We’ve all been there – being forced to bounce between desk agents, apps and multiple 1- 800 numbers when your travel plans change…being treated like a complete stranger when refinancing a mortgage with an institution you’ve been with for decades…navigating the various color codes, zones and conflicting arrows when visiting a hospital…making your daily commute even more “memorable” because you were given the wrong coffee order at the drive-through…waiting in long lines during the afternoon rental car and hotel check-in crush on your last business trip. The list goes on and one…with today’s omni-channel services and experiences, the tyranny of complexity reigns everywhere…
What brands do, and how they choose to do it plays a large role in the quality of services delivered, whether experiences meet customer expectations, and the degree to which anticipated business outcomes are achieved. Naturally, when brands experience success, they tend to seek ways to replicate and sustain those circumstances by building on what got them there. Over time, while this layering effect can create efficiencies, it can also create significant levels of complexity that can lead to frustratingly high-levels of effort for customers externally, and excessive levels of operational friction and stress and for employees internally. This dynamic can often be exacerbated when layers of digital technologies, murky regulatory guidelines, inflexible corporate policies and franchise brand standards are also layered onto customer and employee journeys.
As a counterweight to the layers of complexity inherent to many of today’s services and experiences, best-in-class experience and service brands such as USAA, The Ritz-Carlton, Zappos and Southwest Airlines relentlessly design service experiences and customer journeys that follow the ethos of simplicity. From a value creation perspective, the power of this principle is two-fold: in these best-in-class organizations, designing with simplicity is not limited to “frontstage”, customer-facing experiences, but also serves as a powerful force in the “backstage” interactions that have a direct impact on the day-to-day quality of life of employees internally, but external customers don’t see. In the end, brands that can be trusted to consistently deliver what was promised, with the least amount of clutter, friction and effort, are on the pathway to turning both customers and employees into loyal and passionate advocates, the essence of success, growth and value creation in the Experience Economy.
Experience is Everything.
With today’s discerning customers, further empowered by online rating apps and social media, promoter economics have become a dominant factor in determining corporate performance and value. Specifically, the perception, sentiment, or experience that these hyper-empowered customers have when interacting with a brand ultimately determines their loyalty and advocacy, which in turn drives downstream corporate profitability, relevance, long-term viability and other critical business performance outcomes.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, delivering an exceptional service or customer experience doesn’t always equate to delivering over-the-top “WOW” moments or even reaching the modest ambition of simply delighting customers. Research from CEB famously showed that, despite the best of intentions, delightful moments only occur about 16 percent of the time and increase operating costs by 10-20 percent. In fact, what customers want more than anything, what brings them back to spend more, and what compels them to share positive things about brands is, first and foremost, to get what they paid for. This means that sentiment is derived when customers measure the gaps between what was promised and expected, and what was actually delivered and experienced. Similarly, employee sentiment and engagement are functions of real or perceived gaps between the employee value proposition as advertised by leaders, and the actual employee experience in their day to day work.
Accordingly, for People Leaders and practitioners in operations, CX customer service and other customer-intensive functions, uncovering and converting the underlying factors that really drive service and customer experience sentiment into actionable management levers holds the key to maximizing loyalty and advocacy, and the business outcomes that rely on them.
The power of Simplicity.
In the context of how end-to-end services and experiences are delivered in modern commerce, it is important to first think of customers in internal and external terms — the conventional value exchange between brands and paying external customers, but also those interactions by and between internal customers (i.e. employee-to-employee). These two sets of customers are inextricably linked, With that understanding, our research and experience show that what internal and external customers truly value on their various journeys is, simply put, simplicity.
Externally, applying the principle of simplicity can be applied to reduce customer effort and churn, increasing the likelihood that customers will return, spend more, and share their positive experiences as brand advocates. In fact, fifty-four percent (54%) of customers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences, and 64% are more likely to recommend a brand because it provides simpler experiences and communications (2018 S+G Brand Index).
Internally, the notion of inherent simplicity helps brands make the inner-workings of delivering exceptional service and customer experiences more repeatable, adaptable and seamless for employees, while also reducing the costs to deliver for the organization. In “Excellence Wins”, Horst Schulze, Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, emphasized that “good equipment and good materials” take pressure off of employees, prevent costs workarounds and are critical inputs to deliver exceptional customer experiences. The impact of internal forces on employees can not be overstated in terms of chronically low employee engagement, and as indicated by a study by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (published in HBR), one out of five employees reported that high levels of burnout, stress, and frustration accompanied their high levels of engagement. In essence, the simpler the operation, the less pressure on employees, the less time employees are in service recover mode, the happier the customer.
What Best-in-Class Service and Experience Brands Do.
In the world of customer experience, journeys, touchpoints and service interactions, the principle of simplicity can be applied as a design driver that has a material impact on internal and external customers alike. In practice, this holistic view of a services, experiences, and the underlying touchpoints and interactions are best represented in service blueprints.
As a design tool, blueprints illuminate 1) how the relationships and dependencies between frontstage (what customers see) and backstage (behind the scenes) are connected; 2) the governance, resources and operations needed to deliver those services and experiences; and the degree to which all of the elements are working together to deliver an end-to-end service experience.
Designing, shaping or optimizing a business or brand to deliver exceptional service and customer experiences with simplicity as a design driver starts with an underlying cultural belief in the power of the principle, followed by the need to institutionalize the belief from financial, operational and organizational perspectives.
Simple by Design.
Regardless of the industry or sector, there are myriad attributes that contribute to customer loyalty and advocacy. While the functional utility of core products and services are a natural place to focus, those elements aren’t always durable or differentiated enough — they can often be easily copied by competitors, and be subject to rapid commoditization. This is where the power of simplicity comes in as a strategic imperative. When applied as a design driver in service blueprinting, this powerful principle targets improvements in customer and employee sentiment at an emotional level, opening the door for the trust, deeper relationships, and stronger emotional connections that are the preconditions for turning customers and employees alike into passionate and loyal advocates.
*Attached cartoon is used under agreement with Marketoonist.
Want to Learn More?
At the intersection of service excellence, customer-centricity, culture, leadership and operations, check out additional insights and best practices from my articles on CustomerThink: http://customerthink.com/author/wsimmons99/
About the Author:
As co-founder and Chief Experience Officer of Opptiv, Wayne Simmons was previously the Global Head of Delivery for The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. As a thought leader, change agent and an expert experience strategy consultant, he led a team dedicated to delivering the legendary ethos, practices and systems of the Ritz-Carlton brand for client organizations across industries. Wayne leverages the principles of Horst Schulze, Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and creator of that brand’s legendary reputation for service excellence and customer-centric culture. As a Trusted Advisor working at the intersection of HR, CX and C-Suite leaders, Wayne coaches, trains and consults with businesses and brands on their journeys to maximize customer growth, loyalty and attain competitive advantage through service excellence and customer experience culture, leadership and operations.
Opptiv is the Service Excellence Consultancy. We help businesses and brands win through service excellence culture, customer-centricity and exceptional customer experience. Unique in the industry, we take a playbook approach to help clients achieve business outcomes at enterprise scale. We start by applying Design Thinking to activate leaders and engage frontline talent in the co-creation of purposeful culture platforms and unique service propositions that all levels can understand, embrace and hold each other accountable for. We then create brand-aligned playbooks to document the underlying elements of the culture as actionable guidance, practices and function-specific “plays”. Finally, we use these playbooks to inform the internal communications and tailored training needed to align, integrate, reinforce and sustain service excellence across all parts of the business.
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