The Convenience Revolution (Shep Hyken) — bullet points

  • If you’re wondering what the desire for convenience might look like as it approaches you, I invite you to consider the possibility that it might come in the form of a suggestion from one of your customers. Whether you choose to listen to that suggestion or not might make the difference between you and your business riding the wave of disruption … or drowning beneath it.
  • Every time a customer shares feedback with you, consider it an opportunity to create a disruptive market advantage over your competition.
  • To survive and thrive, we need to listen to our customers … and anticipate what’s likely to reduce friction in their world.
  • What could you do today to make it just a little easier to do business with you and your company? How can you make your customer’s day a little easier? How can you be even more convenient than your competitors?
  • Customers want a safety net in case a failure occurs, we found, and they explicitly want an employee to be available.
  • How Has the Experience of Buying from Amazon Affected Your Customers’ Expectations About Your Ability to … … Reduce Friction? … Provide a User-Friendly, Self-Service Option? … Leverage the Latest Technology to Make Their Lives a Little Easier? … Save Time on Repeat Purchases Through Subscription Services? … Provide Quick, Affordable Delivery? … Be There for Them When They Need You, or Even When They Just Feel Like Browsing? The fact that we are all competing with Amazon is neither good nor bad – it’s just a fact; it’s the reality we all face.
  • Amazon committed itself to reshaping customer expectations about what is and isn’t convenient. It’s continually raising the bar in the areas of Reducing Friction, Self-Service, Subscription, Delivery, Access, and Technology. It has continually invested in improving those six areas, and the investments are paying off.
  • Principle One: Reduce Friction
  • The first principle, the one critical idea that both encompasses and summarizes the other five: reducing friction. Why is this principle so important? Because friction is what kills the customer experience.
  • Out-of-stock inventory, a preventable delay, an error in shipping, slavish adherence to “the rulebook,” the service person’s attitude, or any other breakdown in the system. Then what happens? The momentum that the customer had toward buying from us or working with us again slows down – all because the customer ran into that obstacle and we didn’t do anything meaningful to stop it. As a result, there is unresolved disagreement and/or tension in the relationship.
  • Friction is when we’re put on hold for too long. Friction is when we’re on the phone with a customer service agent and we’re transferred to someone else, and we have to explain our issue all over again from scratch to a new person, sometimes three or four times in a row. Friction is being stuck in a long checkout line. Friction is dealing with traffic in a crowded parking lot. Friction is when we expect an item to be delivered on a certain day and it doesn’t arrive. Friction is the sales rep who shows up late for a meeting. Friction is having to put up with a long delay at the doctor’s office, even though we showed up on time. Friction is the cable TV guy who doesn’t show up on time, even though we had to take a day off from work to make sure we were there for the appointment. In short, friction is something that makes doing business with someone anything other than easy.
  • Start by asking some simple questions: Where are the friction points in our business? Where do we find that our current way of doing business creates a situation that habitually “rubs customers the wrong way” – by slowing down their progress, giving them one more hassle that they didn’t need, or even giving them a cause for complaint, tension, or disagreement? Before you say you have no friction points, let me ask you this: have you asked your customers whether there is anything about their experience with your business that they would change?
  • The first and, arguably, most important thing to notice about the Convenience Revolution is its capacity to disrupt whole industries. It’s hard to think of an example more telling in that regard than Uber, the company that invented ridesharing mobile apps and transformed the modern public transportation landscape.
  • If you use Uber in its most popular incarnation, as a “dynamic pricing” transportation service, you pull up the Uber app on your smartphone or computer, enter your destination, get a quoted fare, agree to it, and the driver shows up shortly thereafter. And, you can use that same app to track when your driver will arrive. Since you’ve already set up the payment info on your Uber account, you don’t have to fumble around for anything when you get to where you’re going. You simply get out and get on with your day. If you feel like it, you tip the driver later, again using the app. The difference between the two experiences – and the reason behind Uber’s astonishing levels of success – can be summed up in two words: reduced friction.
  • Uber has stepped on a lot of toes. Remember what I said a little earlier about disruption, about how convenience can disrupt entire industries? Well, cab drivers and others invested in a pre-convenience, higher-friction urban transportation model have had their share of complaints about Uber.
  • Just like Apple disrupted the music industry with the iPod and its later streaming music options, Uber disrupted the cab industry.
  • Principle Two: Self-Service
  • Perhaps most important, no effective self-service process should be completely self-contained. Ideally, there should always be a human backup. If something goes wrong with the system, or there’s something your customer doesn’t understand, or your customer simply has a question and needs to talk to someone about it, there needs to be some way for an actual human being to take control of the situation.
  • Humans are a diverse group. What is convenient in a self-service system for one person will not necessarily be convenient to another, and we need to take those differences into account as we design our self-service option. In the end, we may find that a single system is not sufficient to appeal to the wide variety of learning and interaction styles we’re engaging with. Many cutting-edge companies are enhancing the convenience they offer customers by providing multiple self-service platforms. For instance, one customer may prefer placing a familiar, repeat order with you by means of a simple text message, while another enjoys customizing each order using a full-featured website.
  • Don’t make the mistake of imagining you’re ever going to be “finished” with this. Self-service is an ongoing commitment, not something you cross off a list. The self-service bar is constantly being raised, and the tools are always getting better.
  • The big challenge with self-service systems is that sometimes people need a little time and encouragement before they reach a point where they feel comfortable using them. My own go-to airline, American Airlines, offers a great example of how the airlines trained the public to start using the system. AA set up a series of incentives (bribes, if you will) to encourage me to rely more on self-service check-in and service options. These inducements were a combination of frequent-flyer miles and price discounts they offered me over a period of several months, so I could get comfortable relying on their new self-service system.
  • Self-Service Snapshot: Starwood Hotels. Here’s how it works: after making a reservation at a participating hotel, you’re invited to opt-in to the keyless system 24 hours before you arrive. Once you’ve opted in, you get a notification that you’re already checked in; the app sends you a room number and Bluetooth key when the room is ready, and the virtual key shows up on your phone. When you show up at the hotel, you can bypass the front desk, go directly to your room, and hold your smartphone up to the door lock to open it. Before your stay, the app can send you information, such as relevant tourist sites or an interactive map link with directions to your hotel. And after you show up, Starwood can forward information about setting up dinner reservations and more. Again, if it’s what you want, you can use the app to set up a total self-service experience from reservation to check out. It’s all up to you. Once you opt in to this system, you still get all the smiles from the staff as you walk through the hotel. You still get all the personality and all the feeling of being welcomed and supported as a valued guest. You just don’t have to wait around anymore!
  • In many cases, customers prefer doing most things themselves. They are resistant, though, to self-service options that add friction to their day, that look like they haven’t been thought through, or that appear to be designed only to reduce a company’s overhead. Lots of self-service ideas sound good in theory, but end up backfiring. The big question to ask is whether a self-service option makes life easier or more difficult for a customer in execution. This means you need to test your ideas before you roll them out on a large scale.
  • Is it possible for customers who prefer self-service to move through the purchasing process without ever dealing directly with an employee? What kind of customer-friendly backup plan can you build into your self-service option? If a customer has a problem using your self-service system, how easy is it for them to connect with a human being?
  • Principle Three: Technology
  • When the online process for resetting a password, making a purchase, connecting with someone, solving a problem, getting cash, sending cash or doing anything else important to us is so complex we feel overwhelmed, that’s friction arising from technology.
  • Technology Snapshot: NoWait. This breakthrough smartphone app allows restaurant patrons to browse nearby restaurants for current wait times, add themselves to a reservation list, receive a text when the table is ready, skip the line, enjoy a meal without the friction of a long wait and even leave a review of the restaurant. Diners love the NoWait app because it allows them to put their name on the wait list at a restaurant they like, when they want, without placing a phone call. They can see how many people are ahead of them at any given restaurant and plan their arrival based on the app’s estimates. Restaurant owners who subscribe to NoWait love the app because it helps them better organize their traffic flow, improves the guest experience, and creates powerful analytics that help them manage the business better. And as good as it is for the restaurant, more importantly, it also creates a better, more convenient experience for the restaurant’s guests.
  • How easy is it for new customers to own the technology and information platforms you share with them, and how long does this process take? If you could invent any piece of technology to improve the customer experience, what would it be? Is there a comparable option that fits within your budget? What do your customers have to say about how easy (or difficult) your technology resources are as a communication platform or as service?
  • Principle Four: Subscription
  • “How can I keep my customers happy by offering a subscription option?” is one that every business, including yours, should, at the very least, consider.
  • You don’t have to go that far back to a time when consumers thought about subscriptions as being primarily relevant to magazines and newspapers. Now, consumers buy everything from fresh produce to digital music, from fine wine to clothing, from movies to dog food, by subscription.
  • You can’t be great for just the first year; you must plan to be great for the lifetime of the relationship.
  • Subscription Snapshot: The New York Times. Readers stayed away from the “hard paywall” in droves. They complained. Some of them even fought back hard against the model online, posting hundreds of links to Times articles available from alternate sources – not all of them legal. In 2011, the Times proved it was listening to its customers, and, just as important, proved it was capable of evolving. It pioneered a low-friction option that no one else in the industry had considered: the “soft” or “leaky” paywall. That model has changed the game. Online readers now get access to 10 Times articles per week before their IP address hits the paywall prompt asking them to subscribe; they can also track down an additional five articles via search engine queries before they get turned away. Readers searching for individual stories are now transitioning into subscribers in record numbers. The new approach has been a major success for the paper, and it has led to huge increases in both online subscriptions and circulation revenue. The easy-to-use, low-friction “soft paywall” the Times pioneered has emerged as the dominant model in an industry still struggling to find its footing in a digital world.
  • Subscription Snapshot: Dollar Shave Club. Dubin figured that people were always going to need razors, but they didn’t appreciate the shifting product offerings, the needless hassle in the store and the high prices. So, why not set up a system in which the razors you want simply arrive in the mail and don’t cost an arm and a leg? In other words, why not make a repeat purchase pattern simpler for the customer by offering a subscription service? That’s exactly how Dollar Shave Club works. You choose the type of blade you want. The first time you receive blades, you also get the handle. After that, fresh new blades are sent to you on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. The company offers three membership plans, which can be upgraded or downgraded at any time. Dollar Shave Club is built on the concept of reducing friction, and the response from customers has been strong.
  • Many companies assume that a subscription model is not relevant to their business. Before you make that conclusion, though, consider closely whether your competitors could find a way to make a subscription offering reduce friction for your target customer. If, in the mid-90s, you’d have asked the leadership at Blockbuster Video whether subscriptions were relevant to their business, they probably would have said, “No!” Netflix proved otherwise. Is it possible that there is some inconvenience your customers (or prospective customers) are experiencing that could be minimized or eliminated by a subscription option? Consider how Netflix took on Blockbuster, focusing on what it believed was inconvenient in Blockbuster’s customer experience, such as late fees that customers may consider unreasonable. Does your organization have any similar weaknesses that could be used by your competition to steal business away from you? If so, what are they? What is the single most common complaint you hear from customers? Could this be minimized, or removed altogether, by means of a well-designed subscription model? Are there any goods or services that your customers purchase on a regular basis? Can you offer your customers a discount on any goods or services if it means you get reliable, ongoing business from them?
  • Principle Five: Delivery
  • Delivery is all about removing friction. The right delivery option can be a powerful advantage when it’s combined with friendly, knowledgeable people and a good service experience that exceeds expectations. Suddenly, you’ve created a significant market advantage – and a barrier to your competition.
  • Delivery Snapshot: l-800-FLOWERS.COM Expand the Brand and Deliver More, Smoothly – If 1-800-Flowers.com could deliver flowers, why not deliver other items that tied in well for customers who buy flowers? The company acquired Fannie May for candy and chocolate, Wolferman’s for gourmet foods, Harry and David for fruit baskets and specialty gifts, and more. While each of these businesses operates as an individual company, they are still interconnected. 1-800-Flowers. com worked with IBM to create a system that delivers a seamless experience for customers who want to send a gift that combines products from these different brands. That means a customer can order flowers from 1-800-Flowers. com and chocolates from Fannie May in the same order, and if there is a customer service issue, the customer only needs to make one call, even though it’s two brands.
  • The lesson here is simple and powerful: whether you’re dealing with multiple brands or multiple departments within a company, make the customer “handoff ” experience convenient – preferably invisible. Don’t tell the customer those dreaded words, “I’ll have to transfer you. That’s not my department.” That only increases friction.
  • How much time are your customers currently spending waiting, driving or standing in line for something they get from you? How much time could your customers save if you offered a delivery option? If you already offer a delivery option, how do your customers feel about it? Is there any useful feedback about how it could be improved? Are there any consistent customer complaints about your delivery option? If so, what can be done to address these? What delivery options does your competition offer? If you provide services and not products, how can you bring your service to the customers?
  • Principle Six: Access
  • Access simply means going where the customer is. For some companies, access means creating and supporting enough physical locations to serve the target market they’ve identified in a way that supports convenience. For some companies, access means giving customers user-friendly communication tools through which the customer experience plays out remotely without adding friction. And for some companies, it’s going to be essential to do both of those things to provide customers with convenient access.
  • This is one of the easiest Convenience Principles for people to understand for the simple reason that all of us are customers who have, at one point or another, been let down by a company that wasn’t there for us. The whole point of this Convenience Principle is to keep your customers from feeling that way. You do that by looking closely at three different areas of the customer experience: availability, communication and location.
  • Availability: All of us can remember multiple negative customer experiences we had that were rooted in someone not being available to us when we needed them. Maybe a store we were planning to visit was closed, even though it was supposed to be open; maybe we were waiting a ridiculously long time to get an eye exam; maybe we were waiting on hold to get an answer from tech support. Each of those negative experiences represents a potential opening for a competitor who is willing and able to do a better job of being there for the customer.
  • Communication: In the area of communication, customers want a simple, direct, respectful exchange that gets them measurably closer to what they’re after in real time. They don’t want to be put on hold. They don’t want to wait in line. They don’t want to have to explain the same issue multiple times to multiple team members. They don’t want to get different answers from multiple departments. Ideally, they want a straight answer, now, without doubletalk or delay. If they don’t get that, they’re not getting the access they crave.
  • Location: With regard to location, customers want to be able to connect with us at a time and place that matches up seamlessly with everything else that’s going on in their busy day. Because we live in the 21st century, location can mean two things: a physical place where the customer shows up in person or a fully-resourced Internet presence that gives the customer a similar or even better experience online. Those can each be expressions of good location from the customer’s point of view. What good location doesn’t look like is what customers too often have to deal with: physical outlets that are jammed or are only open during the times when they are busy doing something else, and websites that claim to offer 24/7 service, but really don’t because there’s no one there to respond when the customer poses a question after hours.
  • When we give customers less than they have a right to expect in terms of availability, communication and/or location, we are adding friction to their already friction-heavy day, and we are opening a door to our competition.
  • Are you there for your customers? Specifically, are people available to talk to when they’re needed? Is your communication simple, direct and respectful, and does it move the customer forward toward what he or she wants? Is your location easy to get to and easy to navigate without waiting too long? What do you do differently from the competition in terms of availability, location and access? How do you offer flexible hours or alternative access during your off hours? Where are your customers currently going for what you offer and how do you meet them there?
  • Remember: If you don’t find a way to distinguish yourself in at least one of these areas, there’s a good chance that one of your competitors will!
  • “I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon.com. … None of those things are fun. But they also don’t matter. What really matters is, companies companies that don’t continue to experiment, companies that don’t embrace failure, they eventually get in a desperate position where the only thing they can do is a Hail Mary bet at the very end of their corporate existence. Companies that are making bets all along, even big bets — but not bet-the-company bets — prevail. I don’t believe in bet-the-company bets. That’s when you’re desperate. That’s the last thing you can do.” Jeff Bezos
  • This willingness to place a series of intelligent bets on convenience that sometimes fail is what makes success possible. As you and your company pick your battles in the ongoing, never-ending Convenience Revolution, I urge you to think big – but also to leave yourself time and space for a “reality check” moment. Test your biggest, best ideas. Experiment. Make smart investments. Figure out when it’s time to scale something up. Figure out when it’s time to shut something down. And consider reinvesting some of your profit back into refining the customer experience, an experience that reduces friction and creates convenience for your customers. They’ll remember. They’ll tell others. They’ll come back. They’ll spend more when they do. That seems like a bet worth placing.

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