Consulting mantras like “make it easy” have a fascinating performative power: they seem to reveal the solution whatever the problem. Our experience as a consumer proves it right every day: it’s always easier when it’s simple! The problem is that what is simple is simple only from the customer’s point of view. While to make it simple, what is complicated is precisely the ability for brands to decode the experiences of their own customers.
Indeed, injunctive claims of such kind do not propose any “how to”, they only value an expected result: simple, easy, seamless, effortless… which can only be judged a-posteriori. In “make it easy” it is therefore not the “it” that is “easy”, but the perception that the customer will have of it. Moreover, the expression abusively combines these two points of view: that of the customer experience (easy, simple, effortless) and that of the organization that produces them (make) when they are nevertheless often quite distinct.
Because that’s where the paradox lies: designing something “simple” for a customer is in fact horribly complex for the one who “makes” it. Because you first need to decode the mental model of your customers, and you must at the same time get rid of your own knowledge that hinders your ability to truly listen to them.
The drivers of simplicity?
By seeking to “make it easy”, we implicitly focus on the product or service. By making “easy” an essential feature of the offer, we marginalize the effort to invest in order to know its beneficiary: the customer or the user… The context (time, place, goal, etc.) of the use, which is decisive in the evaluation of the experience, is also ignored. While the same service is not “easy” for everyone, at any time. For example, what is “easy” for my little niece on Snapchat during her holidays is much less so for her uncle who would like to do the same thing!
Behavioral sciences now provide deep insights into decoding clients’ experiences, particularly those related to our “system 1” (Kahneman): that of intuitions and emotions. Acting on cognitive ease certainly implies working on objective elements (message hierarchy, number of steps, convergence of images/texts, shapes and functions, error tolerance, etc…). But it also imposes working with subjective psychological characteristics of the customer themself: discovering their modes of arbitration (spontaneous expectations, navigation heuristics, attention drivers, mental load, etc…), and the role of the context during the interaction sequence (choice architecture, social environment, implicit referential etc…).
So how should we make it easy?
Many human centered methods put the customer back at the center of the equation with, at a minimum, an empathic immersion in agile mode. Ethnography and the use of personas are also relevant tools. But with the contributions of behavioral economics and nudge, we can go one step further understanding what promotes or prevents a desired behavior. The Nudge is a solution to avoid having to sacrifice ease of use by adding a new feature. So instead of promoting the “make it easy”, I would suggest a two-step alternative: “1st decode your customer’s life, then make it easy with nudges”. Easy for them, not for you! The “it” then refers to the customer’s experience, not to the intrinsic characteristics of the service. Just like “jobs to be done” in design theory refer to the desired outcome, not the functionalities. Which means that in your test & learn iterations, you would rather start with the learning phase before doing the testing.
To provide a dynamic view of customer journeys, we are purposely comparing side by side what we observe people doing vs what brands would expect them to do. When the desired behavior is beneficial to consumer as well as the brand (you can only nudge intentionists), you can identify the micro drivers and barriers that could be activated. And sometimes, the current way people are doing things is the one they consider the easiest: keep doing the way you know is often perceived as easier than taking an unknown route, although someone tells you its shorter.
To bring it to life, we often use the bike race metaphor: although the cyclist’s goal is clear from the start (the finish line), several factors can get in the way (road bumps, steepness, spectators) and others can surprisingly help (wind, energy drink, encouragement). To help change people’s behavior, you must play on both aspects “extrinsic” and “intrinsic”: modifying the trajectory to avoid barriers and activating resources around to facilitate the change. You can’t always change the steepness of the road, but you can certainly ease the effort and make it rewarding with an efficient bike. Sometimes forcing runners to slow-down is also helpful to avoid them crashing in the landscape.
Making it easy isn’t always about making it faster, but making it a safer journey, sometimes adding some friction on purpose. To help brand owners get this, we suggest that there is no better way than riding the bike yourself and to watch other bicyclists!
Interested in knowing more about how to improve customer experience by design? Get in touch.