Every organization creates default procedures to guide customers’ decisions and behaviors. They can be helpful and expedient or restrictive and exploitative. Companies that use them, however, should decide whether the decision trees of choices offered to customers are supplier-centric or customer-centric.
Default procedures essentially manage customers’ behaviors by limiting the number of choices given to the customer. Sometimes, this can be positive. A chime in your car reminding you to fasten your seat belt encourages good behavior. A default to a standard shipping method is convenient and probably serves the needs of the majority of customers. However, they can be frustrating for consumers, as when forced-choice alternatives, such as agreeing to software installation screens, can alienate customers.
Or, when there are too many options, decision-making can become paralyzed. As John Sviokla put it in his "Design Your Customers' Decisions" post on his Harvard Business Review blog, the presence of “excessive options” is a key reason that “an average of 60% of all online shoppers abandon their purchases mid-stream.” Amazon.com is legendary for framing options in a personalized context, such as “Someone like you also bought this other book.” As a result, it believes that its recommendation engine “increases the average purchase by 20%.”
An ideal metaphor for restrictive default procedures is a speed bump. In order to achieve sensible driving in restricted areas, speed bumps force drivers to slow down or encounter unpleasant jarring. Speed bumps were introduced in November 1979 in Brea, CA. If you are like me, you feel that they represent the epitome of frustration because they are not adaptable to individuals. Now, Mexican-based Decano Industries is developing a device which automatically lowers into the ground when drivers go the speed limit or slower. If they drive too fast, the bump stays up. What a proactive, customer-friendly innovation!
Default procedures offer companies the chance to save their customers time, money and maneuvering through complexity. In every process, however, leaders should not lose touch with reality. In Wired to Care Dev Patniak remarks that leaders should “transcend abstractions and imagine themselves in the shoes of the people they serve.” Sviokla puts it this way: “In a world of excess choice, an easy place to differentiate is in the careful design of the decision process itself.” (Sviokla).
There is a trend toward more personalized or “smart” defaults, such as always requesting non-smoking hotel rooms or automatically adapting decisions in online environments based on answers to previous questions. Car makers, for example, can recommend to online shoppers a sportier steering wheel style based on the selection of a high-horsepower engine during an automobile configuration. There are many other great examples in a December 2008 Harvard Business Review article, “Nudge Your Customers Toward Better Choices,” by Goldstein, Johnson, Herrmann and Heitmann. Thinking like a customer is the key to the great care and persistence and experimentation needed to perfect a procedure. If the end result is more customer-centered, it is worth it. It is the logic and authenticity of the customer experience that matters.
Customers’ relationships with suppliers will be exponentially stronger if they feel that those organizations understand them and have streamlined the interactions they are experiencing. Organizations that design customer-centered default procedures will be rewarded with loyalty and trust.