This post was coauthored by Lisa Bodell.
Customers appreciate simplicity. In
fact, a number of recent studies have shown that it's key to their loyalty and
reported in HBR last year that the most important factor in creating
customer "stickiness" was "decision simplicity," i.e. the
ease of getting credible information in the midst of marketing noise. Another
CEB study found that loyalty is positively affected by reducing the amount
of effort that customers need to invest in service issues. Along the same
lines, Francis Frei and Anne Morriss, in their study
of service businesses, have found that one of the most effective ways to
keep customers is to simplify customer service jobs.
But how do you simplify in ways that will really make a difference for
customers? Oftentimes, organizations rely on internal planning, process
mapping, and brainstorming sessions to come up with new ways of satisfying
customers. While this can be productive, more often than not it leads to ideas
that barely change the status quo, because it's difficult for internal people
to produce fresh perspective on longstanding policies and practices.
So rather than relying on internal
perspectives alone, engage your customers in developing simplification ideas –
the second of our seven
strategies for simplifying your organization. Here are five best practices
that will help you take an outside-in approach to making it easier for
customers to do business with you.
your critics. Does your organization ask for
customers' feedback about what it was like to do business with you? What about
asking non-customers why they don't do business with you? Intentionally
including people who dislike your product or service in a focus group can lead
to more provocative conversations. Better yet, have naysayers sit in on
internal planning meetings to share their thoughts on how product or service
enhancements could affect how they perceive your company.
products and services. Comedy Central gained attention from
its famous Roasts,
where a celebrity gets torn to shreds with hilarious insults doled out by the
audience. Try out this practice on your company's products or services. Do you
sell something that's desperately in need of a makeover? Roast it. Do you have
a product that doesn't work as well as it should? Roast it. The goal of this
exercise is to see your products objectively like your customers do; flaws and
all. Use customer service emails as fodder to get you started. This is an
opportunity for your staff to say what everyone in the room and all of your
customers have probably already been thinking. You'll get a good laugh, but
more importantly, identify opportunities for improvement.
into gains. Think about actively asking your
customers about their pain points when it comes to working with your
organization and its products or services. Once you identify the low points,
you can start brainstorming how to make them selling points and key
differentiators in the market. For example, if customers are consistently
frustrated with the wait time for resolving complaints, make that your number
one priority for change.
what your customers do all day. Think you know your target market? Not
just their demographic, but what their life is actually like. What do they
think about in the morning when they wake up? What are their high and low
points throughout the day? What really makes them tick? Try giving your
customers a diary for them to record what a day in their life is
like, or have some of your managers spend a day shadowing a customer. This will
help you understand unmet needs.
other industries. Sometimes businesspeople think their
company has unique circumstances; that problem-solving strategies that have
proven successful in other industries wouldn't work for them. This could not be
further from the truth. Henry Ford got the idea for assembly line production
from visiting slaughterhouses that used a similar technique. Cattle and cars
don't seem to have much in common from the surface, but the strategy for
efficiently delivering a final product to consumers is a great fit for both
industries. Similarly, GE developed an approach to more rapidly solving
customers' problems from talking with Walmart. What industries could provide
radical change ideas for your company?
five best practices of course are not meant to be all-inclusive; but they are
all aimed at helping you to unlock a different way of thinking about
simplification. If you want to make it easier for your customers to do business
with you, make sure that you start with their perspective.
Ron Ashkenas' blog post on Harvard Business Review Join the discussion.