Creating a better service experience by providing less choice

Although giving customers more to choose from can hold great value. I think a lot of the time we overlook the fact that giving more choice can sometimes do more harm then good.

There seems to be a strong tendency in Service design towards what I would call scenario agnostic services. By this I mean services that consist of loosely coupled touchpoints that can serve a purpose as standalone components. The goal is to design the touchpoints so that they interact seamlessly with each other without predefining the sequence in which a customer goes through the touchpoints. This gives customers great freedom to create their own path through a service using the touchpoints that they find most suited at that time and place.

Now this seems great as you can create very flexible services. But there are a lot of situations where giving customers more choice actually decreases the service experience.

The more elaborate a service gets, the more likely it will have an increasing number of function overlapping touchpoints (FOTP). FOTP are 2 or more touchpoints a customer can use to perform the same task (eg. the drive-through and the counter inside where you can both order your big mac).
One might argue that a touchpoints only exist at the moment of actual interaction between a customer and organization (the touch). In my definition touchpoints exist beyond the moment of actual interaction. A touchpoint is the possibility to have the interaction.

It’s very common in Service design to map the touchpoints in a journey and try to optimize every single one. Designing for the perfect balance in the number FOTP is often overlooked (or forgotten) while it holds great potential to even further improve a service experience.

Providing the right number of FOTP is a key element to creating usable services. Before you know it you’re adding complexity to your service instead of creating value. Always ask yourself the question: does this touchpoint really add value? Can we make our service simpler and thus more usable by removing touchpoints?

The expert and the newbie

Lets take the good old trainride as example. At a certain point in the journey the customer is faced with the task to buy a ticket. If you look at the journey map below, he can choose out of 5 different touchpoints to buy his ticket.

5 function overlapping touchpoints

This situation is great for frequent user of the services who know their way around. They have gathered enough experience to make confident choices about which touchpoint serves them best in a certain situation. By giving a wide range of FOTP you empower your customers to let them decide whats best for them.

Now imagine the same situation but with a customer who is very new to the service. Even if he is supplied with enough and adequate information at the right time (which is very unlikely) to make a choice on which touchpoint to use, the customer still lacks experience. By the lack of experience he lacks confidence. Doubt and uncertainty are more likely to be his overwhelming feeling rather than feeling empowered by the flora of choice. His mind probably lingers between questions like “did I make the right choice” and “what will happen if I made a mistake”?

Now lets consider that the user only has 2 possible touchpoints instead of 5 to buy his ticket.

2 function overlapping touchpoints

This situation is much more suited new users of the services. By reducing the number of FOTP you reduce uncertainty and increase the overall feeling of safety and guidance. The customer will still need to make a choice but it’s less likely he will get lost in the service. We should note that this does put more pressure on the remaining touchpoints as there is less margin for error and fallback if things go wrong.

Even with little to choose from, an experienced user probably won’t experience this as something bad or negative. He might feel that the service could be more flexible and adaptable to his personal scenario. Pleasing experienced users is the process of taking a good service an turning it into an excellent one.

Is there really something to choose from
Having FOTP doesn’t mean they all apply in each and every scenario. Even if there is a touchpoint to check the train departure times at the main station hall, it’s of no use to a customer who is sitting at home and planning his trip behind his computer. Consulting the company website for this information is the more likely touchpoint in his scenario.
It’s not about how many FOTP there are in total but how many are useful in a specific scenario.

Don’t make me think
The “we-know-what-best-for-you” company attitude is not always a bad idea. In situation where for instance speed is more valuable over choice it might be a good thing for a company to dictate what direction a customer should go in a service.
If you you’re in a rush to catch your morning train you might not want to have a dozen options to buy a ticket. You just want one that is quick, reliable and enables you to walk effortlessly through the process while you’re still half asleep.
Of course an excellent service will have a well designed set of touchpoint specifically for this scenario, without compromising the diversity of touchpoints!

Summarizing

In general, more FOTP provide more choice and freedom, less FOTP provide more guidance and safety. Finding the right number of FOTP is always about making a trade off between creating A) a more compelling and personalized service experience for small groups and B) a more generic and standardized experience for a large group.

As a lot of the time, the real message here is that you need to who your customers are and what they value in your service. In this case, is it freedom and choice or is it guidance and safety.

Putting theory into practice
I’d like to finish off with some practical takeaways that should help you apply the theory into practice.

  1. Start of with some indepth research to get an clear overview of the current function overlapping touchpoints in your service. You can’t create an improvement plan if if you don’t know the current state. You can learn a lot by just listening to your customers…
  2. Create and communicate a clear default journey through your service for unexperienced users. You can build anything using LEGO but there’s a good reason they supply a example of how your creation could look like. What ever you do, don’t scare your customers off. They wont come back!
  3. Think of how you can make your default journey more intuitive. How easy is it for new customers to accomplish a their goal. Are they fine on their own or do they need a lot of guidance?
  4. Consider creating “Service Navigators“. A Service Navigator is anything that helps your customers find their way through the touchpoints of your service. These can be very real and physical things like signposts and service counters or they can be more subtle like putting a bright spotlight on important areas or creating places where groups gather.
  5. Develop and offer various scripted journeys. A journey that takes your customer through your service using all sorts of shortcuts or a journey that is very elaborate and offers maximum personal attention.
  6. Increase the predictability of your touchpoints by providing clues about the outcome. Help the the customer envision the consequences of his choice. Be careful, give too much clues and you run the risk of overloading your customers with too much information.
  7. Look for unofficial touchpoint. Customers are creative creatures, they will find ways to tweak and hack your service so that it’s more usable to them. It’s not unlikely they will create touchpoints that you don’t have in your original design. It’s worth exploring how you can embrace and incorporate these touchpoints in you’re current service.

I’d love to read your feedback on this subject as it’s open for debate and discussion!

Marc Fonteijn

Marc Fonteijn

Als medeoprichter van 31Volts houdt Marc zich bezig met het verleggen van grenzen binnen service innovatie. Marc helpt organisaties om waarde te creëren voor hun klanten door middel van design.

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8 reacties

  • Comment by Chris McQueen

    Thanks for an excellent article Marc!

    Your train-ride argument is possibly more compelling, however it is something I have often thought when ordering a sandwich …do these additional touchpoints really add value? For example, at one *particular* American franchise, it can take up to three staff members to make one sandwich, each asking a series of questions, when all I really want is to order that one right there… you know… like the one on the picture!

    Sometimes too much choice can be overwhelming, especially when you’re a newbie to the process! Let’s face it – neither lunch or a train-ride should really involve a detailed decision making process… it should be a straightforward customer experience, one where the outcome is expected and the touchpoints are clear and simple to comprehend.

    Keep up the good work!

    – Chris

  • Comment by Marc Fonteijn

    Thanks for the comment Chris!

    You’re absolutely right about the fact that some services should be really straightforward, or at least create that experience. The challenge is to maintain that experience while creating a more personalized (thus more complex) service. A too generic and standardized service will have the tendency to comoditize really quick. So it’s natural behavior of organizations to create more touchpoints in order to personalize the service. Too make a long story short, again you’re right, some services should straightforward for customers even if they are not for the company.

  • Comment by Aidan Kenny

    Another aspect of this issue is the impact that the customer interaction has on your ability to deliver service excellence. Since delivering a service is a two sided process requiring participation from both provider and customer, the customer is an intrinsic part of the overall experience creation. If the customer has too many choices then it will be impossible or extremely expensive to deliver service excellence in every case. This is why restaurants have menus, because you have to have some boundaries to the service you provide in order to be able to deliver consistent excellence.

    Good discussion topic, thanks, Aidan

  • Comment by Andy Polaine

    Good piece and a good point. There tends to be a general mentality out there that more choice (and more personalisation) is always better, whereas the tendency seems to be that actually people start to get paralysed by too much choice and end up making no choice in case it’s the wrong one. Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice is worth taking a look at. Or if you’re feeling lazy/pressed for time, he did a TED talk on it: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html

31Volts [Service Design]