Dwayne Edwards is a Product Manager at Volvo Cars of North America where he develops products that support Volvo’s subscription model and the customer experience. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Yale School of Management and is passionate about building new products and business models that create value and reach customers in new and exciting ways.
In this interview, Mr. Edwards discusses his journey into the private sector, what innovations implemented at Volvo are shaped by Design Thinking, and how he evaluates the customer experience for the company. He also gives a contrary view about what it means to live in an experiential economy.
Q. What made you get into business?
A. Several years ago when I was in the Marine Corps and deployed overseas, I would spend much of my time reflecting about the operations we were conducting. When I thought about the military and national defense and why things happen, a lot came down to policy and diplomacy. Additionally, when I considered national security, economics played a big part of it. I found myself contemplating the value chain of what I was doing in the military and wanting to be closer to where decisions were being made. Logically, I thought I needed to become a player in the business realm where I could help shape some of what’s happening today and to have a voice in those economic issues. It’s a very macro view, but it was one of the reasons that business made the most sense for me. I felt like it was a more challenging use of my varied skill sets.
Q. What drew you to business versus government as a change agent?
A. My experience in the military and seeing how change comes about drew me to business. I’m not criticizing our military or our government because we need both, but sometimes change comes about a bit slower than I would like in those arenas. As a change agent, I had a strong feeling that business could bring about change faster than government in the areas I cared about.
Q. What are some current innovations in your industry that you are interested in or investigating?
A. I’m really interested in voice technology. There are a ton of opportunities in voice right now; Amazon, Google, Apple, etc. I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg in terms of being able to interact with other people, entities, and organizations by voice and to actually streamline our activities. That’s the part that I think is very interesting. I talk to Alexa every morning; I get my news and my weather from her, and sometimes my calendar updates. There’s definitely room for the AI assistant to help us do a lot more and some great companies are developing these solutions right now.
Q. How has Design Thinking shaped the way you work and your projects?
A. Design Thinking for me is all about unlocking the truth and satisfying my customers. If options on the table seem comparable and there is no data available to point in either direction, we’ll run a simple AB test to give us the data we need. We’ve executed pilots to identify usability and findability opportunities from customers and continuous feedback allows us to make necessary updates with updated customer feedback.
A small example is a customer service user interface we built. We prototyped the interface prior to committing to build so we could verify our assumptions and identify gaps. Our customer service team shared valuable feedback that we incorporated into the actual product. We were fortunate enough to capture this feedback early when it was cheapest to incorporate. I certainly spent time building empathy and understanding the team’s work, but no amount of empathy can replace the actual customer’s interaction and the change management benefits.
That’s one way I’ve been able to leverage Design Thinking throughout the product development process. But there is much more opportunity to leverage Design Thinking in various organizational functions. Whether that’s HR, operations, sales, or customer service, there’s always a customer and where there is a customer, empathy and understanding are powerful tools.
Q. How do you get customers to agree to be a part of the Design Thinking process?
A. One approach we’ve used is customer satisfaction surveys. We’ll send a general survey where we reach out to customers and ask them questions about their satisfaction. At the bottom of the survey, we also ask them if they’d like to participate in additional surveys. Those customers who opt-in are signaling that they want to be more involved in the process. These are the customers my design team will generally reach out to. We then thank them for opting in and, if the timing is right, say we’d love to get their feedback on X, Y, and Z. That’s one method we have used to convert a general survey respondent to someone who is more tuned-in and involved in our design process.
Q. How has the customer experience evolved in your work?
A. It’s continuously evolving. Customer experience is evolving to the point where we’re heavily focused on understanding at a very deliberate level every touchpoint that we have with our customers. We’re evaluating everything we’re communicating at each point in time and trying to understand how the customer is receiving it. Also, different types of customers value different attributes differently. It’s important to recognize which segment you’re targeting, and which features matter the most to them. For example, for many customers, product attributes are very important. But they may make different choices when factors like time are introduced in the equation. We’ve designed experiments to help work through some of this.
Q. Some would submit we are living in an experiential economy. Would you agree with that?
A. I don’t believe that we’re now living in an experiential economy. I think if you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we know once basic needs have been met and you move higher up on the triangle people want to self-actualize. So, I don’t think we’re living in any type of economy that’s different than what human beings have desired for the longest while. I just think that maybe people, generationally, have evolved so that we’re able to focus in on things differently. I’m not one to believe in fads. I take a more long-term view on human beings and human nature. For example, I think when you look at Walt Disney, his company has focused on and created a “happiness experience” for decades. I wouldn’t be that quick to say we’re living in an experiential economy. I think more companies are getting smarter and more hip to the game. But I think true competitors have known for a long time that experience sells.
Q. Innovative companies are constantly changing. What can companies do to manage change and maintain growth?
A. There are a lot of great frameworks available when discussing change or creating change management plans. At the end the day, I think managing change boils down to a few things: leadership, change capacity, and change competency. If you’re going to manage change it starts from the top down. You really need to have leadership that authentically understands what that means and creates a culture where change is actually possible, and change can thrive. I’ve seen instances where leaders try to bring about change quickly, but it gets stifled. Leadership needs to be able to drive change by creating a culture and providing incentives so that activities can go in the direction their company needs. Do your employees understand your direction and vision? Or, perhaps most importantly, why the change is necessary? This boils down to leadership. I’ve seen companies realize they need new competencies and hire new people with these abilities. However, they’ll still have the same management at the top, and they didn’t create a plan to ensure that their existing employees understand and value the new competencies and vice versa. The appropriate functions of the organization and management need to be retooled and retrained so they can properly leverage each other. If not, then you’re likely going to end up with shocks to your culture and be worse off than when you started. Change capacity provides the right environment or right levers so that you can take the appropriate steps.
This interview was conducted by the team at Stonehill. Stonehill is a strategy and innovation firm that helps businesses to identify opportunity, implement change, and accelerate growth. Our team consists of an innovative blend of creative, strategy, technology, and change management experts that allows us to unite the functional silos of business in the common objective of creating differentiated customer experiences.