How Hard Can It Be?

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but this I know: the only ones amongst you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found a way to serve.”
Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Prize winner

Who of us has not recently felt the stirrings of “buyers rage”? You know – that feeling when you could just explode because of the way you were treated at the places where you spend your hard-earned money? I know in my case most of these episodes are brought on because things that should be easy turn out to be impossibly difficult. In a recent survey at The Leadership LaunchPad, 72% of respondents said that they had experienced this rage with a business at least once in the past four months.

It got me to thinking about the way in which we complicate things for our customers. How difficult is it to get a human being to answer a simple question about your account? How difficult is it to load about 180 people who have already checked-in onto a ‘plane? How difficult is it to telephone a customer when the product you should have in stock actually arrives – or didn’t arrive? How difficult is it to design packaging that doesn’t need a crow bar and an electric saw to open? How difficult is it to create a clear set of instructions that most people will instinctively understand?

These are just some of the things that complicate our lives as customers – and most occur due to one of three reasons: corporate greed, corporate stupidity, or companies trying to protect themselves from their customers. And the more I see the words “For Your Convenience,” the more I know it isn’t. For example, Mozy, a company that gives you information and data back-up online reported that last year 140 000 hard drives crashed in the US alone – every week! (That’s more than 7 million every year.) How can this be allowed to happen?

There are four different types of customer difficulty or high effort:

• Physical Effort: How “hard” is it? How many muscles needed to carry, to open, or to use something? How much effort to walk or get there? (Such as airports and hospitals.) How comfortable is it? (For example seating, temperature, and noise levels.) And what about the impact on our other senses? Some solutions may lie in using automation to improve this, but you really need to look at how you can make the physical environment more pleasant for customers.

• Mental and cognitive effort: Is there a lot of mental effort needed to do business with your company? For example: filling in documentation in impossible sized letters, having to repeat the same information over and over again, understanding complex conditions of sale, or complying with processes and procedures and rules. Today customers can easily make price comparisons (, and download easy instructions for use (Apple, Mr Delivery), deal with businesses that provide consistency rather than inconsistency between channels and products (e.g. banks where “private banking” is easier than business accounts,) and use websites that are simple to use (how to find, (3 clicks rule, simple navigation, quantity and quality of information, self-help like airline check-in and tills.) They won’t forgive you if you complicate their lives: “I don’t have time to work it out, so I’ll just go where it’s easy.”

• Emotional effort: Some businesses and industries have a knack for making customers get upset. I’m convinced that companies put their least sensitive and caring people at the front lines to deal with customers. Examples include poor relationships with people who work there, (not “web-bots,”) an inability to access the right people/processes, and too many rigid policies and rules. Often, your company actually loses, not the customers. And we can add other examples: customers feeling embarrassed, stupid or irritated, receiving no feedback, and being kept waiting for stuff, safety and security dangers and fears like unsafe parking, poor childcare facilities, lost baggage, insecure data handling, dangerous packaging, poor instructions, and so on. Frustration is the emotional response to opposition and helplessness and obstructions, and you constantly need to challenge why your business keeps doing these things, given the price you pay..

• Time effort: We are all time poor in today’s hectic world, so it’s no excuse keeping customers waiting, delaying them, and forcing them into long queues in any channel – but especially the “sheep pens.” Install simplified procedures to shorten time effort for your customers, or keep them busy so that they don’t feel hassled. Don’t allow them to have to explain things again and again, or being given the run around, and shorten the distances they need to travel.

It may all seem like a lot of effort for your business to analyse and reduce the customer effort required, but this type of project can give you great insight into what it’s like for your customers – and help you to get rid of all the “dumb contacts” in your business. And in today’s complex and difficult world, your customers will reward you magnificently for making their lives easier rather than more difficult.

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