When you consider the fine art of delighting customers, you might be tempted to think of it only in terms of your products or services. 

But there's another way to think about it. Your company can also delight customers by finding innovative new ways to distribute said product. Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath explored this idea in her classic Harvard Business Review article, "Discovering New Points of Differentiation," which she co-authored with Wharton's Ian C. MacMillan in 1997. "We believe that if companies open up their creative thinking to their customers' entire experience with a product or service--what we call the consumption chain--they can uncover opportunities to position their offerings in ways that they, and their competitors, would never have thought possible," they wrote.

The professors would be happy to know that two principal consultants at Strategy& (formerly known as Booz & Company) are carrying the torch, when it comes to thinking about ways to delight customers earlier on in the consumer chain--specifically, in the distribution of the product. Christopher A.H. Vollmer and Bart Sayer recently authored a superb article on strategy + business about the topic. Here's a rundown of their thinking, which you can apply broadly to your own products and services:

1. Tweak your distribution for a new demographic. 

What do millennials want? In category after category, most members of this large (80 million) and potent ($200 billion in annual buying power) group "want their brands of choice on demand, digitally enabled, and tailored to their specific requirements," note the authors. 

Think of it this way: If you're an adult of a certain age, you probably won't think twice about going to a bar and just making a choice based on whatever's on tap. But such brick-and-mortar parameters won't fly with millennials, who've shown they want a personalized, experience-based curation. In clothing, Stitch Fix (a personalized styling service) is an example. In mattresses, Helix Sleep (a personalized onless mattress seller) is an example.  

2. Make it easy for your customers to obtain complementary products or services. 

Vollmer and Sayer point out that it's not always easy to get what you need, when you need it, to make a kick-ass cocktail. Perhaps you're hosting a party, and on your phone you've found a killer recipe calling for three dashes of Angostura bitters or maraschino cherries. In that moment, you'd do anything for a speedy delivery of those products. 

"What you could really use is an app that will deliver this entire experience quickly and personally, maybe even including a bartender who can stick around to make a few drinks," they write. That app doesn't exist yet--but the demand does. So ask yourself this question: What do your customers crave, at a moment's notice, that you're not (yet) in a position to provide?

3. Explore the seasonal or holiday use of your products and services. 

Granted, one reason such on-demand cocktail services don't yet exist is because the logistics are difficult. But there are certain times of the year when everyone is partying: July 4, Halloween, New Year's Eve, the Super Bowl. 

One way to experiment with innovations in product distribution is to consider your windows of high demand. While providing 24/7/365 wish-fulfillment services to your customers is farfetched, you can focus on times and dates when your ability to go one step further than your competitors will have maximum impact.

4. Consider how you'll fit in the world's ever-evolving delivery infrastructure. 

There's big money in disrupting the traditional distribution of products--and the titans of contemporary commerce know it. "Everyone is trying to get in the game: Google (Google Express), Amazon (Prime Now), Uber (UberEATS), and niche players such as TaskRabbit and GrubHub," note the authors.

The point is, you don't have to reinvent the wheel, if you're considering how to tweak your distribution. You can explore who your best partners would be. 

There are some interesting examples of how this is already happening in the alcohol industry. In January, Anheuser-Busch launched the Bud Light Button app for one-hour home delivery in Washington, D.C., a partnership with on-demand service Klink. In December, 2014, Jack Daniel's teamed with on-demand service Saucey so its Sinatra Select whiskey could be delivered to doorsteps by Frank Sinatra impersonators. Who wouldn't want to order something like that for a party? Other booze apps that deliver include Drizly, Minibar, Thirstie, and DrinkFly.

5. Don't neglect the power of old-school distribution. 

Numerous studies show that it's ideal to engage your customers through multiple channels. Vollmer and Sayer note that Target "found that a customer who shops both in-store and through its digital channel will shop three times more frequently than an in-store-only shopper, generating three times the sales and more than two-and-a-half times the margin dollars."

That finding is consistent with what numerous online retailers have discovered. There's a reason both Warby Parker and Bonobos have complemented their e-commerce offerings with actual stores. In the beverage industry, one possibility might be partnerships with bartender rental agencies and other party-planning services--entities which have already established strong regional reputations and relationships.

Published on: Aug 20, 2015