So often, manufacturers (by their very nature) work to make customer encounters as efficient as possible…believing it’s the core of a satisfying experience for the customer, and cost-effective business for themselves. But what about when in the name of efficiency, they actually create new barriers to a great customer experience?

Efficiency isn’t always best

Here’s a personal, end-user example of how a hyper-focus on efficiency by both a manufacturer and their customer doomed a really well-intended customer experience:

I stayed at a hotel a few years ago where the accommodations were outstanding, the service was spectacular, and the amenities worth writing home about. But it was the elevators that had the guests talking (OK…grumbling) — and taking away from an otherwise positive experience.

Management had been sold on a new elevator control system that promised to be more energy-efficient and better at getting the bank of three elevators to move people in a more organized way. It was supposed to be a cost-saver for the hotel, and easier for the users.

It was anything but.

To operate it, there was an electronic keypad on the outside where users could choose their destination. They were then directed to car A, B, or C, depending on the most efficient vertical movement of the elevator and the number of people logging in at the time. Sounds like it makes sense, eh?

Normally, using the elevator is second nature for any of us. But using the system in that hotel made users have to stop and think about something they didn’t want to while trying to hurry up to their room or while navigating luggage and tired kids.

Compounding the problem was that there were no floor buttons to choose from inside the elevator if users changed their mind about their destination. In that case they were stuck riding it for the duration until they could exit, and then start over. Needless to say, it caused enough annoyance and confusion that it was a constant topic of conversation by hotel guests.

Elevator

Clearly, neither the hotel nor the elevator control manufacturer had thought through the user’s potential negative and frustrating experience from this seemingly innocuous but very integral part of any hotel stay.

That’s because it wasn’t built with the user in mind. It was a foreign experience — so much so that the hotel had to hire people to stand at the elevator and press buttons for guests (so much for cost savings!). And when attendants weren’t on duty, there was simply a sign explaining how to use the elevator (so much for customer service!).

I checked back recently, and the hotel had changed back to a conventional operating system. Unfortunately, that’s the story for many efficiency upgrades that don’t thoroughly take the user into account.

Making your customer experience more effective

When designing your customer experience end-to-end (and if you are, congrats — you’re way ahead of most manufacturers!), it’s best to first plot it out with the user and the most effective experience in mind. Then you can work on building in efficiencies to enhance it.

Here are some tips to help plan a better customer experience:

Do your homework — Find out what it is that the customer truly wants and needs. Ask them. Understand how it may or may not fit with your desired experience and brand position. Use focus groups, one-on-one interviews, or just get out and casually observe and talk to them in the midst of the experience.

Plan the experience — Walk through the entire encounter from three perspectives: 1) the customer’s, 2) the employee’s, and 3) the organization as a whole. In that order. Find out where there are gaps between current and desired experience, and how the new one impacts each group. They must be aligned…after all, the customer has certain expectations, employees must understand their part in delivering on them, and the organization has to make it fit within its business model.

Think holistically — Many seemingly unimportant details or points of contact can cause unexpected customer experience problems. It’s important to plan end-to-end. Chart every possible point of contact (such as answering the phone, plant tours, website, sales materials, or even shipping papers and invoices). Then decide what you want customers to see, think, feel and do at every one of those points of contact.

Psychology trumps technology — You may be thinking about installing the greatest gadget or system in the world, but if it’s not intuitive and customer-friendly, it’s not going to make for a better experience. Again, be sure to understand how customers will think — and feel — before, during and after the interaction. Remember, it’s all about people and relationships.

Include a surprise or two — Look for ways to integrate some surprises that will get delight customers and elicit an emotional reaction. Not only will it cause them to remember you in a positive way, but it may even get them talking and telling others. The surprises don’t have to be big…just unexpected. (But if you’re really looking for a “wow,” here’s my favorite example).

Try it yourself — Before rolling the new experience out, get in and test the waters personally. Don’t have others do it for you. The leader needs to know exactly how that experience is going to play throughout the organization and for client retention,

Test and refine — If you’re satisfied with the change, pick a small group of key customers to try it and offer feedback. Don’t ask your spouse, your friends or your staff. They’re not your target audience, and they won’t have the same perspective.

Implement and ask — Then, and only then, put it into practice. Iron out the bugs. Go back and ask customers and employees how it’s going. Listen carefully for signs of discontent.

Integrate or change — If you can fix things, do it at this point. But if the efficiency is outweighed by a negative experience, don’t be afraid to make a drastic change that will save you money in the long run through happy, retained customers.

Sometimes, new ways aren’t always better. And sometimes we don’t know it until we put it into practice. But the best organizations aren’t afraid to admit the mistake rather than continue the unpleasant experience simply in the name of efficiency.

That’s what builds long-term loyalty.