thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Customers Want Simplicity

By on November 4, 2009

The best way to prove yourself to your customers is to make their lives simpler. When customers view your processes as too complex, it sends the message that your company is unresponsive. It also becomes an opportunity for others in the market to take those customers away from the organizations that are not challenging themselves.

SimplifyScrabbleIf we focus our organizations on simplification that the customer will notice, the result is clear, pragmatic and intuitive. A straightforward outcome can be understood by virtually everyone, not just its creators. It is versatile and elegant at the same time. Keeping products and services simple must be a core value of any customer-centric company. Otherwise, we risk becoming stuck with outdated perspectives.

Tom Peters has been writing about making things simpler for well over 30 years. In Thriving on Chaos he explained that the basic force behind higher quality is simplification. "Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing, layout, processes and procedures." He faulted the old school "passion for the complex" mentality and admonished us to quit waiting for the breakthrough idea and to pursue "incremental improvements." Most organizations did not heed his advice very well.

The emphasis on simplification in an organization does two things. First, it forces us to think "what is really necessary?" The designer James Victore calls this "whittling" or "getting it sharp and perfect" (when interviewed by Debbie Millman). The end result is clean and uncluttered. It might still be improved but it is approaching the way it should be. One of our manufacturing clients had an employee who designed a one-piece part to replace the previous two-piece version. The customer loved it because it was easier and it ultimately saved money in manufacturing, as well.

Secondly, this emphasis fixes your culture on a common goal--keeping it simple. Here's an example: We have all experienced the need to reset the digital clocks in our homes when we switch from Daylight Savings Time (DST) to standard time. On most devices, it's bothersome to change the hour, especially if the clock is designed so that we have to forward ahead 23 hours in order to set the time back one hour in the autumn. It's not something that we complain to the manufacturer about. And it's certainly not something that we ask about when we first purchase the clock. Nevertheless, we have to put up with a variety of annoying steps to carry out the task.

The designers of my iHome radio, however, thought about their customers. They added a simple button on the back of the appliance that toggles between a -1/+1 DST setting. With one click, the clock resets the hour without changing the reading for the minutes. I really appreciate the classic simplicity of the process and the fact that the button was engineered to make my life more convenient. It humanizes the technology.

Success is dependent on adding value to customers. Admittedly, however, this spirit may lead to well-intentioned, but scattered, attempts because your employees may find this deliverable difficult to understand if a good outcome is not clearly defined. On the other hand, the "simplify" goal is great shorthand to focus employees on helping their customers to accomplish a job in fewer steps. It is the surest way to add value.

Photo from: photo by jag


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