Customers don’t think. And they shouldn’t have to

By Sholto Lindsay-Smith,

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Ease is the watchword in service design. This is particularly true for brands that want to compete in the digital world. The best websites deliver great functionality and immediate, easy-to-use, intuitive service.

Online retailers such as Amazon, which were born in the internet age, have this down to a fine art. They were built this way and use analytics to continually optimise the user experience and enhance the functionality and performance of their service.

Many traditional retail businesses have also successfully made the leap. John Lewis, whose online sales recently tipped over £1 billion, accounting for one quarter of its trade, has replicated the quality of its in-store experience online. The firm has just announced a £40 million investment in the build of a new website – a serious and sound investment when compared with the ROI of the bricks and mortar cost of building a new store.

But there are still many businesses whose online presence is encumbered by legacy systems and internal structures. The big retail banks are a good example of this. In Brett King’€™s book, Banking 3.0, he argues: “Customer experience is no longer the sole domain of the branch, it is the domain of the brand. It exudes from everything you do, and customers are demanding a better experience, full stop”. Silos and inconsistencies in organisation structure, as well as differences in service levels between channels, frustrate customers who just want to deal in the most efficient way with the bank.

The future of your business is getting rid of the friction and aligning your customer’€™s behaviour with the brand response.€

This argument for a joined-up, brand-led approach applies to all service businesses. The re-engineering of business to create a great online customer experience requires marrying up online and business processes to create a seamless customer journey, built around a clear understanding of customer behaviour.

Even where businesses have invested in designing a great website –the shop window – customers are often let down at the point of transaction with a cumbersome application process and tedious form-filling. Exasperation prevails over excessive mandatory fields, re-supply of the same information, unnecessary passwords and attempts to collect data that stand in the way of a transaction. Stock issues and delivery failures are another pain point.

The smart retailers are already on to this. Dixons “€œKnow How”€ service provides product expertise as well as installation services. Similarly, John Lewis is looking at new ways to enhance its online service with same day delivery, click and collect as well as added value installation services.

When service goes wrong, though, how easy is it to get a resolution online? Too often the customer has to resort to the phone to chase a delivery or resolve a query. Here they can be faced with navigating labyrinthine menus or computerised telephone answer services.

Many of these issues arise because businesses are starting from the wrong premise. For traditional businesses whose primary business driver is to push its customers online to gain cost efficiencies, the process is likely to be driven from a technological and operational perspective. In this scenario, the customer experience will take second place. That translates into poor utility, and the resulting poor performance of the online service will be a foregone conclusion.

Understanding the interplay of multiple channels – desktop computers, tablets, smartphones, telephones and store – is key. Customers may want to visit a store to experience or see a product first hand or seek advice, before returning home to order it online. Or they may want to research the different product options online and then go into the store to check the physical reality of a product before committing to a purchase. Customers need to be able to switch effortlessly between channels at different times.

Understanding this new multi-channel dynamic is tricky. The operational and business model implications of this are yet to be fully grasped by all, not least in overhauling how internal departments collaborate. But for those companies that want to survive, let alone prosper, there is no alternative. Success requires breaking down traditional corporate fiefdoms and ensuring the collaboration of marketers, IT, operations, HR and finance – all focused on the goal of creating a better brand experience that satisfies the needs of the target customer.

Optimal service design = empowered customers = commercial success

Future sales will be achieved by empowering the customer, making it as easy as possible for them to find what they want, helping them make an informed purchase decision, and then following through – seamlessly – on delivery.