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Three Principles of Customer Design

We are constantly amazed…

When we thought up this cartoon about “risk “being let loose on customer journeys, we took the idea to extremes of course! Unfortunately, there is more than a grain of truth to the idea and all too often we have found designs of sales and service journeys where “risk and control”, seemed to be the main design thinking.

For example, recently we observed sales reps who must read over three minutes of legal terms and conditions at the end of a sales process. The customers were almost begging to get off the phone and consider why they had just joined that company. As an antidote to these kinds of poor designs, in this paper we have set out three alternative guiding

principles that we use to create win-win experiences for the customer and the business. We apply these to a range of different customer experiences and we use them in digital interactions as well as voice, in person or paper.

Customer Experience Manners

The concept of “outside in” design has been around for some time, though we find that organisations somehow “lose their manners” and put their own needs first in many interactions. For example, we still see far too many digital processes that put the company’s information or risk needs before the customer’s desired process. Often marketing insist that they get information either up front or somewhere early in digital sale process. The fear of “losing the lead”, or “lost input to digital insights”, seems to overtake the usability and simplicity of the process for the customer.

This internal focus shifts crucial “knock out” questions to the back of the process which we find the height of organisational “rudeness”. It’s frustrating for customers to get fifteen minutes into a form only to find they can’t use it, or their application can’t be done in this way.

Recently, we tried three on line wine sites all of which claimed next day delivery in their up-front marketing. In every case, right at the end of the process after selecting products and providing many details, each of these three sites informed customers that they could not deliver for 48 hours when the customer needed a next day delivery. How “rude” is it to promise one outcome and lead the customer to another outcome?

In a similar way, many call centre processes break the customers’ conversation flow by putting them through rigorous identity checks, before customer needs are understood. It’s a bit like meeting someone at a party, asking for their driver’s licence and passport before you’ll talk to them. That would appear rude and yet an identity led call sequence is the most common in contact centres today.

Another form of “customer interaction manners” that we describe in “Your Customer Rules”, is putting customers in control of processes. That means they should know the length of time required and what they will need to do to complete a process. We saw a new mobile friendly application form recently that had been developed by a business at great cost. It served up the questions one at a time in a very mobile friendly interaction style. However, it was a long process (between 30 and 40 questions) and gave the customer no idea of how far they had progressed or what was remaining. Worse still, customers needed certain documents about current products to complete the process, though no warning was given up front. Contrast that with one of the leading sales “intermediaries” in Australia who make it clear to customers how long the process will take enabling customers’ expectations are set and time is made available appropriately. That’s a great illustration of customer “manners” being applied appropriately.

Designing for the exception rather than exceptions driving design

It’s amazing how frequently we find whole processes that force “exception” processes on all customers. Examples include organisations who insist on seeing “death certificates”, or signed forms when all the information can be completed on line or over the phone. We most recently observed an insurance business forcing all customers to get documented proof of certain driving history, when they only intended to catch 2-3% of customers where issues apply.

To avoid these issues, we find that all organisations need to apply two simple principles that we documented in, “Your Customer Rules”:

1. Isolate “extra customer effort” processes wherever possible, to those to whom the exception applies.

2. Design processes where the customer needs extra organisation effort, for those customers who need this effort.

These are two very different principles that appear similar. One stops you putting 100% of customers to work when the work should be isolated to 10%. The other isolates the 10% of customers who need the organisation to invest extra effort. Type 1 exceptions are those the organisation wishes to control such as situations with a fraud risk or situations that need extra proof or many extra process

steps. Perhaps only 10% of customers need to send a form. The difficulty is isolating these conditions quickly and easily. Far too often we see “all customers” put through a process because it applies to 5 or 10%.

Type 2 exceptions are things like customers with special needs or perhaps those of greatest value to the organisation. In these situations, the organisation needs to make the extra investment of time and effort. A classic example of a type two treatment would be elderly customers being forced into complex identity checks involving lots of details that are difficult to remember. Few companies have a way to deal with this even though they have identified that a customer is in their 90’s. This is a classic example where the company needs to have its own exception process not force 10% of customers whom it has no relevance, through a process designed for the other 90%.

The reason we look at these two situations together is that we find that in preventing type 1 thinking the organisation save both time and effort. If only 10% of customers send a form, the company saves 90% of the effort processing the forms. This means it can then invest extra time in assisting the small percentage of customers who require it to complete that form. Thus, the effort saved can be re-invested in those who need it.

Compliant by design rather than design by compliance

We’ve already mentioned issues such as companies forcing staff to read complex and legal scripts as a “compliance catch all” at the end of calls. We’ve also witnessed front counter staff having to read out terms and conditions and we’ve all experienced the digital processes with “terms and conditions” approval tick boxes. Too often we find these compliance driven processes come about because no-one has looked at the rest of the interaction. In sales processes, for example, often a sales rep will cover a range of the items that are referred to in the terms and conditions. Designed well, the sales process can cover all the compliance related issues. Then at the end of the sales process the agent may just need a plain summary of the discussion. That is very different from reading a legal compliance statement and it achieves the same outcome.

We have managed to reduce the number of compliance processes by questioning which risks they are controlling and how effective they are in controlling that risk. In one example, we got a company to

remove a form and compliance process by identifying that the company had no exposure. It was just something they had always done. The form free process saved time for all.

Another strategy is to “bake” the compliance process into the earlier parts of the experience rather than add a legal and compliance layer at some later stage. We’ve been very successful in having scripts and compliance statements removed or vastly simplified. Again, it’s a triple win. Customers hate listening to terms and conditions, staff hate reading them and it takes lots of time. It’s also a very bad way to end a successful sales interaction. It’s a bit like saying “welcome to the family, but here are all the ways we

don’t trust you”.

Finally, provide necessary compliance statements in a variety of forms at the customers’ discretion. Rather than read out privacy statements, they can send or email in some form of welcome pack. Customers love being given choices such as “I can read that to you now?” Or, “email it to you for you to read in your own time?” This saves the customer time and again gives them choices and control. Better still if we can avoid the need for these compliance documents.


We hope these three principles will provide some valuable ideas to improve customer experience. Putting the customer first into the design, isolating exceptions and thinking differently about compliance can make a huge difference.

LimeBridge has a great success with these approaches and found “triple bottom line” wins every time. Please email if you’d like more examples or to meet with us so we can demonstrate how to put these ideas into action. Or even to discuss your ideas.

Alternatively call 02 9238 6265 or 03 9499 3550, we look forward to hearing from you.

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