Posted by: communicationcloud | September 18, 2010

“Solve the obvious problems, whatever it takes”

I was watching TV the other day, and Mr Dyson popped up in an advert and told me all about how he’d developed the Dyson cleaning range. Take a vacuum cleaner and deal with the loss of suction inherent in vacuums by removing the vacuum part and replacing it with cyclone magic. And get rid of the irritation of needing to have a stock of bags to change, by removing the need for a bag. Then solve the tricky steering issues you get from running on four wheels by replacing it with a single roller ball. Reinventing the wheel. Literally. And why not!

Here’s the ad (on YouTube)

Two things struck me about this advert… it makes a virtue out of improvement for the sake of improvement, and it encapsulates a simple strategy for customer experience.

1. Making a virtue out of improvement

It’s interesting to see an ad in this sector that makes a virtue out of improvement just for the sake of usability – not to make it cheaper, greener, or any of the more common goals. Perhaps I’m just tuning into a trend that’s been around for a while, but this seems to be becoming a more common theme. Another example is confused.com, who advertise their price comparison website by showing lots of people filled with joy, saying just how easy the site is to use compared to other sites.

Making a virtue out of improvement is a powerful idea. It’s nice to be responding to customers … and as a lot of customer experience research suggests, it’s even nicer to be SEEN to be responding to customers. This is why schemes like the feedback-and-response boards seen, for example, at your local Tesco and recently appearing at railway stations are in place; gather feedback and act in response, and likely only a few people will notice … but gather feedback, act in response and then tell everyone that you’ve done this, and you’ve very simply got the message across that your organisation is customer-centric.

From a customer’s point of view that’s a pretty significant message. What’s more, it has the added benefit of being self-fulfilling – people see that you listen to feedback, which encourages them to give more feedback that you can respond to and inform them about. Before you know it your customer-centric organisation is established, and you’re reaping the competitive benefits.

2. A strategy for customer experience

“Solving the obvious problems, whatever it takes” seems like an obvious strategy for customer experience. You care about the experience your customers are facing, so you want to address the problems they’re facing. In fact, it’s the strategy underlying the approach to findability I outlined in my recent article about improving findability on a website. So why aren’t all businesses that care about the customer experience doing this?

The simple answer is that this is a lovely ideal, but it takes a level of organisational commitment that is just too difficult in reality. As Linda Ireland writes in this interesting piece about acting on learning from voice of the customer programmes, it’s pretty common to have plenty of insights about obvious problems, but not quite manage to act on them.

Here are some of the factors that I think get in the way:

The “obvious” problems aren’t always as obvious as they might seem

What does it mean for a problem to be “obvious”? Often it means that the problem is obvious to people who make decisions about what a business spends time and money on. However, these people are very rarely the employees who are in regular contact with customers, so it can be difficult for customer experience problems to register high on their agenda – problems that this group understand better, or that they’re feeling the pain from directly everyday will seem to be more obvious.

The scale of problems can also be difficult to judge. Because of the nature of contact with customers, it’s not always easy to know whether a customer problem is a one-off or a frequent occurrence – perhaps because very few customers give their feedback to the company or perhaps because different parts of the company deal with customers, giving a fragmented picture.

Voice of the customer programmes can help with this by more systematically soliciting feedback from customers and by collecting insight from customer contacts across departments and in all parts of the customer journey to get a broader picture of the scale of problems.

“Whatever it takes” is an unrealistic commitment

Sure, if you’re a rail operator you don’t want your customers to be kept waiting for their delayed train to arrive … but what’s it worth to you? A “whatever it takes” solution might be to have a fleet (is that the right collective noun?) of trains on standby in case, ready to bring into action in these situations … but that’s going to have a cost that’s probably higher than your business is willing to bear in order to address this particular problem.

One of the challenges in running a customer experience improvement programme is working out what the cost of a problem is to the business, so that the organisation can understand the value or ROI of finding a solution to it.

Getting from knowledge about a problem to action to solve it can be difficult

Solving problems can be difficult. You need to get enough information about the problem to understand it, which is not always easy. You need the right people and skills to be able to find a solution; this will involve change somewhere around the business … and businesses often struggle with change. You need commitment from the right people in an organisation to implement the solution. And sometimes there are just so many obvious problems that the business is paralysed by deciding where to start with solving them. The “knowing-doing” gap is often apparent with this type of problem…

What’s your obvious problem?

I’m sure organisations other than Dyson could thrive on this approach. Pick the top 3 problems you know about. How would the world look different to you if you solved them? How would your customers, clients and employees respond when you told them you’ve solved these problems?

Overly simplistic, perhaps, but it’s a powerful idea…

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