On a typical day, how many distinct customer experiences do you think you have? I’m talking about all of the people, products, services, processes, brands, buildings, and modes of transportation that you encounter each day. What do you think? One hundred? Two hundred? Try up to 5,000.
When you factor in getting out of bed, dressing, preparing breakfast and lunch, and making it to work, I have as many as 120 of these experiences in just the first ninety minutes of my day. Some of these experiences are really good—like how quickly I can get hot water for my shower or how easily I can read the news on my mobile phone—while others are pretty bad, such as how hard it is to remove used coffee grounds from my coffee maker. As my day continues, I have customer experiences with software, computers, notebooks, pens, internet providers, restaurants, bathrooms, cars, subways, retail stores, the electric company, and lots of other things.
Actually, we’re all having customer experiences all day long, in just about everything we do. Yet many of them feel glitchy and less than satisfying because, too often, companies don’t stand in their customers’ shoes to really understand how they experience the, well, experience.
But that’s beginning to change. Lately, businesses have begun thinking more about how customers will actually use their products, services, and processes. The basic idea is that everything should be designed with people’s real lives, emotions, and behaviors in mind. My firm helps companies with this important task, showing them how they can delight their customers, and thereby increase loyalty, grow revenues, and produce a more secure future. How does that work in the real world?
Let’s look at two customer experience redesigns that really made a difference to both the organization and its customers.
Several years ago, I worked with a global mobile phone vendor that was offering a quality prepaid phone. The company had the largest market share at the time, but it was losing its customers too quickly due to a cumbersome set-up process that left people feeling so frustrated that they couldn’t appreciate the excellent phone service.
One of the main reasons people buy prepaid phones is convenience. They expect to walk out of the store, remove the phone from its packaging, and be able to place a call right away. But customers who bought this company’s phone were required to first use either a computer or a second phone to answer twenty-seven questions to register the phone. Next, the customer had to wait until the phone alerted them that it has been activated. It could take up to six hours before customers could use their new phone. Little wonder, then, that the company was failing to retain customers at twice the rate it had expected.
We helped the company redesign its set-up process, cutting in half the time it took to be able to use the phone after buying it. With the process revamped, the company’s retention rates improved by 50 percent.
Another time, we worked with a pharmaceutical company that had developed a promising drug to help people with extreme cases of a specific inflammatory disease. The drug looked like a winner, but the company hadn’t stopped to fully consider the real-world needs of the customers who would be using it. In the initial experience design, the patients were going to have to go through a number of steps—including seeing a doctor for a prescription, faxing that prescription to the insurance company, returning to the doctor for a test, and making still another visit to the doctor a few days later—before at last receiving the medicine, all while dealing with the extreme pain that had brought them to the drug in the first place.
We led the company through an experience-planning exercise that placed the company’s employees in the shoes of the patients it hoped would use the medication. Unsurprisingly, people who are dealing with the kind of pain that the drug was created to alleviate will do everything possible to limit their movement while the condition is flaring. They plan their lives around the pain, and do the bare minimum of physical activity when experiencing it. Our exercise quickly demonstrated that asking these patients to endure the physical demands required to get the drug would all but doom its prospects from the start. We estimated that a majority of potential patients would be too intimidated to even begin the process, and that of those who did begin, more than half would quit in the middle. That lack of adoption would cause the product to fail.
We helped the pharmaceutical company rethink and redesign how the patients would get the prescription and the medicine. The new experience design involved nurse practitioners visiting patients in the home, and the use of prepaid overnight mail to deliver the required documents to insurance companies, which, in initial patient testing, significantly lowered the barriers to adoption.
As these examples show, it’s not enough for companies to just come up with great new products and services. To be successful, they have to design those great products and services with the customer in mind. Though it is hard work, most of the companies I’ve worked with have been motivated to improve their customer experience because they made a mistake with a previous product or service that was significant enough to have a negative impact on business.
It takes a lot to do this kind of design work well, and to continue to manage customer experiences once a product is in the marketplace. But as the companies I mentioned above discovered, it can be the difference between business success and failure. Eventually, most organizations come to see that integrating the human element into all parts of the customer experience is not optional.
Cynthia White, F02, is the president of Ceatro Group, a Boston-based firm that helps organizations better understand people, design, and the customer experience.