It Hurts So Good: Embrace Customer Pain to Improve Experience


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Jane Fonda Art_07-16-15

No pain, no gain.

We’ve all heard this gem. Typically linked to the concept of working out ‘till it hurts before you get any benefit, there is some truth to this.

At least I hope so – the fact that I’m going through physical therapy at the moment for a frozen shoulder (who knew?) supports the premise if not the validity of this statement. ‘Cause it hurts like hell. In fact, I thoughtlessly waved good bye to the front desk gal after my last PT session, and nearly dropped to the floor. Ouch.

Former workout guru Jane Fonda popularized “no pain, no gain” after using it (along with the equally well-known “Feel the burn!”) as an exhortation to would-be living room athletes in her early 80’s work out videos. And it hasn’t stopped there.

Jane Fonda’s contribution to customer experience improvement.

Today, pain – at least the concept of customer pain – is much on the minds of executives and channel owners around the world. And it should be. Much like a dentist probing for a cavity, looking for customer pain is a sure way to identify broken systems, processes and interactions, and a great indicator of potential opportunity.

Here’s where Ms. Fonda’s exhortations bump into the reality of improving customer experience. Because your customers are motivated by pain – as are we all. They’re motivated to move away from pain – and will leave your company if the pain of interacting with you is too great. They’re also motivated by pleasure – and if the experience of interacting with you is easier and more enjoyable than the alternative, well, you’ll get more customers and be able to keep them longer.

Turns out that finding and eliminating customer pain is a business imperative.

You find pain by looking at what it’s like to do business with your company from the customers’ perspective – from the outside in. By turning your perspective around and looking through the eyes of your customers, you’ll see many places where you can remove customer pain, and drive enterprise gain.

Now for the gain: Find and remove customer pain, and better meet expectations

The phrase “customer pain” is used by customer experience consultants and other CX professionals as a synonym for “customer needs not being met.” This plays out in more than one way – which is where the gain comes in.

Remove existing pain, and close gaps: Eliminating customer pain by improving existing processes and systems will help you do a better job meeting customer expectations as they pursue their goals with your firm.

Unmet expectations and the pain they cause show up across the customer journey. You can find it by looking at the performance of individual customer journeys – a loan application, for example, or signing up for an online service. Or by looking at the performance of individual journey stages (awareness for example, or from “unknown to known”) you can optimize pre and post-purchase experiences.

And by assessing the degree to which specific channels or individual touchpoints are or are not meeting customer needs, and the relative importance and impact of each on your customers well-being, you can make small improvements that drive outsize results.

Find new customer pain, and innovate: This is about more than keeping up with the competition – this is about leapfrogging them, and driving customer experience innovation and long-term value through the process. This is hard to do, though. It means embracing a structured approach that embeds unique customer insights into the process.

But the process of listening to customers this way is extraordinarily rewarding. For example, spending time with a group of customers to discuss their goals and needs, as they enjoy a theoretically *perfect* experience in pursuit of their objectives. Or following your best customers as they go through their work day to find those places where workarounds exist, or compromises have been made.

The ability to find pain that exists because a customer need is unmet means you have the opportunity to do something unique and innovative in your industry – driving competitive differentiation, which is a goal of many customer experience efforts.

Customer pain is your friend.

Make it a practice to look for pain amongst your customers, and those who you’d like to be your customers. The reality is that within every company, there’s a set of unique practices that have “always been done this way” that drive customers crazy. And every industry has practices that drive customers nuts as well.

By looking at your business from the outside in, you’ll see these “pain causing” practices in a whole new light. Identify these types of practices and wipe them out, and you’ll enjoy unprecedented success – as measured by things like more loyal customers, greater share of wallet and reduced cost to serve.

And the competition? You can let them “feel the burn.”


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