What shampoo sachets can teach us about customer experience

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Anyone who has ever launched a new product or service knows the value of soft launches and beta testing. After all, hardly any product gets it right first time, so it pays to dip your toe in the water with a few carefully profiled test consumers, to see what works, what doesn’t and how the proposition can be improved before a full rollout gets underway.

As a customer experience designer I’m often asked to advise on ‘how best to test’.
My number 1 rule is to make sure that any test insight includes feedback on the overall concept, not simply the product.
bt1400_vendella_international_4Take a trial-size shampoo sachet. These are commonly used by brands to test the appeal of new product formulations, and even completely new categories. Some of the most luxurious, high-priced skincare starts its brand journey as a giveaway sachet.
But step outside the myopia of the brand world for a minute and experience such demo packs from the consumers’ perspective for a minute – here’s how it feels:
  1. Shower gel sachets are too slippery. Remember you’re already in the shower when you try to tear them open, by which stage both hands and packaging are too wet to easily access the product
  2. Sachets are too small – most people build up an impression of a skincare product over time – it needs to prove itself against the currently used product. So, many consumers try to eek out two applications from a single sachet (at least the damn thing is already open the second time around!) but this means you’re only using half the volume of product, making the suds insufficient to assess it properly. Both times. And in-between uses, you’re left with a sticky, gooey corner of the sachet as your brand ambassador. Not good.
  3. Sachets are unrealistic to real packaging – I’ve been involved with skincare product research where the shape or look of a beauty product container impacted not just how the product was used but the long term brand value and word-of-mouth too. A simple AB split test using a miniature bottle vs. sachet would provide insight on both aspects but minimising the cost.
  4. Sachet as travel companion – unsurprisingly, many sachets are held back for when consumers travel or go on holiday rather than used immediately. This can be frustrating for brands wanting quick sales uplifts. And when consumers finally get round to opening the sachet, it’s done out of context – not in the in-home, repeat use environment, but on-the-road, valued for its petite size, its easy transit through airport security rules, its throwaway nature, so helping to keep homebound luggage to a minimum.
Now apply sachet learning, liberally and all over :-) to a broader context:
  • Small is beautiful – whether you’re trialling a new store concept, service offering or product variant, don’t let the restricted nature of the trial concept be the lasting impression for the consumer. Think limited edition, rather than limited. Make it exclusive, and habit forming. Leave the customer wanting more, with a clear path for how to get it.
  • Give generously – concepts should inform the direction of the finished product, not be an exercise in squeezing as many sample units as possible from the budget. By offering real life product quality and use, you’ll receive a similarly generous amount of actional insight in return.
  • Research in context – recognise the limitations of a controlled environment, be it a focus group room or an accompanied test-drive. By offering freedom and an extended trial in real-life surroundings, you’ll learn about your consumers personal context, with clues to how your proposition can add value to their life, well beyond a transactional purchase.
So now you have a new and more valuable use for those shampoo sachets in your wash bag – as a reminder to give your testing of new products and services the best chance of returning actionable insight and long term growth.

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