.

The program consisted of teaching the methodologies, supported by videos from the companies that piloted the development of the methodologies then immediate application with the partner companies.

In the pilot semester the students implemented Value Proposition Design and Jobs to be done interviews for the WineTech Trade Show and Business Model Development and Growth Hacking for the WinePortal.

Feedback from the businesses and from the students has been very positive. Students have reported enjoying the very practical nature of the course and the focus on methods that are highly contemporary. Students have indicated significant satisfacition as well as feeling challenged, with one student reporting:
• “Being pushed out of comfort zone”
• “Nervous and stressed-out” before managing workshops
• “Can’t be slack when working with real businesses”
• “Better than reading stories from a book”
• “Fun, but more than 20 in the class would be too much”

WISA and OpenTute have reported that they found the process very helpful in improving their customer understanding, but also in challenging their thinking and helping them to be more effective in their implementations.

All appreciated the focus on hearing customers voices.

We consider this model to have significant future. The Business Planning for New Ventures subject will continue in 2017 as an undergraduate course. We are also launching a business direct Customer Driven Business Planning Program in October 2016, which includes being a ‘customer’ of the undergraduate subject as one of the option for participating businesses.

We have also learnt a lot about providing this type of training, and will increase the focus on facilitation skills and make some adjustments to how we support the facilitated activities. We are also aiming to undertake a sprint in 2017 as one of the practical activities. We avoided this in 2016 as we wanted to pilot the course before developing a method for incorporating this into the practical side of the program.