Are you falling into the all or nothing trap?

12 May 2022

I should have gone out for a run today.

I wanted to do 6 miles, but there wasn’t time, so I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t be bothered to go out and do the 2 or 3 miles that there was time for.

This is an example of something I call the “all or nothing” trap, which is one of the most pernicious mental traps that we, as individuals and organisations, tend to fall into it.

When it comes to the customer experience, we often decide that if we can’t do exactly what the customer wants us to do then there’s no point doing anything.

Or we decide that making the ideal change to a system or process is too difficult, so we stick with things as they are.

This kind of black and white thinking is a trap because there is almost always something you can do that will help the customer experience. Even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s not quite what the customer wanted, something is a lot better than nothing.

Do something now

After a couple of decades of working with clients on improving the customer experience, I can almost always tell during the final presentation whether or not a client is going to take the results of the survey and use them to make things better for customers.

If you want to be like those that do, my advice in three words is: do something now.

Right now, today. Do something that you believe will improve the customer experience, even if it’s only a tiny thing.

If you’re worried about finding budget or building a business case for something that’s going to need investment, then find a way to test it on the cheap. With a bit of creativity it’s almost always possible to prototype something well enough to prove that it works, even if you can’t roll it out to all customers.

Many of the best CX improvement ideas are free (or very cheap) and end up saving the organisation money. One simple example is the power of checklists, which I’ll talk about more in my next post.

Buy a copy of Tom Peters’ The Little Big Things and you’ll find, according to the cover blurb, “163 ways to pursue excellence”. Most of them are small, many are cheap, and one of them must be applicable to you!

Avoid paralysis by analysis

The biggest warning sign of an organisation that’s not going to make any significant change is that the questions they ask show that they are looking for reasons not to act.

It’s very easy to get stuck in “paralysis by analysis”, endlessly debating what customers meant by their score, or which priorities for improvement should be chosen, or whether it would be more accurate to re-run the analysis with 12 customers removed.

None of that is going to make things better for your customers.

Once again, this is where a “test and learn” or “fail fast” mentality works well. Rather than spending ages debating which approach to take, or whether something will have a positive or negative impact on customers, try it out and see.

Pilots, prototypes, and tests will teach you more than any amount of discussion.

Don’t fall for “too early to tell, too late to change”

Edward Tufte, the “godfather of information design”, had a brief career in consulting, which he gave up because of one particular style of resistance to change:

Products existed only in two states: either too-early-to-tell or too-late-to-change.

The more you test, and the smaller and more agile the scale on which your projects work, the less likely you are to be susceptible to this.

Doomed projects lumber on because no one can face dealing with the consequences of them failing, when a small-scale test at the beginning would quickly have highlighted problems.

Resist complexity

It’s easy for plans to become overcomplicated. One reason that the “do something now” mantra is effective is that it’s almost impossible to overcomplicate at such short notice.

How many times have you given up on a complicated workout plan because you didn’t have all the right gear, or you lost track of which exercises you were supposed to be doing each day?

One climber came up with this daily exercise routine: do 1 pull-up, 3 press-ups, and 5 sit-ups; then do 2 pull-ups, 6 press-ups, and 10 sit-ups; then do 3 pull-ups, etc….and keep going until you collapse. It’s easy to remember, you can do it pretty much anywhere, and it’s surprisingly effective (it neglects your legs, but that’s climbers for you!).

Is it perfect? No. Is it better than nothing? Absolutely!

You want to turn making changes to improve the customer experience into a habit, and that means you have to keep it simple. Build small ideas and practices into the everyday, whether it’s meetings or individual ways of working.

Don’t bet it all on investing in a new CRM system, but make something better for one customer, right now.

About the author:

Stephen Hampshire

Client Manager @ TLF Research

After 23 years in customer insight, Stephen's view is different to most. He believes that creating great customer experiences is simple (though rarely easy). Insight comes from asking customers the right questions, and listening to what they say. Building a customer-focused culture is more important than improving your processes. Proving the ROI of customer experience is easier than you've been told.

Stephen stays abreast of the latest thinking in customer insight and analysis so that you don't have to. He combines straightforward reviews of cutting-edge techniques with real life stories to engage with his audience, leaving them inspired to make change.

Outside of work he’s also a keen photographer, craft beer buff, and probably owns too many stringed instruments.