CEO.COM
September 5, 2013
Let Your Customers Streamline Your Business

Customers appreciate simplicity. In fact, a number of recent studies have shown that it’s key to their loyalty and satisfaction. CEB 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.

Listen to 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.

Roast your 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.

Turn pains 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.

Figure out 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.

Learn from 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?

These 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.

This post was coauthored by Lisa Bodell
Reprinted
 from HBR.org