Telefonica’s Jonathan Earle: Reducing customer effort is key to getting the product right

Consumers are now accustomed to brands giving them the shortest possible journey to what they want, so testing your products and ensuring they make people’s lives more convenient is crucial to your brand’s survival.

When I was in the school cricket team, I used to open the batting with a guy who made batting look simple. It was beautiful to watch and all the parents that used to come and support the team would say “he has so much time to play, he makes the game look effortless”. Stuart Broad has managed a similar thing with his bowling in the fourth Ashes test today (6 August).

Fast-forward a number of years and this notion of effortlessness is now being used when describing those companies that are winning in the marketplace. Let me share some examples.

I was lucky enough to chair an event recently where Shop Direct talked about how its sole objective is to make its websites – Littlewoods.com, Very.co.uk and itsme.com amongst others – as frictionless as possible, as it knows the less time a shopper spends choosing the more likely they are to buy. It has a customer experience lab in the middle of its head office where the board can watch how customers are behaving and what their feedback is in real time. It also completes 100 A/B tests a month, which means it is continually learning how customers want to interact with it. Net-a-Porter has a very similar philosophy.

O2 recently had a co-creation session with young families and to kick the session off, we asked “what are your favourite brands and why?” The answers were surprising: eBay, because of the simplicity of PayPal, even though the two brands are now separate businesses; Amazon, as you can do all your Christmas shopping in an hour with free delivery: and Uber, as people were confident it would get them home and because the app is simple to use.

In a world where the demands on our time are so extreme, reducing the amount of time customers interact with you appears to be a winning strategy. Transport for London looks to make every journey taken better and its investment in GPS technology that tells you what time your bus is due, for example, has saved thousands of hours in waiting.

Historically, for a business to focus on customer experience and more specifically customer effort was seen as a bonus when products or services were launched, but all this has gone out of the window with barriers to entering any market at an all-time low. My advice – and this is from someone who has been more product-focused in the past – is to map the minutes and seconds it takes for a customer to complete the journey you want them to and then ask yourself the question “would I be happy with that as a customer?” If the answer isn’t “hell yes!” don’t waste your time and money launching it.

Customer effort stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the product itself: ignore it at your peril because your competitors won’t. Get it right and maybe, just maybe, your company will stay in long enough to carry its bat at the end innings.

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