Are organisations over-engineering the customer experience?

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While digital transformation is a priority for many of today's organisations, companies are in danger of over-complicating the customer experience as a result. 

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last twenty years, it will not have escaped your notice that the world has been undergoing a technological revolution. Much has changed over the decades, but perhaps nothing more so than the ability of human beings to do almost everything quicker and more effeciently as a result of the digital world.

Despite growing up without one, I cannot remember what the world used to be like before the mobile phone. I even went on a BBC TV programme in 2012, Turn Back Time, to live as my ancestors did in the early 1900s, to rekindle the experience. Whilst existing without digital was very different, our lives were enriched in so many other ways.

Ian Golding


On the set of Turn Back Time

There is no doubting that technological advancement has transformed our lives positively on so many fronts, however. From a customer experience perspective, technology has been responsible for almost completely shifting the power of commerce from the supplier to the customer. Shopkeepers in the early 1900s would never have believed it possible for someone to order a product from a little mobile device and have it delivered to a destination anywhere in the world within just a few hours. If we sit back and reflect on these things, it is quite remarkable.

Why are we trying to digitise everything?

Despite so much progress being made by so many, it is actually quite amazing to see large, multinational organisations still grappling with the digital world. I work with a number of very large businesses who have ‘digital’ as one of their key strategic priorities. It is almost as though the internet has only just been discovered. These businesses have been merrily observing the world changing all around them, without stopping to consider what these changes might mean for them and their customers.

As a result of a lack of ability to move with the times, many of these businesses are now fighting to try and catch up – hence having a digital strategic priority. However, in their haste to catch up, they are at risk of making a fundamental mistake – trying to ‘digitise’ everything.

For example, I attended a thought leadership dinner with a technology company, where the senior technology leaders around the table represented many large, well-known retailers, all keen to understand how to build ‘better business cases’ to get more investment in mobile devices. When I asked them how these mobile devices would improve their respective customer journeys, few were able to respond. It felt to me as though they were under the impression everything ‘just needs digital’ – but I feel that is over-engineering the problem.

Do you understand the customer journey?

Too many organisations are investing heavily in digital technology without understanding the most fundamental requirement of customer experience – the customer journey. Everyone involved in investing in digital should be acutely aware of how digital technology will better enable business process to improve the customer journey. If that is not known, I would not invest in the technology at all.

One of my first blog posts in 2012 brought the challenges of ‘digital’ to life. I had the pleasure of staying in a CitizenM hotel in Glasgow. CitizenM is a very innovative and entrepreneurial hotel chain – their hotels are very ‘cool’ and hyper-digital. My issue came with the bedroom – entirely controlled by a handheld device.

All I wanted to do was close the curtains, but rather than the few milliseconds usually required for such an act, CitizenM's digital Moonpad required me to hold a button down for the duration I required for them to be opened and closed. It was a process that took over 15 seconds each time. A completely pointless bit of innovation.

Citizen M


Is opening curtains a digital necessity? 

Recently, I was in Berlin with a client. I could not join them as they went to a restaurant on the first night. When they arrived at the office on the second day, I asked them how their ‘experience’ was. ‘OK’ was the reply. When they explained why it was just ‘OK’ it brought to life yet another example of trying to over-engineer the customer experience.

We must never forget that all experiences require people to participate in them

They visited a restaurant that had a menu entirely operated by tablet. The menu was displayed on it and all food ordered through it. Sounds quote cool. In theory, it should make the customer experience quicker and the restaurant processes simpler and smoother. That is in theory.

In reality, the tablet was not designed very well – with a group of 10 people ordering, certain items were selected more than once and the ‘app’ could not cope with the demand. The result was that the tablet took the order incorrectly and the wrong food was delivered. The restaurant blamed the customer for using the tablet incorrectly – they rather missed the point and upset the customers in the process. 

In a world where technological advancement is likely to continue unabated, we must never forget that all experiences require people to participate in them. Digital is not the answer to everything – although aspects of it can undeniably make our lives considerably easier. Amazon are perhaps the world biggest and best example of simplifying the customer journey through innovative (yet simple) technology – yet it is people that underpin their very ability to do what they do.

We must use technology where it can have a demonstrable effect on improving both the customer and employee experience. If it will not improve the experience then maybe, just maybe, we have to consider the fact that digital is not the solution for everything. 

About Ian Golding

Ian Golding

Ian Golding is a Certified Customer Experience Professional. A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, telecoms and pharmaceuticals and has deployed CX tools and methodologies all over the world. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP Authorised Resource & Training Provider.

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18th May 2016 09:04

Great article Ian and a real case of "just because you can, doesn't mean you should. It is all really about making it easy for people to do business, from research to return and any technology interventions should be invisible to the user. Like driving a car used to be, I get in and go to wherever I want to... not so simple now though.

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01st Aug 2019 09:56

Great article and I am sure that we have all experienced similar 'innovations' - going digital for the sake of digital.
of course, the obverse is also true - organisations that don't offer simple digital solutions for doing routine things.
For me, there are a few things I try to bear in mind:
- have you sorted out your processes? 'digitalising'a bad process will not fix it - just speed it up
- have you put the customer at the centre of your digital journey - too often digital transformation it introspective
- do you know what matters to the customer and when? are you fixing the wrong things and customers do't always want to go digital, or for everything

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01st Aug 2019 14:22

Companies need to trial and test to know what works
Customer experience is not a panacea for everything

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