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Should simplicity be a CX priority - and which brands do it well?

28th Jan 2019
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What is a simple customer experience - and why is it so important in 2019? We explore these issues, and examine the brands that are doing it well. 

Simplicity is often spoken of as a key tenet of a great customer experience, and its proponents certainly claim to have the stats to back up their claims that it pays for brands to embrace simplicity – but what does it really mean to be simple?

Siegel+Gale is a global branding company that conducts the annual World’s Simplest Brands Index, and its research indicates several compelling benefits of simplicity:

  • Simplicity drives growth: Since 2009, a stock portfolio comprised of the publicly traded simplest brands in the global Top 10 has outperformed the major indexes by 686%.
  • Simplicity drives loyalty: 64% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand because it’s simple.
  • Simplicity drives revenues: 55% of consumers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences.

Siegel+Gale ultimately estimate that companies that fail to provide simple experiences are leaving an estimated share of $98 billion on the table.

At a time when the customer experience is becoming a competitive differentiator of even greater influence than product and price, it is little surprise then that when I spoke with experts about their predictions for CX trends in 2019, many emphasised the importance of simplicity.

Summarising just one of the reasons why there is a growing interest in simplicity, Miro Walker, CEO at Cognifide.com, explains: “Consumers are looking for simplicity. The expectation for Millennials and Gen Z is that “I can do what I want right now” and they will walk away from experiences that don’t deliver that immediacy.”

What is simplicity?

But what really is simplicity? If it concerns making a service experience easy, then surely it means that simplicity is surely unobtainable for some industries – take for instance the example of heavily regulated industries that require customers to navigate obtrusive security checks before they can be served.

But simplicity is actually… well, more complicated than that, according to David Srere, co-CEO and chief strategy officer at Siegel+Gale.

He explains: “Simplicity is achieved when two key components intersect: clarity and surprise. It implies consideration—taking the time and effort to know an audience well enough to understand just how much information they need - clarity - and then delivering it in a way that is truly fresh - surprise. Combining these two elements allows a brand to appeal both logically and emotionally.”

He continues: “Clarity accentuates authenticity and increases productivity by reinforcing ‘what’ we want to do with the substance of ‘how’ and ‘why’. For example, Volvo’s ‘Our Idea of Luxury is Simplicity’, campaign substantiates clarity by entwining the XC90 model’s simplicity with luxury, appealing to comfort, convenience and peace of mind (e.g. safety) - all that Volvo has become known for.

“True simplicity also has an element of the unexpected… However, surprise does not always require employing groundbreaking new technology. Moments of wonder and astonishment are rare and resonate on a visceral level without requiring much thought. In that way, they are ‘simple’.”

Any clearer? Perhaps not.

Thankfully, previous Simplicity Index’s have given more tangible examples, defining simplicity as communicating directly, clearly and honestly without jargon; making offerings convenient and easy-to-use so that customers save time; and providing straightforward interactions that allow customers to feel they are obtaining clear savings and value-for-money, rather than receiving offerings that are either too niche or targeted at too select an audience.

Others have expanded on this definition, emphasising how simplicity is also about getting the basics right – minimising errors and unnecessary delays, sending out communications that are clear and accurate, keeping the physical space in which customers are present clean and tidy, and answering the phone when customers call.

Which brands deliver simplicity?

Perhaps simplicity is also about expectations. Banking customers expect that they will be asked security questions and have a more complicated log-in procedure than when they are on a retailer site, for instance, but they don’t want it to be as simple as possible within those parameters.

To demonstrate that even those in regulated industries can still deliver simplicity, Walker points to the financial services industry as one that is at the vanguard of simplicity.

“The fintech sector and so-called ‘neo-banks’ are leading the way here with their use of personalisation and UX to create an outstanding onboarding experience for new clients,” he suggests. “The number of steps to start using a new app, set up an account and get you switched is pretty seamless. The combination of a personalised approach with careful wording and appropriate guidance, supported by 24hr chat, make these disruptors clear winners in the customer experience battle. They are setting a new baseline model for others to follow in 2019.”

Elsewhere, Katie Streten, head of strategy and insight at global creative agency Imagination, points to a brand in the auto sector, the Ford dealership in Turin, Italy.

“By tailoring a simple, clear offer, and matching that offer directly to cars on display and available for test drive, the dealership can provide the vehicle within a few weeks — rather than a few months. It answers customers’ ‘need for speed’ by drastically reducing time to purchase, while dramatically increasing sales.”

Indeed, brands are delivering simplicity across the whole spectrum of industry sectors.

Siegel+Gale’s annual World’s Simplest Brands Index is based on a survey of 15,000 consumers across nine countries. The top ten features brands as diverse as Subway, Spotify, Trivago, Lidl, Google and Uniqlo.

Netflix was crowned the World’s Simplest brand, with the report noting that: “Netflix’s ease of experience, which allows users to stream, pause and resume viewing high-quality content—without commercials or commitments—earns them the top honor for simplicity.”

In second place was German discount grocer ALDI. The report explained: “The German discount grocers surpass big-box competitors by virtue of their clear communications, affordable prices and premium private label products.”

What can we learn from brands who offer simplicity - and those that aren't?

Philip Davies, EMEA president at Siegel+Gale, summarises what we can learn from these brands: “We live in a complex world where people are increasingly busy and constantly bombarded with information. They shop and consume information on the go, whether it’s during their morning commute or evening stroll. This reality means brands that develop a clear offering that is easily understood and that consistently deliver a simple, seamless experience are one step ahead of the competition.”

Of course, where there are winners there are also losers. And the Simplicity Index concludes that several industries remain “mired in complexity” and must try harder to simplify their operations.

Car rental firms, for instance, rank towards the bottom of the Index, with the report noting that while aspects of the car rental experience - including picking up and dropping off the car - are straightforward and simple, much of the rental process is complex, such as the dizzying array of refueling options and the range of insurance options. Plenty of room for improvement for car hire firms, and warnings for other industries on how important it is to avoid confusing customers. 

Elsewhere, healthcare insurance also suffered on the Index, largely because of how hard it is for customers to understand many aspects of it – from selecting the right coverage and understanding policy documents, right through to the payment of claims. Organisations need to be particularly sensitive to complexity in industries such as healthcare, where they can be dealing with emotive matters, so there is a real onus on these brands to explore how they simplify communications for customers that may require additional guidance. 

But with a growing focus on simplicity from brands in 2019, and consumers increasingly looking for simple experiences – particularly amongst the younger demographics – it does appear that organisations will be facing difficult futures if they don’t start to explore how they can simplify their operations, services and communications.

Eliot Sykes, head of customer experience at Ethology, concludes: “Customer expectations and demands are constantly shifting as new technologies and data drive new experiences unabated. Whilst sophistication increases, maintaining simplicity and usefulness on an organisational and customer level will be vital.

“Brands will continue to uncover new insights and needs from a customer perspective to eliminate the unwanted and the unnecessary, and to align the organisation to this purpose.”

Replies (3)

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Steven Walden
By Steven Walden
31st Jan 2019 10:12

Nope. This is mono-mania. IMHO. Customer value creation should be the focus. Sometimes simple, sometimes frictionless, sometimes delight.
Context is king not convenience.

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By allisonb
31st Jan 2019 13:01

Good article. My experience aligns to this thinking around simplicity - in the entire lifecycle. We have to be careful not to get in the way of our own business goals and relentlessly focus on delivering value with the right outcomes and appropriate experiences.

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Gangadhar Krishna customer service delightingcustomers.com
By Gangadhar Krishna
31st Jan 2019 15:11

Good article! Often when you make things complex you drive customers away. A good experience is keeping it short and simple. When the customer understands and is on top of the situation he takes informed decisions. Now you help the customer buy instead of making a sale. A key difference for a good CX.

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