Marginal gains- a CX Superpower

Marginal gains are small improvements which provide small gains. They are a superpower that CX leaders and Product Managers must leverage or risk being left behind user expectations and competitors.

Traditionally undervalued as many prefer improvements that create bigger impact, as these are, well, more impactful!

However, the impact of marginal gains is nothing to be sniffed at. It is a cornerstone of the Toyota Production System which made Toyota one of the world’s leading car manufacturers. And it was the philosophy that Dave Brailsford used to bring cycling success to Team GB and Team Sky (read more).

Identifying and Delivering improvements

When identifying improvements for organisation I typically find hundreds of improvements. Most of these improvements are marginal gains which usually aren’t flashy enough to catch the attention of business leaders. However, eyes light up and palms are rubbed at the slide showing a few quick wins and the major projects.

Yes quick wins always make sense- just do them. But in good organisations, these are not found in abundance.

A factor that isn’t always considered is risk.

Major projects are risky. Marginal gains are not. They usually risk free, quick and easy to execute. Indeed doing a number marginal gains often give you the benefits of a major project, without the risk!

Here are a few examples of marginal gains I’ve found and delivered…

  • Stopping double typing into multiple systems — saving minutes per transaction for agents.
  • Customers were losing information entered online as they weren’t clicking the ‘save’ button. We changed the button from Next, to Save & Next and removed the old save button. This saved roughly 20 calls per day from complaining customers.
  • An unclear final bill notification email was being sent to customers and not having the desired impact. By designing a better email we were able to recover more monies and fewer bailiff notices were issued.
  • Customers trying to pay over the phone were running out of time causing frustration and manually handling. Giving customers 60 seconds longer to enter payment details over the automated payment phone line saved these repeat calls.
  • Automated SMS reminder— changed a reminder call that agents used to have to provide as part of their service to an SMS. This was prefered by users and saved a team 3 hours a day.

All these improvements were minor, but fixed real world customer and employee pain points. And the compounding impact of these improvements delivered benefits day after day that made a long term impact.

Don’t settle at MVP

For CX professionals, we usually follow the Human Centred Design double diamond approach to service design.

However what’s not always appreciated is that experiences cannot be designed to the level of detail where no pain points will exist. Yes you’ll likely address the problems that led to the service design in the first place. But you’ll then encounter new problems that need to be fixed. It’s a constant game of whack a mole! Unless you’re prepared to play, you’ll be settling for a minimal viable product/service at best.

From Double Diamond to the Infinite Diamond

A better way of thinking about service design is the infinite diamond. Service design should not stop, although the scale should change.

Following a large service design and delivery we must hunt for pain points like a pig hunting for a truffle! We should constantly be applying the design thinking problem solving approach on problems of every scale.

We must embark on the attritional and infinite battle against user and employee pain points.

Getting Started.

Here’s my simple 6 step guide on how to start making marginal gains.

1. Start Listening & Capturing Pain Points

You need to continually identify user pain points. This is not a one off research exercise. You need to constantly be in tune with the Voice of the Customer (VoC) & Employee (VoE).

To achieve this you need a mechanism for your employees and customers to share feedback. This could be basic feedback forms, regular questionnaires or suggestion boxes. These days of course- there’s an app for that (Salesforce users check out Rokket-app).

2. Understand your Goals

CX leaders need to align improvement activity with their business vision and goals. Talk to business leaders to identify what the most pressing business goals are.

Your default goal will be to improve the customer experience as its own goal. But most improvements will impact multiple goals. For example, improving the design of an online form will improve customer experience, but may also reduce costs.

Understanding business priority and aligning improvements against these prioritises will help the business.

3. Understand your Metrics

An obsession with metrics is key, but it has to be a healthy obsession! Too often leaders become focused of the end outcomes such as cost and revenue also known as output metrics.

This mode of thinking forces us to make fanciful assumptions connecting improvements to output metrics. This isn’t always possible or accurate, meaning good improvements don’t get done.

Instead, organisations need to understand the metrics that drive output metrics. These are known as input metrics.

An example would be…

Output metric: Cost

which is connected to…

Input Metric: Number of chase calls per day

Just thinking about cost, despite this being very broad can confound the mind. It’s like looking at a blank sheet of paper. But by identifying all the things that drive costs (the input metrics), we have a real and more tangible focus.

4. Have a Journey Focus

Framing improvements against journey maps is key. It provides the ‘why’ to all involved. It gives employees and improvement teams the birds eye view of the end to end customer journey.

This can be done by creating Journey Maps for all the customer journey an organisation is delivering. Then simply ask employees or customers what stage of the journey their pain point relates to when capturing their pain points.

Hey presto, you now have a real time customer journey map!

5. Solve Problem

Using the pain points captured in your real time journey map. You need to use your understanding of organisation goals to target and solve problems. Pick high priority pain points which impact both customer experience and the high priority goals.

Use Problem Solving methods from Lean, Human Centred Design, Luma Workplace etc to solve.

Then deliver deliver deliver.

6. Share Success

Marginal Gain improvements will move metrics so it’s important to capture. However, it’s equally important to capture the stories behind the improvement. These are compelling to team leaders and inspiring to everyone in the business.

Being able to tell the story of Jane from the service desk who shared a pain point on double typing which got fixed and saved everyone time is priceless. Jane and Service Desk team feel empowered and valued, business leaders feel like theirs moving in the right direction and CX leaders / Product Managers get widely praised!

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