How do customers perceive value?

Aarne Leinonen
4 min readAug 20, 2018
An elder lady reads an ebook with her tablet with a big font size and thus doesn’t require glasses for reading. Something that print books don’t allow. The picture was taken during an in-context interview that enabled rich observations.

During the spring I did a research on customers’ value perceptions in the context of an ebook service use. I had a bunch of Elisa Kirja customers record their reading and listening situations via WhatsApp probe for 15 days and then had in-context interviews with them. The underlying motivation for the study was that in the digital service theatre the operations are automated and the natural human-to-human daily communication between the customer and the service provider is minimal, and yet the provider still needs to understand their customers deeply.

A good starting point for decisions regarding to the service would be the customer value. It’s beneficial for an organisation to understand why their service or product exists and why the customers are willing to pay for it. The customer value goes to the center of these questions, even though organisations often look at it only through indirect metrics.

The customer value is subjective perception of received and experienced consequences that help the customer towards their goals and address their needs.

If we embrace customer value as truly subjective phenomena, taking place in customer’s own processes, we should not rely solely on second hand knowledge of it, but try to interpret it best we can directly from the customers. By understanding their experiences, end-goals and perceptions we get a better idea what should be done.

What I found out about customers’ value perception is that most of the time the value is habituated and unconscious. Customers perceive value only when there is a change of things or alternatives. However, the alternatives to current situation are not considered actively. The easiness of reading with tablet is the new normal and the customers requires a forced comparison to the print format to realise the value. After forcing participants to compare formats together, they were able to vocalise the value that they get from each format.

Sometimes value is conscious and calculated. Few super active readers told me that they had gotten rid of all their physical books and bookshelves because of the ebooks became an alternative. The added cubic meters of space for their apartments served as a reminder of gained value for them. The pricing and overall spending in books were a more constant source for calculated value assessments. Most of the customers made comparisons of content prices between stores when they were buying books. The options included different formats and in these situations some level of comparison of the format consequences took place.

In the decision making-situations people use heuristics to pick an alternative. They can be based on either past experiences or secondary cues given by the marketing. In the adjacent figure some of the actual heuristics held by the customers relating past experiences with electronic formats are displayed. They are labeled under bigger categories practical, efficiency, easiness, aesthetic and ecological. These heuristics indicate the value that they perceive from electronic formats and they are some of the reasons that affect their future decisions.

Observing real reading and listening sessions enabled me to see the received value from the ebook service, that the customers might not have put into words themselves. What I found out is that ebook and audiobook formats enable a new type of situations for book content compared to print formats. I named the dimension as opportunistic-scheduled.

The opportunistic situations consist of book consumption situations that are unplanned and can occur in situations that are not ordinarily associated with books. The important factor is that digital book formats play a part in enabling them. The user would not have started reading or listening if they have had needed to plan carrying some other device than what they were already carrying with them.

Scheduled reading in the other hand was habitual and reoccuring, happening in familiar settings, maybe in home. Evening reading was typically this kind of reading. The difference between print and digital book formats was smaller regarding to enabling factors. The usability or preference to certain format played a bigger role when selecting a book to consume.

As a summary, the customers get practical value from the digital formats due enabling factors. Those are for example the adjustable font size that enables reading with ease, or audiobook format, that enables book content to be a secondary activity during a primary activity. Also, availability of book content in novel situations is valuable for the customers — it is the consequence that they want and which serves their goals and needs.

Want me to give a talk somewhere? Other opportunities? Drop a message or tweet them to me @aarneleinonen .

This study was also my master’s thesis “Customers’ value perceptions: A case study of ebook service customers’ value constructs”. You can read the whole thing from Aaltodoc. The thesis marks an end to my graduate studies in Aalto University for the time being.

This post is the 3rd and the last of a series — me doing my master’s thesis on customer perceived value. Read the 1st post “Highlights from customer value literature” here and the 2nd post “Cultural probes for service design in 2018" here.



Aarne Leinonen

Radical existentialist with a humanistic vibe. Researcher of service development in organizations. Interested in customer value. Tweets @aarneleinonen