5 pragmatic — and powerful — places to improve CX right now
When it comes to making a big impact on the customer experience, the 80/20 rule has never been truer. So pick the right battles and get started, advises contributor Brent Sleeper.
Philosophy abounds with variations on the notion that pretty good is actually pretty great. Aristotle found virtue in the middle ground between aesthetic and ethical extremes. Ralph Waldo Emerson advised “moderation in all things.” And we know how Goldilocks felt about finding something that was just right.
But, still, it’s human nature to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Lots of folks are loath to finish a job when it’s just good enough. One upscale automobile manufacturer staked its reputation on “a relentless pursuit of perfection.”
I daresay many of us who are devoted to improving the customer experience (CX) of our products and services fall into that camp of perfectionists. It makes sense — we advocate because we’re highly attuned to the needs of our customers, and we notice all too clearly when we see something that’s not quite right in the design and flow of our apps.
That empathy is a major strength of companies that create value from long-lasting customer relationships. But if the goal of a great experience turns into perfectionism, it gets in the way of solving real problems, right now. As Voltaire wrote, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
What’s wrong with being perfect?
But wait a minute, why shouldn’t we strive for a perfect customer experience? Isn’t that a laudable goal? Well, in purely aspirational terms, I don’t know. I’ll leave that to an Aristotelian to argue.
But I do know that perfectionism has costs in the real world. If CX advocates define their roles as fixers of every flaw, then the sheer size of the problem quickly becomes overwhelming, and we lose perspective on where to get leverage. Instead of resulting in great customer experiences, the quest for perfection usually leads to dithering, paralysis by analysis and defining conditions of success in a way that can only set ourselves up for failure.
In other words, aiming for a perfect customer experience is the antithesis of what we’ve learned works when building a successful app or cloud service: experimentation, fast iteration and nurturing multiple avenues for improvement and growth.
80/20: More peas, please
In the late 1800s, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that about 20 percent of the pea pods in his garden yielded 80 percent of the peas. That insight led him to describe similar dynamics in human and marketplace behaviors. This Pareto principle is more commonly known as the “80/20 rule,” and it’s become a trope of countless PowerPoint decks. I’m sure you’ve seen variations like:
- 80 percent of a software application’s users need just 20 percent of its features.
- 80 percent of a company’s profits come from 20 percent of its customers.
- 80 percent of software crashes can be solved by fixing the top 20 percent of bugs.
- 80 percent of complaints a company receives come from 20 percent of its customers.
You get the drift. And while reality isn’t always so tidy, it’s an appealing idea because of its intuitive simplicity.
But nifty aphorisms aside, its real value is in providing a pragmatic way to break problems like CX down into addressable chunks. The notion that complete perfection isn’t worth the effort is especially apt when thinking about the customer experience, because it encourages focusing on incremental improvements that can have an outsized impact on the total experience.
Pick the right CX leverage points for maximum impact
So which 20 percent of your pea pods are likely to yield rich customer experience wins? Certainly, many will be specific to your particular app and problem domain, but most services share a few common friction points that are ripe for the picking. Here are five places CX teams can have a powerful impact with even small improvements:
1. Pricing options and plan selection. Because they have an explicit connection to revenue and business success, pricing pages, plan selection choices, upsell prompts and the like are an obvious choice for focusing CX efforts. And making these all-important faces of your business succeed certainly helps to demonstrate the ROI of CX investments.
But in order to succeed, a CX champion must be empowered and ready to assert her or his mission in the face of multiple stakeholders and a process that typically spans a marketing website and app. In many ways, pricing pages and the sign-up flow to which they lead represent the challenge and opportunity of CX in a nutshell.
2. ‘Unboxing’ and the first touch point. In the physical world, product packaging used to be considered a forgettable, disposable need. As long as the box adequately protected the product and made mundane needs like shipping efficient, it deserved little other thought. But masters like Apple have transformed the experience of opening the box into a powerful, delightful component of their brand (and created a new genre of YouTube videos along with it).
What happens when a new customer lands in your app? It’s hard to overstate how significant an impression that very first moment will leave in their overall sense of your service and value. It’s just part of being human, for we’re hardwired to retain the emotional connections made the first time we experience something. So be sure to make that moment an intentional one, or you’re quite likely to leave an inadvertently lackluster experience deeply embedded in your customers’ brains — if they even stick around at all.
3. Setup and configuration. Unless you’re actually a single-serving website, even the simplest services require some amount of preference-setting and configuration by the user. Whether it’s as straightforward as choosing a username or as complex as validating the DKIM settings for your domain, these tasks are essential to delivering the functional value your service promised.
So why do we often make it so hard? Too many setup screens embody a disjointed, confusing experience. I’ve written before about how crucial good onboarding cues and flows are to the success of apps and cloud services — every incremental improvement to the setup process will meaningfully increase the likelihood of successful user activation.
4. Advanced features learning curve. Simple setup and an elegant first touch point don’t need to come at the cost of powerful functionality to meet complex needs. In fact, quite the opposite: In a sort of twist on the supposed trick to successfully boiling a frog, great apps introduce complex functionality at a measured pace that makes it easy for new customers to get started without limiting the value for more experienced users.
Directed onboarding is part of that, for sure. But another effective style of new user experiences is the gradual surfacing of advanced features only when the user has met certain preconditions: taken a particular action, configured a relevant setting, accrued a certain amount of “experience points” and so on.
Of course, you’ll want to be sure to allow someone who already knows their way around to have a direct way to fast-forward to the good stuff.
5. Account-related communications. Think about the different messages your customer receives from you. It might include billing notices, customer support tickets, triggered onboarding messages and marketing communications. Too often, these come from deeply siloed systems and business processes, with the corresponding negative affects on everything from visual branding to messaging voice to how to we expect the customer to respond and take action.
It’s a classic challenge at most companies, but treating notifications as an afterthought has a pernicious effect on the customer experience. Fortunately, it’s also a great place for relatively simple CX efforts to make a major impact. For many cloud services, email or other notifications are the primary vehicle for both administrative and engagement needs. So put the effort in to get them right and to get them consistent.
I won’t suggest that addressing any (or even all) of these five CX needs will solve every challenge your customers face. But each will have an outsized impact on the overall experience your customers have with your business.
Forget perfection. Even a small improvement to one of these areas will go a long way towards delivering a better customer experience. And getting even one of them mostly right will pay off in a big way for your customers and make a meaningful difference in crucial metrics like user activation, engagement and more. That sounds like a perfect win-win to me.