Customer Effort taken to SME level

Written by Monique Jansen for Buljan & Partners Consulting

Customer Effort 1

Just before Easter, I engaged in an interesting LinkedIn conversation in the “CRM&CEM professionals” group, triggered by an excellent article written by Sampson Lee, in which he questions the purpose of reducing customer effort.

In the article, the focus of companies on reducing customer effort is challenged. Sampson claims that by making customers ‘sweat’ - allowing Good Pains - resources can be channeled to their Branded Pleasures. That is why IKEA, Starbucks, Louis Vuitton, Southwest Airlines, Sukiyabashi Jiro and other great brands are able to deliver a highly memorable and branded experience.

I truly admire his theory on allowing good pains, but what struck me is the fact that in my day-to-day Customer Centric Management consultancy work, this concept of good pains is probably too challenging. Many companies that are only starting to implement a customer focus, and many SME´s who try to catch up with the big guys, do not have the funds or analytical resources that big companies like IKEA, Starbucks & others have to really balance good pains and bad pains. I would rather focus on reducing customer effort and customer pains. But still, I agree with Sampson, in some cases, good pains well managed can help elevate the overall customer experience if managed well.

During the course of the conversation on this forum, Sampson gave me an interesting challenge to make me think about how this would work for a small company. He gave me this use case as homework for Easter:

“Assuming David is one of your SME clients.

David is an experienced chef in cooking Italian food. A few years ago, he opened his own Italian restaurant in Madrid. He’s good at and passionate about cooking. His restaurant has got some repeat customers, though it’s not always full. He could make a little profit per month. Now, he wants to make a breakthrough to take his restaurant to the next level, both in terms of word-of-mouth and income. The following are the summaries of the VOC he collected:

* The location is too far away from down town city.
* Both exterior and interior decorations are unattractive.
* The scenery is nothing but mountains.
* The seating area is tight, not enough space.
* Inadequate staff to serve.
* The level of service is below average.
* The booking and reception are in chaos.
* The variety of food is limited.
* The prices are expensive.
* The quality of food is really good.

What would you recommend to David?”

A nice challenge, especially with me being a frequent visitor of restaurants in and around Madrid myself AND an enthusiastic TripAdvisor critic (Trotamoon), I can relate to the topic and above all, look at this from a customer’s point of view.

If I wasn´t so passionate about this I would ironically say to the restaurant owner: “Close the place and start all over, or call Alberto Chicote (=well known Spanish cook with a TV show similar to Gordon Ramsay’s)”. But this would be a too easy escape from Sampson´s challenge. So I thought this through, and this is my advice to David:

1. Carefully study and classify the customer feedback

The customer feedback Sampson mentioned, needs to be studied closely and classified in competence areas (location, service, communication etc.) and very important: influence. The location of the place, for example, is not an easy factor to influence. Let´s assume that David bought the place himself, or has a favorable old lease, and changing this would increase costs considerably. The scenery “nothing but mountains” is something for which there is demand here in Madrid. If you don´t like mountains, stay in the city.

In David´s case, the location would be a topic that should be dealt with but not prioritized. He should rather put his energy in starting to think about how to attract the people that look for this kind of location, and hope the customers will accept the “good pain” of having to come by taxi or alternative mobility services such as Uber. And he should also target customers who are already in the mountains anyway, such as skiers, hikers, and trail runners.

Customer Effort 2

Other topics might be easier for David to influence. For example: the level of service. This is a topic that can be dealt with by training. And for future hirings: hire for passion, not for skills.

2. Determine the desired Customer Promise

So, when the topics are prioritized by manner of likelihood of influence, I would recommend David to start thinking on his reason for being in business, and determining what the core business purpose and his desired customer promise is.  He should then share this customer promise with his team, and boost buy-in and commitment from all of them. Before this customer promise is translated in actions and campaigns, he should “test” this customer promise with a few customers, even if its friends & family. Is it an attractive promise? Is it logical and easy to understand? If the answers are yes: go for it.

3. Reflect on his and his team´s talents versus the customer promise.

The next question is: Where can we possibly implement changes with just our own skills? So he needs to get to know his team better, ask for their priorities, check if they are willing to share their skills with others, see if they want to mentor each other. And of course: what can he do himself to change, and to lead by example? Then, for the other desired changes, start looking around to see if he knows people who can help him.

4. Determine what aspects can be changed in the short term to get quick wins and motivate both staff and customers

Small things can make a big impact. So David should prioritize those actions that can be done in-house and quickly, so both customers and staff can see changes happening. The messy reception for example is an easy topic to take on by a change of attitude and discipline. I would also recommend to allow structured reservations on-line.

5. Turn customer hurdles into customer attractions

Back to Sampson’s good pains concept. If space in the restaurant cannot be further optimized, then David should start thinking of seeing the crampy seating and table distribution as a good point, for example by promoting customer interaction with each other and with the waiters. I would implement a feature that will enable customers to comment on what they are experiencing during the diner or lunch, comment on what they are eating and interact, and soon they´ll mix the on-line conversation to the intra-table conversations. This might not work in the Nordics, but in Southern Europe I give it a good chance. Especially during “sobremesa” (after lunch/diner conversations). And these interactions might make them forget about the crampy space. Since apps exist for almost everything, I am sure one exists for encouraging this sort of interaction too. Or using Twitter with a dedicated hashtag.

6. Variety and quality of food

According to the customer feedback, variety is limited but quality is excellent. For me this is a no-brainer. Keep it that way. The only thing I would do is a “least chosen-first out concept”. Add one new dish per month, and take out the one that sells less. Short & simple but with continuous improvement.

In summary: The theory of good pains and customer effort can also apply for SMEs. The only difference is that in the process of making some important decisions it is more a matter of instinct and experience rather than measuring and using smart data. Sampson, I truly hope to welcome you in Madrid soon, down-town or in the mountains, and if you need some restaurant suggestions, please do not hesitate to ask!

Monique Jansen is Managing Consultant at Buljan & Partners Consulting and Service line leader of Customer Centric Process Leadership. Monique is a customer oriented process and technology specialist since 1997.

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