The Design Of Little Things

Large companies regularly spend 10s of millions of dollars to improve their interactions with customers on projects like revamping their websites, deploying new CRM applications, replacing IVR systems, and can spend even more on redesigning their stores.

Do companies get the full benefit from those efforts? Absolutely not.

Companies obsess on major milestones like deployments, but don’t aggressively fine-tune those efforts once they go live. As a result, they don’t add the finishing touches that make things much easier or more memorable for customers. An example of this is the Marriott Marquis elevators; a $12 million system that completely confuses many guests. The hotel could use simple techniques, like signage, to significantly reduce the confusion.

What companies are missing is what I call the Design Of Little Things (DoLT); the small changes that can dramatically improve the customer experience of much larger investments. These are the ongoing adjustments that can have a huge impact. I’ve evaluated hundreds of interactions for companies and just about always find these types of opportunities.

Companies can use the Temkin Group SLICE-B methodology to uncover opportunities for DoLT; paying special attention to the “Start” and “End” categories. Here are some rich veins of DoLT to explore:

  • Provide a clear path for users to start in IVR main menus and Website homepages
  • Confirm next steps and reinforce value on confirmation Web pages for purchases and applications
  • Teach front line employees to keep from using negative words
  • Develop clear signage to help route customers to the right place
  • Eliminate jargon that customers won’t understand — from everything

The bottom line: Sometimes little things can make a really big difference

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile:

4 thoughts on “The Design Of Little Things”

  1. Bruce, I wonder if the reason for this is that companies make these investment for their own benefit of operational efficiency and cost savings rather then with the customer in mind. Many of the investments you reference provide internal benefits even more then customer experience improvements. Perhaps what companies need to do is evaluate every investment with the customer in mind and when improving efficiency understand how this impacts the experience and accomplish both.

    If companies did this for the IVR systems alone the world would be a better place!

  2. I absolutely loved this blog post, and liberally spread it around to the rest of the crew here. Why? Because the apparent insignificance of these simple actions is incredibly misleading! Think about it. What was your favorite thing about going to the bank when you were a kid? Was it the excellent interest rates? The diversity of their stock portfolio? No, it was the little red lollipop you always got when your mom was done.

    Banks are still handing out these little lollipops (the bank near my home stocks dog treats for drive thru customers as well) because they work. They’re a complete part of the customer experience that customers have come to expect.

  3. Great post, and how sad! Most businesses seem to have adopted the attitude “this would be a great business if it weren’t for the customers.” (Next time you are on an airplane, listen to the boarding announcements: “We can get going as soon as you get in your seat.” “If we want an on-time departure, please step out of the aisle and then stow your belongings.” Completely operationally focused.)

    But the pendulum swings back and forth on concern about our customers, so… that leaves some great opportunities open for the right company!

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