Guest Post: Solving Customer Problems is Great. But Why Not Prevent Them in the First Place?

In many situations the ideal customer experience is not to have one in the first place, argues guest blogger Matt Watkinson.

Every now and then something reminds me that I ain’t a kid anymore. 

I put on my favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers album last night, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, only to discover it is thirty years old, a revelation that is still reverberating through my mind this morning. And as I put the finishing touches on my third book last week, I realized that a decade has passed since I penned my first, The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences

Ah, time. Our only non-renewable resource. The most sacred thing there is. To waste it is to waste life itself, and the older we get the faster it seems to pass. Is it any wonder then, that our perception of value is often determined by how many grains from our hourglass must be expended to complete a given task?

Sure, there are pleasurable experiences that we want to lavish our time on, but a more frequent scenario – the entirety of domestic administration, getting our car serviced, or filing an insurance claim, for example – is that we’d rather not be doing it at all. So in many situations the ideal customer experience isn’t merely frictionless, it’s non-existent.

Rather than polishing the interactions customers have with us, we might do better to prevent them from ever occurring. 

Many contact centers, for example, do their best to provide First Contact Resolution – a worthy goal. The problem though, as Matt Dixon points out in The Effortless Experience, is that customers can face multiple issues that are daisy-chained.

If the customer experiences five problems in series, and we resolve each the first time they are raised, the customer has still contacted us five times. He therefore suggests a corollary to first contact resolution: Next Issue Avoidance – doing what we can to make sure that customers don’t need to call us back by anticipating related challenges downstream.

This practice remains comparatively rare in my experience as a customer, but it’s fantastic when it happens.

I recently called a motorcycle parts supplier to ask a technical question about fitting one of their products. Not only did the person I spoke with answer my question, he then went on to explain the issues that I might face down the line and gave me detailed notes for how to avoid or manage them too – a five-minute call that I’m certain saved me hours of subsequent effort.

Likewise, at a trip to Apple’s Genius Bar last week their Mac expert quickly diagnosed my problem and presented a solution – unfortunately it is a hardware issue that requires repair – but he also explained some steps I could take to avoid a similar incident in the future. 

In both instances they have resolved my problem efficiently – which is respectful of my time – but also sought to prevent me from needing their services again – which is more respectful still.

Next Issue Avoidance is part of a larger spectrum of error prevention techniques which have been part of my standard UX design and customer journey mapping process for a decade or more. And while their usage remains uncommon – how often have you seen a swim lane for potential errors on a journey map? – such techniques are extremely powerful, not to mention comparatively easy to use.

All you need to do is work your way through the continuum of a customer journey, and for each stage identify what errors could be made, how they could be prevented, and if they can’t be prevented, how they can be detected and recovered from as gracefully as possible.

You’ll likely be astonished by how many possible errors you discover, and how much time you can give customers back by preventing them.

You can take this line of thinking further still by identifying which tasks you could do on your customer’s behalf – using smart defaults on form fields for example. You could also eliminate duplication – something that occurs more often than you might think. 

Whenever I post a package at my local post office, for example, they ask me to fill out a paper form with the delivery address, which the clerk then types into the system incorrectly because they can’t read my awful handwriting. Between us we typically end up entering the address three or four times – more if the package is going to foreign lands.

Why not just have me type it into the system myself?

To quote management pedagogue Peter Drucker, “Nothing is quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Eliminating onerous, undesirable interactions entirely is a far better solution than allowing the customer to complete them more easily.