Consider Giving Customers Fewer Choices

There’s an interesting article in the Financial Post that discusses research on how choice affects customer satisfaction. Here are some of the key insights from the article:

  • Although people are attracted to larger assortments, they are often happier with their purchases when they buy from smaller selections.
  • When the differences between products are smaller, people are less certain that they have chosen the right one.
  • People tend to choose the products with more features even though they would have been happier with an easier-to-use alternative (with fewer features).
  • Consumers are less satisfied when they pay for features they don’t or can’t use.

My take: Companies often flood the market with products that have a plethora of different features. While this may drive more sales, the research suggests that there is a hidden cost of this complexity — customer satisfaction (and, therefore, loyalty). This is yet another reason to consider the disruptive customer experience strategy that I call Ultrasimplicity.

The bottom line: Often times less is better.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

11 Responses to Consider Giving Customers Fewer Choices

  1. David Locke says:

    Fewer choices makes sense from the perspective of the technology adoption lifecycle. In software, we code applications to be highly configurable. Geeks, the early market users, love this, but everyone else, the late market, sees it as feature bloat. The late market demands simpler interfaces without a loss of power. Later markets like the information appliance and embedded markets demand even simpler interfaces trending towards disappearance.

    Late market is the consumer market, and it is the SaaS market. In “Habit,” the author suggested making paying for software as invisible and unsightly as possible.

    Your post extends these simplifications to the product line. Oddly enough, mass customization and value-based offer expansion, typical strategies in the late market, would seem to extend the number of choices.

  2. Julie says:

    Bruce,

    It’s the same thing that works with kids. Giving more than 2-3 choices can be overwhelming and result in tantrums. Since adults don’t have outwardly large tantrums like kids do, I guess the overwhelmed feeling just results in decreased satisfaction.

  3. Bruce Temkin says:

    David & Julie: Excellent observations!

    The lifecycle of a technology (or any product) does have an affect on the type of buyers and their desire for features versus simplicity. The struggle for companies is figuring out the right trade-off in sales volume (from more features) versus satisfaction (from fewer features). Making it harder is the fact that their competitors often contribute to the complexity of offerings in a certain market.

    As for kids, you really do need to manage their choices sometimes. But then again, I’ve also seen some adults who throw tantrums as well.

    Thanks for commenting.

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  5. @piplzchoice says:

    You have made two interesting assumptions here:
    1. customer satisfaction = loyalty
    2. feature set is not = value
    Personally I always felt that CS and Loyalty are very logically connected, but this believe was vehemently, and quite convincingly, challenged by a some very respectable thought leaders, such as Esteban Kolsky and Paula Thornton, among others. There is indeed plenty of evidence that negative customer experience could be very costly for the company, however very little empiric evidence, to my knowledge, of the opposite.

    The relationship between feature set and value is completely inverted too often IMO. It appears that product designers are completely focused on being at par with their competitors as opposed to their customer needs. That makes for no real “choice” for customers, just a lot of noise, i.e. negative value, therefore real destructive customer experience strategy would giving the customer CLEARER, oppose to fewer, choices. The end result will probably be the same.

  6. Absolutely agree that when it comes to choices less is more if you want to improve customer satisfaction.

    This concept definitely applies to automated menus when answering customer queries on the phone. Nobody likes them but you can handle them if there are a limited number of choices and following selection you get straight through to a real person. Even if that person then has to transfer you (as long as it’s only once!) to someone else customer satisfaction tends to be higher than if they had faced 15 options or several different levels of menu.

  7. This is a very interesting idea. Developing a smaller amount of products and delivering them perfectly is a brilliant way to streamline.

  8. Bruce Temkin says:

    @piplzchoice: Excellent observations. My research on the correlations between customer experience and loyalty is pretty compelling; I have yet to see any large-scale research to counter those findings. But I don’t think that “more” is always best. I’ve discussed in the blog how companies shouldn’t just try and make every interaction as delightful as they possibly can for every customer. The reality is that there is an optimal level. While this is important for some companies, most companies fall well below this optimal level and should therefore invest in improving their customer experience across many of their customer interactions.

    I absolutely agree with your discussion about “clearer” options. In many cases, the best way to get “clearer” is by focusing on simplicity. But there are a lot of opportunities for making it clearer for customers to choose across complex product sets.

  9. Bruce Temkin says:

    Elizabeth: Great example about IVR menus. In that case, experience designers need to deal with the cognitive capacity of people to memorize and interpret verbal options. All too often, companies throw way too much at their callers.

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