Optimizing internal efficiency versus customer experience

There was once a company whose packaging was notoriously difficult to open. In fact, a TV program had a competition where it offered a prize for anybody who could open the package without spilling the contents. Nobody won the prize.

Why would an organization do that? Internal efficiency. The organization had sought to minimize the space and area that its prefilled packages would take up, so as to minimize distribution costs. The design it had come up with was optimal from a cost-having point of view, allowing it to put the maximum number of packages on one pallet.

It’s the exact same logic behind automated voice systems, outsourced customer support, and the creation of technical and support documentation. We once measured customer support tasks for a large organization. The failure rates were very high and much of the failure was down to the fact that the content was confusing and unclear. We suggested some simple changes that would significantly increase success rates.

“Not going to happen,” said the manager.

“But the content is really difficult to understand,” I replied. “Can’t we write it in more readable English?”

“No,” she said as she shook her head. “We have strict rules here, and one of them is that we must create unreadable English because that is easier to translate into unreadable German.”

We both laughed but she was being totally serious. The organization was focused on optimizing the content creation and translation process. In other words, it was seeking to publish content in the cheapest possible way.

In another organization, I met a support manager who was about to be promoted because he had introduced third party ads into the support website. He told me that senior management was very impressed, as Support was now being seen as a profit center. For customers trying to solve their problems, the ads were disruptive and annoying, but the current customer experience would always take second place when it came to the optimization of profits.

Distributed publishing has been a key selling point of content management systems over the years. Save costs by getting lots of amateurs to publish, rather than hiring a team of professionals. Of course, it was sold as communities, participation and getting close to the expert. But the reality was lots and lots of junior people being given lots and lots of content and told to publish it as quickly as possible.

Customer experience has risen in importance in recent years not because of some change of heart on the side of organizations. Customer experience has risen in importance because of the rise of customer power. Customers are no longer willing to allow their experiences to be degraded because organizations are pursuing internal efficiencies.

There is a balance, of course. But right now we have a general management culture that is far more focused on cost reduction than on customer experience enhancement. We need a cultural shift, a new type of thinking that places as much emphasis on managing customer experiences as it currently does on managing costs.