KISS your Way To Outstanding Service
Keep It Simple
In the late 1980's and early 1990's, when Apple Computer was without Steve Jobs at the helm, the company greatly diversified its product line, making dozens of different Macintosh computers, with a dizzying array of options and configurations and model numbers. It was nearly impossible to figure out which model was the right one for what you needed. There was product overlap, with consumer models duplicating professional models and professional models duplicating educational models and so on. The strategy of trying to cover all the bases with pre-configured options failed, as consumers were confused rather than inspired by the product offerings. Once the product line was simplified, with only a few models and a few options, did sales turn around and satisfaction with the products increase.
Across every industry and every service area, you will find companies the try to be everything to everyone. Some succeed and some fail. Some simplify and others vanish. Some decide that specific offerings with limited options are the way to go. Some decide that simple offerings with unlimited options is the way to go. Either way, keeping your offerings as simple and easy to understand as possible enables you to streamline your customer service experience end to end.
Can you give customers too many product choices?
Sesame Seed Bun
We all know the song made famous by the McDonald's Big Mac. It told us exactly what we would get when we ordered one: two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. This was simple, uncomplicated. As the customer, we did not need to decide the makeup of the sandwich, we only needed to decide if we liked the combination of ingredients enough to order one. We of course had the ability to modify the sandwich, but the basics were laid out for us in plain, easy to understand fashion. A competitor of McDonald's laid their offerings out in a slightly different fashion. Yes, certain sandwiches were made in a certain way, but Burger King told us that we could have it "Your Way" if we wanted to. Even though they offered unlimited customization, the base products were laid out for us and we did not have to build our own burgers if we chose not to.
From the other side comes Subway. They have their menu laid out clearly and, thought hey lack a catchy jingle, we know what should go in to a sandwich either based on its name or the picture on the menu. While this may seem to be the same methodology used by the other two companies, the similarities end there. When you order, say, a B-L-T at Subway, you know from experience that a B-L-T stands for bacon, lettuce and tomatoes. No more, no less, else it would not be a B-L-T. (Condiments don't count.) If one were to add pickles and onions, you would have a B-L-T-P-O, which would be a mouth full to order and would likely taste awful. Nevertheless, you are consistently offered the ability to add additional items such as pickles, onions, hot peppers, spinach (yes, spinach) to your B-L-T. The same goes for every sandwich, so much so that the names on the menu become misleading and confusing. Take the Chicken, Bacon Ranch sandwich. Based on the name of the product, one would expect chicken, bacon, and ranch dressing at a minimum be included on the sandwich. Based on the information provided about the product, we know that it should also come with lettuce and tomatoes. When ordering this sandwich though, you will be asked consistently if you would like bacon on it, or ranch dressing, or to add anything else. This makes the menu more of a rough guide, perhaps even a showcase of what you could build with the options available. The Subway menu is akin to the assembly instruction booklet you get with Lego sets. In the back of the book, you get pictures of all the other things you can make with the set.
Be Perfectly Clear
While it may seem a stretch to believe that the average consumer will be greatly confused by the menu at Subway, the point is that if we do not guide the customer properly, our service experience will fail. If we sell blue widgets and only blue widgets, customers will come to us for blue widgets and be satisfied. The moment we start offering widgets that are more green than blue, or offer total customization that moves us away from our core offering is the moment we put our customer service experience at risk. We open ourselves up to disappointing the customer.
While I am not advocating that we eliminate the ability to customize products and services, I am saying that we need to have established boundaries for the products and services. For example, offering widgets in varying shades of blue, or with and without wheels, is a way to customize our widget offerings. We define what we will and will not offer and set the expectation with the customer. A simple and direct approach with well defined product and service offerings ensures our ability to provide an outstanding customer service experience.