Dealing with (Customer) Complexity

In a recent article I had a little rant about complexity and how people seemed to love adding to it rather than try to remove it. It seems I’m not alone in feeling this way given the considerable feedback this article prompted. Since complexity seems to be rife withing many organisations, I ran a poll to see where people felt they should start in terms of removing complexity, since you can’t really attack it on all fronts. I gave them four choices. Simplify the:

A. Customer experience

B. Employee experience

C. IT landscape

D. Other.

At the time of writing this article my poll remained open but the voting, as it stands, is quite clear. 59% of respondents felt that companies should simplify the customer experience first and 21% felt that companies should simplify the employee experience first. Intuitively I would have expected this response as we all know that customers come first. If customers aren’t buying your products and you are not making a profit, you won’t be able to employ anyone! 

As I don’t think a few more days is going to make a difference to the balance of the votes, I am going to dedicate this article to simple ways of simplifying the customer experience. So what makes a customer’s life (unnecessarily) difficult? It’s a variety of things as we all know:

  1. Not being able to speak to a person when we have a problem (often because we can’t find a number to call)
  2. Not getting a response to an email
  3. Being passed from pillar to post and in many cases, having to provide the same information over and over again
  4. Not being kept up to date on progress (requiring us to reach out to the supplier, leading to problems 1 and 2
  5. Organising a return/refund
  6. Raising a complaint
  7. And finally, just an overly complex/frustrating process!

Dealing with the above issues is not as hard as you might think as it starts with a very simple task – map the customer journeys, from:

  1. Research to 
  2. Order placement to 
  3. Fulfilment to 
  4. Responding to customer queries. 

At the same time as mapping the customer journeys you should also look at what work has to go on behind the scenes to fulfil these tasks on behalf of the customer. This will identify opportunities to also simplify the employee experience (which will be the subject of my next article).

I can’t tell you how immediately obvious it is as to where the problems lie where you prepare these maps. The problem areas stand out like a sore thumb! So, what should you do next? 

You may well find that there are several flaws in your existing processes so, you will need to work out in which order you should tackle them. The best way to do this is to analyse whatever data you are already collecting from customers and prospects and then, most importantly, go out and ask them! Then you can set a priority list of actions and set about them, one at a time.

One of the first things you might want to do is look at who does what you do, the best i.e. find the exemplars or gold standard and then see how close you might move towards that. For example, in the area of returns Amazon provide the best experience I have ever come across with a straightforward, no quibble response and immediate refund. All they ask of you is to say why you are returning the goods. Amazon are probably also best in class when it comes to knowing when your product will be delivered.

I would emphasise that you don’t have to move to be best-in-class in a particular area, you ‘just’ need to be better than you are at the moment (and then keep improving).

So what are some simple ways of simplifying the customer’s life? The most important thing you need to do is make it easy for a customer to contact ‘you’ at least during the day and preferably, 24 x 7 and then to receive the attention they deserve.

I’m astonished that in this day and age, few organisations offer their customers access to AI driven chatbots that can be programmed to answer many customer questions and indeed, carry out transactions on behalf of the customer. Such chatbots can also be programmed to hand a customer over to a call centre operator with context data when the case requires the intervention of a human. One of our ecosystem members developed such a chatbot to serve the retail customers of HSBC, USA leading to a 50% reduction in the time it took a customer to get an answer to a question/carry out a key transaction, which is astonishing!

But sometimes a big problem can be fixed with a simple concession. Years ago when all gas was pretty much supplied by British Gas, they (BG) found that not only were their call centres being overwhelmed with queries and complaints but it was also, not surprisingly, that this affecting customer satisfaction. So they employed a consultant to look at this problem who asked to see the data as to why customers were calling in. A very very high percentage were calling in to challenge their bill. What was startling was the amount in question (which was often under £10!). The BG process at the time was to refer all such queries for back-office processing. I can tell you that the cost of investigating such requests was well over £10! So, the consultant in question asked the MD if he would allow call centre operators to immediately write off any amount in dispute under £10. This took a little while for this recommendation to be accepted but accepted it was. The result, a massive reduction in back-office costs with a corresponding increase in customer satisfaction!

I have a more recent example for you.

Another one of the firms in our ecosystem was working for a betting company. It was very difficult for punters to get money back from the betting company so given this, they (the punters) would always take their money out the minute they could. The betting company did not want this so our firm said to the betting company “why don’t you make it easier for punters to take their money out and then maybe they won’t?”. The betting company was less than enthusiastic about this idea so our firm ran an experiment to see what would happen if a punter could get their money out more or less straight away. So guess what happened? Yes, punters did start to take their money out straight away but when they found out how easy it would be, they left their money in!

So, sometimes the simplest things can solve big problems.

Take out complexity. KISS

If you want to learn about some more ways to simplify the customer experience, please do not hesitate to contact me at

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