The Complexity of Customer Simplicity

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Last week I had to call my cable company to accomplish what I thought would be a simple task: getting a replacement modem.

I was quickly reminded why most consumers hate their cable companies. I’ll save you the gory details of the experience and just provide the bullet points:

• three days
• seven calls
• three transfers, including two disconnects
• at least two hours on hold
• four chat sessions
• a couple of hours on the website
• five emails and
• one trip to the closest retail service outlet for my cable provider.

And as of this morning, still no modem.

All this complexity, and frustration, got me thinking: why are so many customer experiences so unnecessarily complicated? Of course, customers clearly want simplicity in their interactions. But so do most Fortune 500 companies. This is what Verde sees in our work with clients, which are a pretty good representation of the Fortune 500:

Marketing wants customer experience simplicity.
Choice is good. But the exponential growth of options when consumers consume – brands, models, channels, retailers – raises the stakes for clarity and ease of consideration/purchase. Experience simplicity reduces cognitive overload and moves barriers to purchase out of the way.

Service Operations wants customer experience simplicity.
The more complexity in customer experience, the higher the service costs. And not just because complexity requires customer service staff to handle more calls; experience complexity also drives service cycle times, rep turnover and capital investment. Experience simplicity means fewer calls, easier calls, less rep burnout and more straightforward service technology investments. Oh, and service reps could spend more time on interactions with customers that grow their value instead of defending against customer defection.

The C-Suite wants customer experience simplicity.
The less energy customers have to spend managing their relationship with a brand, the more energy they have to invest in enjoying the brand promise. The outcomes: greater loyalty, advocacy, spend and commitment. Which means more revenue, more market share and superior competitive position.

So all of us – customers and companies, executives and front-line sales service reps – want pretty much the same thing: simplicity. So isn’t it surprising that more companies haven’t cracked the code on making their customer experiences simple?

Not really. Paradoxically, simplicity is actually pretty complicated. For any specific company there will be numerous reasons – cultural, financial, technical, operational – why customer simplicity is difficult to achieve. But at Verde we see three common reasons why companies struggle so hard to simplify customer experiences:

1. High quality simplicity depends on flawless integration of a complex set of business processes. 
From the outside looking in, I’d guess my less-than-simple cable experience resulted from the intersection of at least: poor hiring/training practices, inadequate technology infrastructure, sloppy marketing communications, unreasonable corporate goal-setting and short-sighted financial policies. If I was on the inside, my list would probably expand. Syncing all these processes up to deliver simple-yet-high quality experiences without sacrificing long term customer profitability is a very complex task.

2. Change is hard.
Even when companies have a good grasp of what is required to deliver a high quality customer simplicity, making the changes necessary to meet those requirements requires fortitude, focus and discipline. Very few meaningful changes in the customer experiences can rely on quick hit “silver bullet” solutions at a single point of the value chain. Staying on plan over time – and knowing how well you are progressing – is critical to simplifying customer experience.

3. Knowing what matters to the customer is really hard.
This is the big one. You may have noted our use of the adjective “meaningful” in my bullet above. Companies purposefully invest in a multitude of customer experience improvements every year, but many of these are not “meaningful”: they don’t matter to the customer and they don’t improve profitability or share. Consider for a moment the hundreds of experiences that comprise your customers’ relationship with your company. Which ones matter the most to loyalty and advocacy? Just as important: which ones don’t? Are you investing your energies and resources where you’ll get the highest return in customer equity?

Customer experience simplicity is complex. But all is not lost. There are specific proven ways to cut through all the complexity and align the organization against the experiences that really matter to loyalty and customer value.

Subscribe to this blog and go to Part II of this post, Which “Silent Experiences” Are Killing Your Customer Loyalty?, where we’ll share our thoughts on those tactics and provide some examples of companies who “cracked the simplicity code” and reaped significant gains.

Jon Skinner
Executive Vice President, The Verde Group

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An Obsession with Success Metrics Won’t Create More Success – Find Out What Will

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I understand why companies like to focus on positive measurements — be they sales, profits or stock price. We all want to feel good.

But if you want to improve, you also have to identify what you need to do differently or stop doing.

In my last post, NPS: the danger of its singularity, I examined the Net Promote Score (NPS), a phenomenon in the world of customer experience measurement. But, as I explained, a sole focus on NPS can force you to overlook the complexity of company-customer relationships and the cause of your problems. What’s more, it measures an outcome, not the actions required to achieve it.

Stop, replace or adjust

Just as the mechanic must understand what’s wrong with your car in order to fix it, marketers cannot focus only on their successes. You want your car, and your company, to perform as well as it can. That means looking under the hood, with the help of computer diagnostics of course, to see what needs to be stopped, replaced or adjusted.

Diagnostics and measurements need to inform action. They need to look beyond the success yard stick of NPS. They need to identify problems, such as employee churn, customer churn, customer complaints, and customer problem experience.

Ultimately, the role of a good marketer is to figure out the measures that inform action. In the ideal world, those actions should drive more of those success outcomes – like improved sales, profits and market share.

Or they’ll stop buying

Customer problem experience is one of the best predictors of market impact. When customers experience problems, they are far more likely to take action than those who do not.

That action may be manifested as inaction or disloyalty. That is, the customer will stop buying from the company. They will buy less frequently and, depending on the problem severity, they will tell others about it – spawning more potential disloyalty to the company in question.

Based on over 250,000 customer responses from research conducted by Verde Group over the past four years, about 70% of consumers who choose to stop doing business with a company do so because they experienced a problem. Imagine being in control of that much risk.

Attitudes and behaviours tend to be consistent. Positive attitudes lead to approach behaviors; negative attitudes are associated with withdrawal behaviors. Negative attitudes, particularly when emotionally charged, can cause very negative withdrawal or disloyal behavior.

Ask about specifics

The measure of problem experience is not straightforward. You can’t simply ask a customer if they’ve had a problem. Most will say “no”. That doesn’t mean they didn’t experience something negative.

The best way to measure the extent to which your customers are experiencing problems is to ask them specifically about potential known problems. Have them answer “yes” or “no” to your list. Then use the output from that line of questioning to analyze the attitude-behavior link. Customers will answer differently. In the end, you will get a clear picture of the key experiences that are most likely suppressing market behavior and therefore, market value.

It takes guts to scrutinize problems. But that’s what leadership is all about.

Paula Courtney
Chief Executive Officer, The Verde Group

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