Imagine the next time you test drive a car, you get to try out the different options available. Now imagine that, instead of seeing those features on several models, you get to try them out in simple mock ups. You might get to handle several shifter choices, steering wheel configurations and dashboard layouts. It would be easier than trying out those features in a finished car, and you would still be able to see the options in person. Think you would be able to configure your ideal car? Probably.
Rapid prototyping (RP) is not so different. RP is a method of product development in which the company creates different options for each physical part of a product and tests those elements individually, both for functionality and aesthetic features, before taking on the cost and time of building a full-scale prototype.
Understanding Rapid Prototyping
The RP process begins with learning about your customers' needs while factoring in some of the customer experience standards that your company is known for. Next, these concepts need to be translated into specifications. Key ideologies are identified and compared with competing products. Then, a very simplistic version of the product or service is created, and designers review the prototype with users. Those end users provide feedback on what is going right in the design and any areas that need to be changed. As people are polled on how that initial prototype fits their needs, aspects receiving positive feedback are "frozen" while those requiring adjustment are tweaked, and the process begins again. The concepts identified by end users are incorporated into that initial prototype and the process is repeated until the design is fleshed out. In the end, the process takes days or weeks to accomplish what used to take months, if not years, to complete.
Applying RP in Your Company
Rapid prototyping is good for identifying customer needs and preferences without the risk of sinking a large sum of money into an untested new product, but that's not its only use. While rapid prototyping has clear applications in manufacturing and product development, the ideology has significant implications for the customer experience. At its most basic level, RP in the customer experience can be as simple as asking what works and what could use improvement after an interaction, but you can also use it to test drive the customer experience.
Test Driving the Customer Experience
Strategies can also be rapidly prototyped and applied to improving the customer experience. The first step is developing an interdepartmental team. Participants should come from your research and development departments, as well as marketing, finance, engineering and sales. Before you even talk to customers, it helps to identify the needs of your business, define a potential concept and make sure there are no conflicting priorities among team members. From here, you can build a strong understanding of customer needs and how the product or service your company provides might fit with that customer experience. As with creating a product, your team can quickly test and abandon strategies as necessary, be it a marketing concept, customer service script or better way to build a sales relationship.
Putting RP to Work
Before you put any of your company's resources into a new product, service or customer experience strategy, put together a diverse team who can evaluate the issues and conditions from different fronts. Use that information to create a simple model that can be incrementally refined as you get feedback from your clients and staff. The result will be better than anything you develop without that feedback.