What M&S teaches us about limiting choice to improve CX

1st Feb 2018

It seems to be the common understanding that in order to be customer-centric, companies need to offer their customers more and more choice. I believe the total opposite.

If you need to give your customers choice, you don't know what your customers need.

This is where asking customer what they want can be a minefield. Most customers will tell you that they want more choice but let's face it, if you knew exactly what your customers needed you wouldn't need to offer a choice.

Although the growth of Marks & Spencer Food has slowed a little recently, many have said that the food arm of this 134-year-old company has saved it from going extinct.

The success of M&S Food can be attributed to five main things:

  1. Lack of choice: This might seem crazy but M&S Food has very little choice, not of the types of products you can buy but with the variation within those products. If I want to buy a loaf of sliced white bread, there will be one own brand option, not 14 different brands competing for my attention.
  2. Smaller footprint: Because they don't have 87 different variations of every possible product that means the footprint of their food stores is much smaller than that of their rivals.
  3. Speed: Because the stores are smaller and I don't have to analyze a million different options I get in and around the store in record time.
  4. Top quality: Because there is only one option for most products M&S need to make sure that option is the best one. They understand the type of people who come to their stores aren't necessarily after the cheapest items they are looking for the best quality items so M&S happily oblige. I now don't have to do research on what frozen pizza is the best, M&S have done that for me and presented me with the best and only the best.
  5. Price: Because their footprint is smaller and because they control a lot more of the food production it makes costs a lot lower for M&S Food than it's traditional competitors. They can charge a premium for their food however becasue they know that the types of customers they want to attract will pay for the convenience and quality. This said the prices aren't massively higher than their competitors and for their customers, it's a happy trade-off.

In short, M&S Food is outperforming Britain's traditional grocery industry by bucking the trend and being untraditional.

Now, not everyone will like this, true, but for some customers 'Choice' is a need, so that's an odd little paradox. If you need to give your customers choice then you don't know what your customer needs...unless their need is choice.

Think about this. In 2007 Nokia released 41 phones, Apple released one.

Here are five simple steps to limit choice:

  1. Understand: Work to understand your customer's true needs (not wants)
  2. Certegorise: Categorise your customers into need categories (not segments)
  3. Strategise: Build your customer experience strategy around the delivery of those needs (focus on what you can do well)
  4. Attract: Attract customers who share those needs (don't try and please everybody)
  5. Guide: Guide customers only to the things you know they really need (the goal isn't money, the goal is customer success, money is the reward)

We all know that restaurants with more items on the menu tend to be the worse than ones that have less - let's translate this thinking to our CX strategy.

Many car companies now are figuring out that is it more successful for the customer and actually cheaper in the long run just to put every extra into every car. Satnav, heated seats, parking sensors...the lot. So, it's cheaper because they don't have to administer the process of your choice and when it comes to the production line it's much simpler, they don't need to keep pulling cars to add this or that as every car has everything. For you, the customer, it's better because you get a fully loaded car at the same price as many other companies basic models.

However, this is where understanding your customer comes in. This wouldn't work for Rolls Royce for example where customisation and choice are a core need of their customers. Normal car company customers need to get from A to B in comfort, Rolls Royce customers need to be able to select the exact silkworm that will produce the silk for the stitching on the steering wheel (or something, I'm not a Rolls Royce customer so I'm guessing here).

In summary - asking a customer to make a choice is an admission that you don't know what they really need. This can be as small as communication method or as big as the products and services they can buy. You may not like it, but it's true.

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