How complexities prevent and improve employee and customer experience
Is your organisation losing value and capacity to complexity? In this article we provide a short framework for understanding some of the most common sources of complexity in any organisation. I outline steps leaders can take to solve them with the right culture, processes, people and tools. I often write about simple and simplified brands as part of my work, and the process leading from complexity to simplification to deliver better outcomes. Let’s get started.
Think of a brand known for simple experiences. The way they make complex technology intuitive to create effortless journeys. Brands like Netflix, YouTube, and Google. It’s no coincidence that they all dominated the global rankings in Siegel+Gales World’s Simplest Brands study (2021). These companies demonstrate that it pays to embrace simplicity.
As I discussed in a recent post, businesses with the simplest experiences enjoy the best stock performance and customer loyalty. Just to recap here. Siegel+Gale reported that, in the past 13 years, the stock of brands in its Global Top 10 have outperformed the major indexes by 1,600%. There’s also a premium for improved customer loyalty. Three-quarters of customers (76%) said they were more likely to recommend a brand because it provided simpler experiences and communications. The figure stood at 64% in 2018. There are billions on the table for businesses who answer the clarion call to make customers’ lives easier. Learn more here.
Customers and employees are also prepared to pay a premium for simpler experiences. Customers vote with their wallets and are literally prepared to pay more. Employees vote with their feet in terms of staying loyal and becoming brand advocates. They are more more motivated, creative and innovative, productivity goes up and customers notice a difference in their experiences and interactions. I explore this in more detail in a moment.
I don’t want to give you a one-sided impression, or suggest that we must eradicate all complexity. Some complexities are inherent in the regulation, policies, procedures, and laws we must follow, or the standards we set. Sometimes complexity is a monster – sometimes it is a necessary pain for your employee and customer experience.
Having said that, let’s turn our focus to the practical steps you can take to eliminate complexity, or handle it better.
Five sources of complexity and how to manage them
Any one of the 5 sources of complexity discussed below, if not managed properly, can infect a business, ruin the employee experience, and ultimately the customer / user experience. As mentioned earlier, when managed properly it results in stability and growth.
Great customer experiences happen from the inside out. Let’s start with your business model and culture.
Business model and culture: when complexity is built into the culture and organisational structure
A poor, or confusing, culture, a lack of purpose, an unclear customer promise, layers of management, the need to over control, symptomised by strict rules, policies, and processes, can significantly challenge HR to recruit and retain talented employees. The CEO might have trouble hiring the right leadership. These complexities only worsen as decisions and processes come closer to customers, where they limit employees from collaborating, being creative and innovative and adding valuable ideas. The result is poor engagement, retention, satisfaction, output and outcomes. Frictions in the workplace also impact our sense of worth and well-being. Customers notice.
How are we doing? Are our workplaces simple?
Siegel+Gale’s Simplicity at work study is hot off the press. It found that just one in four employees found their workplace truly simple. Clearly there’s more work to do.
The complexity problem is more acute in B2B. This is interesting: businesses that are B2B and B2C companies are seen by employees as the simplest. Why do you think that’s so?
Short suggestion: Be clear about your purpose and values, and your customer promise. Create a culture of transparency and open communication, hire for purpose, invest in diversity, equity and inclusion, and empower your people to succeed in an efficient manner.
Create a purpose-driven culture – be clear about what your company stands for and your company values. Also be clear about the role your employees play in delivering the mission.
Emphasis the importance of simplicity in your values and customer promise (see below).
Simple, clear communication increases engagement. This is made easier when employees understand the mission, and the role they play. Infuse your purpose and simplicity message in all employee communications.
Your customer promise is the north star that guides your employees. A clear promise makes it simple for employees to understand their role in delivering that promise.
Emphasise the importance of simplicity in your promise. Ask your leaders to ensure your employees are connected to this.
Hire people that share the same sense of purpose your success and future achievements will depend on them.
Employees value their company’s commitment diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). They find it much simpler to be part of their company’s purpose if it’s invested in DEI. Different backgrounds generate different ideas and contribute to a diverse pool of thoughts and suggestions. The environment also drives the ability to listen and respond to customer requests.
Provide guidance, practical coaching, tools, information, insights, and the right simplified ecosystem for them to succeed.
Hold the organisation accountable for its merit. The right people, when prioritised, will help you achieve successful outcomes and growth.
Ensure or request that your company provide the right onboarding and continuous learning programmes to ensure people are as prepared and adapted as they possibly can be.
Care for your employees first, as you do for your family and customers. Make them feel protected and well equipped with the right tools and preparation to deliver a better experience for your customers.
Results: An energised, motivated, productive, innovative team, clear about the role they play, ready to go the mile for customers and the business.
People and perception: adapting to different types of engagement
Satisfying 100% of people is impossible. Each of us perceives things as being more / less simple and complex due to our mind models.
Short suggestion: Develop a process that translates feedback on complexity into solutions.
First, identify the balance in outcomes. If there are complexities that seem unnecessary, find out why they were designed or implemented in that way.
Make sure that teams agree that the complexity is not solving issues as intended but aggravating others.
Take steps toward a solution. If you can’t solve it, raise the error to your direct leadership or team.
Identifying these sources of complexity is an incredibly valuable, and an opportunity for the organisation to improve. The fewer complexities, the more engaged employees become, the better experience a business will deliver to its customers, partners and employees.
Results: When organisations make their products more digestible and better adapted for humans’ mind models, they demonstrate acknowledgement, customer understanding, and empathy. Falling short is still a win in many cases.
Human and ecosystem ‘behaviour’: leaders, procedures, processes and rules can increase complexity
Anyone who has reported on their travel expenses for more than 10 days understands that complexities occur naturally, and unnaturally. There are countless examples of redundant reporting, unnecessary authorisations, and tangled processes. Unfortunately, many companies don’t have the transparency to see how they are taxing employees, or how much they lose in return.
As you know there are authoritative leaders and there are authoritarian leaders; there are procedures and process that make sense, and some that do not. Leaders gain value as they gain knowledge and learn how to communicate that knowledge directly to help their employees to succeed and build value.
The work of any leader is not to develop teams to work for him / her but to create better outcomes for the business they serve. Complexities kill human motivation when unneeded and avoidable.
Short suggestion: Empower leaders to facilitate, provide knowledge, tools, and coach employees on how to achieve greater outcomes. Are they simplifying life and focusing on the delivery of a great experience, or not?
Encourage feedback – what can employees do when their lead is charging rent instead of delivering real value? If your employees think they’re being asked for unreasonable things, a culture of open, transparent communication will empower them to say something!
CX and EX leaders facilitate daily / weekly ‘pulse’ checks to quickly resolve issues.
Results: When workplaces build well managed employee experiences, they generate real innovation, simplification, collaboration, retention, better CX, EX, and revenue growth.
Complex design – considering all options
We all want to satisfy our customers. However, many enterprise technology companies tend to over-engineer and over-design solutions that are supposed to be easy to adopt.
Short suggestion: When on-premise solutions were the only option, we over-built a lot! As we migrate to cloud solutions, we are also learning the advantages of cloud, and how flexible platforms can drive simplification, and value. Consider for a moment these related questions:
Why do customers fail to adopt a tech solution?
Why do customers visit the supermarket less frequently?
Take the time to think about the underlying reasons.
Despite a dramatically different context, there are actually many commonalities between these two questions.
Complexity overwhelms customers and employees. It turns people off and results in less adoption, fewer opportunities, poorer retention, greater dissatisfaction, and friction between your organisation, customers and partners.
Today, many companies need to take a minimalist attitude design to improve their experience. Fewer options can help drive adoption by making solutions and experiences less overwhelming and easier to learn.
Imagine you are in a physical store. You are looking at the shelf and see 20 options of the same product, all of which do the same thing. Does that help? Consider giving fewer features and fewer products to solve the same issues for your customers. Is it possible to provide fewer features in your BI, CRM, or ERP system? Would fewer choices actually help customers identify the solutions that work best for them?
Sometimes options are a must. We need to understand this basic parameter to define a better experience and help customers to solve their problems effectively. But taking the goal of designing for adoption is helping companies like Samsung and SAP grow their user bases far more than competitors. A question: do you reward behaviour that aligns with your focus on simplification?
There are some complexities that your business has no control over. Policy makers, public opinion, and existing rules for human safety are the key influencers here.
Short suggestion: as strict as they appear to be, regulations, laws, procedures and processes are not always there to disturb or annoy us all. Often, they ensure humans are safe, secure, and that quality of services and products meet the standard.
First focus on the intent, why the rule or standard was established.
Ensure the organisation adopts this must-have rule or process.
Enhance communication to make clear the intent of the rule and why it’s important.
Try to design a better and easier experience for certain rules. Even if efforts are thwarted, revisit the possibility periodically. Solutions often emerge for consistent, contextual challenges. Sometimes, we can create a workaround to make the problem easier to manage if it will not jeopardize life. Avoid friction if possible. Always treat external drivers with respect — from leadership to every employee. This keeps them simple and clear.
Results: Regulations and laws often have good reasons to exist, especially in heavily regulated industries, such as banking, financial services and pharma. Of course, we can find exceptions where these become difficult to justify. This rarely occurs when attentive leadership works to demonstrate how these externals either help the company or protect its stakeholders. When organisations can communicate consistently, they build buy-in and engagement.
Though challenging, the process of simplification is one of the most important endeavours any organisation can take to compete for the best talent, who are the gatekeepers of your customer experience. We live in an ever-complex, unpredictable world. Some complexities are inherent or unavoidable. These we can learn to better manage and communicate. But what we all crave most is simplicity.
I hope you have found these tips useful. Let’s end with a few questions.
If you asked your employees about your purpose and values, what would their answers be?
Do your people understand the role they play in delivering your what you promise to customers?
What does simple mean in your organisation and how do your leaders communicate it?
What are your mechanisms to encourage employee feedback?
How do you encourage a less-is-more mindset and reduce complexity in your processes, policies, products and services?
Are your tech adoption rates lower than you expect?
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Ricardo Saltz Gulko is the Eglobalis managing director, a global strategist, thought leader, practitioner, and keynote speaker in the areas of simplification and change, customer experience, experience design, and global professional services. Ricardo has worked at numerous global technology companies, such as Oracle, Ericsson, Amdocs, Redknee, Inttra, Samsung among others as a global executive, focusing on enterprise technologies. He currently works with tech global companies aiming to transform themselves around simplification models, culture and digital transformation, customer and employee experience as professional services. He holds an MBA at J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Evanston, IL USA, and Undergraduate studies in Information Systems and Industrial Engineering. Ricardo is also a global citizen fluent in English, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, and German. He is the co-founder of the European Customer Experience Organization and currently resides in Munich, Germany with his family.