Being “Fast + Simple” for Our Customers: Eliminate the “Dumb Things”


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For years, companies have been creating more and more innovative products and services for a demanding customer base, but they’ve made it harder and harder to do business with those same customers. They’ve adopted an unfriendly demeanor, worried, perhaps, about Sarbanes-Oxley regulation for accounting here in the United States, possible competitive disclosure and overly strong cost reduction quests … instead of making their businesses and operations easy to navigate.

My LimeBridge Global Alliance colleague in London, Peter Massey, of Budd, coined the expression “Being ‘Fast + Simple’ for our customers” to drive home this point. On this side of the pond, we see three core tenets here, well worth remembering when undertaking restructuring programs or when inventing new products and services for customers:

  1. Think the way the customer thinks, and design everything around the customer, not your company’s operations or situation.
  2. Try out your products, services, support processes and all other customer touch-points to spot the crazy things that we ask our customers to do.
  3. Time end-to-end processes, not the individual components, and cut back ruthlessly.

For years, the customer service business has lulled itself into a false sense of security by “coping with demand” instead of “challenging demand,” inclined to add more capacity, invest in tracking processes and new-fangled technologies and treat agents as replaceable parts instead of the invaluable customer-facing employees that they are. But when companies think the way their customers think and try out the products or services and all touch-points, there’s usually an epiphany—a light going on—that says “Wow, I don’t understand this and I work here!” If that’s the case, think how hard it is for your new customers or even your experienced customers, used to one way when you zig and zag in other directions.

When was the last time you read the operating manual for your car? We bought a new Honda Civic for our oldest daughter, and it had a nifty little pictures and fact book, in addition to the thicker manual. That small book was all we needed to do 90 percent of the car’s functions: fast + simple.

Unfortunately, there are too many examples to the contrary. Just yesterday, I got a change-of-address notice from Mellon Investor Services, acting as transfer agent for a company whose stock I have owned … only I hadn’t asked to change my address. The form showed my name and the company’s name but an address in another state. Fearing “identity theft,” I called Mellon, and after 45 minutes, speaking with two agents and finally a supervisor, Mellon figured out that my current address is still the one on record, but for awhile no one could explain why the erroneous address change notice arrived at my doorstep. I later got an apologetic phone call from Mellon Investor Services saying one of the agents had “made a mistake” by taking my name and linking it to the address of another person named “Price.” So two of us got the change-of-address card. And that mistake, representing what I call a “broken process” (since it wasn’t caught and affected another person, too), created a “dumb contact.”

Frustrating for me. And how much did it cost Mellon for these calls? Not fast. Nor simple.

Building on this last example and plenty of other ones (such as the wrong item packed by a catalog or online retailer, invoices with different “pay this amount” on the forms and call routing IVR menus that never end and do not offer an “escape” to an operator [Note: Even that quaint term “escape” tells you a lot about the pretzel logic!]), it’s all too easy to pick on situations that have not taken the customer into the design, nor asked executives to test their own products or support.

Boiling down these cases, let’s declare that “eliminating dumb things” should be every company’s mantra: “being fast + simple for our customers. Here’s how”:

  • Cycle all root causes of all customer contacts to spot repeat themes, and eliminate them entirely instead of focusing on increasing efficiency or effectiveness on handled contacts.
  • Test, test and test some more, engaging frontline customer service agents and executives with focus group “customers.”
  • Ask constantly, “How can we cut the total end-to-end time by 50 percent?” forcing a more thorough analysis of post-sales returns and not simply the sales, itself.
Bill Price

Bill Price is the President of Driva Solutions (a customer service and customer experience consultancy), an Advisor to Antuit, co-founded the LimeBridge Global Alliance, chairs the Global Operations Council, teaches at the University of Washington and Stanford MBA programs, and is the lead author of The Best Service is No Service and Your Customer Rules! Bill served as's first Global VP of Customer Service and held senior positions at MCI, ACP, and McKinsey. Bill graduated from Dartmouth (BA) and Stanford (MBA).


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