This is the one mantra that clients repeat over and over to me when they’re explaining what drives their current business strategy. Since I coined and popularized that phrase as the tagline for my book, Customers.com in 1998, I am gratified that “making it easy for customers to…” is still the Holy Grail for so many initiatives. People apply this phrase when they’re discussing a broad variety of initiatives. People used to mean literally “how do we make it easy for customers to do business with us?” as in easier for our customers to buy things, return things, use things, get support, and so on. Now, clients tend to use this phrase more broadly to mean: “Making it easy for our customers to do what they want to do,” with the subtext: “by using our products and services.”
This notion of making it easier for our customers to do things is so broadly applied, we’ve found ourselves working with clients and studying best practices in a wide variety of customer contexts. For example, in the last three months, we’ve learned what’s entailed in helping clients “make it easy” for their customers to:
- Design and manufacture new products
- Diagnose and treat cancer
- Plan travel
- Select the right printer, computer, DVD player, etc.
- Buy office supplies
- Manage their finances
- Optimize their replenishment of custom-designed manufacturing supplies
- Borrow money
- Share their favorite music, photos, videos, games, books, toys, etc. with friends, family and the world at large
- Publish their latest research/findings and get recognition
- Resolve an issue, check on the status of something, find out about things that might be useful or better than what they currently have—in a single interaction
- Fill a nagging personal or business need that is currently ill-defined
- Coordinate with one another as they plan, decide, act, use/consume, learn, get help, complete, add on, upgrade, continue, renew, and/or discontinue
- Explore new options, learn new things
- Upgrade their/our software
- Plan and execute a migration from one application/platform to another
- Convince their colleagues that there’s a better and easier way to do things, which may involve purchasing products/services, planning ahead, coordinating better, getting customers involved earlier in the process, or changing the status quo in a variety of uncomfortable ways…
What’s Up with “Making It Easy for Customers to Do X…”? Why Aren’t We Done Yet?
The bad news is that we won’t ever be “done” with making it easy for our customers to do business with us, and/or making it easy for our customers to get things done. The good news is that in the past two decades we have all learned a lot about how to get better and better at making it easier for customers to do things.
What are the common best practices we’ve found in co-designing and/or researching this rather broad set of customer activities?
First, identify the particular customers whose behaviors and motivations you need to understand—the ones who currently do these tasks today. Ideally, you observe them in situ. You study how they do what they do today. You learn what makes them tick emotionally. What’s important to them and why? How do those important things relate to how they see themselves? By watching and talking with them, you find out what their personal hot buttons are, why these things are so important to them, and what they’d ideally like (if anything were possible).
Then select the most creative, yet representative “lead users” to co-design with. They usually self select. They’re already emotionally committed to improving the way they do things. Engage with these lead users in co-designing the ideal ways for them to accomplish their desired outcomes, eliminating and/or transforming activities (theirs and yours) along the way. Maybe you give them self-service tools to use so they can do more themselves. Maybe you design new products or services to better meet their needs. Maybe you change the way you charge for your products and services to make it easier for customers to purchase and use your wares. Maybe you provide much more actionable information to them, earlier in their process. Maybe you integrate others’ services and products to provide more one-stop shopping. Maybe you invent new, better approaches. Once you’ve co-designed your strawmen scenarios, involve customers in further refining and debugging them. Get them to vote with their dollars as well as their feet. Will they adopt these new practices and products? Will they promote them to others? Will they become enthusiastic champions?
The toughest thing in doing this work is to get out of your own way. You have existing business models. You have regulatory requirements. You have resource constraints. You have existing infrastructure and applications. You have subject matter experts with great ideas and people with axes to grind. You have organizational fiefdoms, each with a different set of puzzle pieces. You have a whole ecosystem of partners and stakeholders who are invested in doing things the way they’re used to doing them and the way they think works best for their business. But toughest of all—you have blinders on. It’s often really hard to see what’s possible and do-able and why and when it might make sense to dramatically change the rules of your game and possibly of your entire ecosystem.