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Choice is Good, Right? Think Again

Almost every company’s multi-channel service strategy seems to be based on providing an ever-increasing array of choices to customers to make it easier for them to contact us—which sounds like the exact thing people prefer. More choice!

But what if what we thought we knew about customer “preferences” turned out to be completely wrong?  

This multi-channel aspiration is something we call the infinity times infinity approach—it’s as if we have all come to believe that the best strategy would be to allow EVERY customer to be able to resolve EVERY issue in EVERY channel.

And that certainly sounds like that would be the ultimate in world-class service. But,  … (and you knew there was a “but” coming here soon, right?) … it also sounds like it would be very expensive, very complex, and a total nightmare to operate.

So, hard to do—but necessary, because that’s what customers expect, and that’s what will differentiate your company’s service.


Well… it actually came as a huge surprise to us during our research for the book “The Effortless Experience” that this “infinity times infinity” approach is the exact OPPOSITE of what customers actually prefer.

How could that be possible?  Don’t people like choice?  Don’t we all want more choices?  Isn’t freedom of choice a right that we deserve as human beings?

Not necessarily.

What we’ve learned is that when contacting a company to solve a customer problem or resolving an issue, “being able to use the channel of my choice” is actually preferred by only 16% of customers. The other 84% say they prefer it when the company “just solves my problem as quickly as possible—in whatever channel is easiest!”

The critical lesson we learned from customers is that when it comes to preferences, there are two kinds: “BIG P” preferences and “small p” preferences.

“BIG P” are the kind that customers MUST have.  The kind they are willing to trade off against all other considerations.  “small p” are the kind that people SAY they prefer, but only because we asked.

Sure, in surveys customers SAY they prefer “this channel” or “that channel”…but what they REALLY prefer is “getting the problem solved now!”

During a recent focus group, we interviewed one customer who said, “I prefer chat when I contact a company.  I’ve had good experiences with chat, I always look for a chat option, and I am a big Chat Fan!”

But when we asked him, “What if you were contacting a company and they didn’t have chat…what would you do then?”  And he said, “I’d just see what else they had, and pick whatever seemed the easiest.”

“Wait a minute,” we interjected, “you just TOLD us that you prefer chat.  So… do you, or don’t you?”

And he shot back, “Look, pal…when I have a problem, what I PREFER is for the company to make the darn problem go away!  Guide me.  Tell me what to do.  I’ll do whatever the company tells me—as long as it’s fast and easy.”

This is a classic case of a “small p” preference (demand for chat) masquerading as a “BIG P” preference.

So—do customers prefer more choices in the available channels to contact your company?  Not exactly.  At best, “choice” is a “small p preference.”  Their “BIG P preference” is an effortless service experience.

Make the pain go away.  Solve the problem.  As fast and easily as possible.

Kinda makes you re-think the whole “infinity times infinity” thing, doesn’t it? The bad news is that strategy is really hard, and very expensive.  The good news is customers never really wanted it in the first place.

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