The Power of Ordinary

In the pursuit of extraordinary customer experiences, businesses often overlook the power of the ordinary – yet it's the seamless, reliable, and frictionless interactions that truly drive customer loyalty and business outcomes.

The Power of Ordinary
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

Why Your Customers Don't Need to Be Delighted

We've become obsessed with the extraordinary. Every company wants to "delight" its customers, create "wow" moments, and leverage the latest technologies to stand out from their competitors. But here's the uncomfortable truth: most of your customers don't want to be delighted. They just want to get things done.

This might sound heretical in a culture that idolizes innovators, but it's a reality we need to confront. The pursuit of constant delight isn't just misguided—it's potentially harmful to your business.

The Myth of Technological Salvation

Let's start with the truth: technology is not the hero of the customer experience story. Yes, technology is a powerful tool, but it's just that—a tool. The real heroes are the customers themselves, the humans who interact with our products and services every day.

Too often, businesses fall into the trap of implementing technology for technology's sake. They add chatbots because they're trendy, not because they understand how customers want to use them. They create flashy AR experiences that look great in demos but add friction to the actual shopping process. They invest millions in AI-powered personalization engines that end up creating more potential points of experience failure than improvements.

But here's the thing: your customers don't care about your technology. They care about their problems and what they're trying to get done. Technology should be invisible, working behind the scenes to make things easier, faster, and more efficient. If your customers notice your technology, it's probably because it's getting in their way.

Ordinary Experiences

This brings us to a concept that's gained traction in some circles but hasn't been part of the larger customer experience narrative: the power of ordinary experiences. A 2023 study by Heinonen and Lipkin titled "Ordinary customer experience: Conceptualization, characterization, and implications" offers some fascinating insights into this idea.

The researchers argue that while businesses often strive for extraordinary experiences, it's the ordinary experiences that form the backbone of customers' lives and hold the greatest potential for creating meaning and relevance. They define the ordinary experience as:

the accumulation of a customer's perceptions, feelings, and sensemaking of customer-specific, contextual, and offering-related stimuli that are meaningfully and purposefully present in the customer's daily life.

In other words, it's not about creating fireworks. It's about becoming a seamless, reliable part of your customers' everyday routines.

The Characteristics of Ordinary Experiences

The study identifies six key characteristics of ordinary customer experiences:

  1. Peripheral: Not central to the customer's immediate focus
  2. Predictable: Expected and recurrent
  3. Neutral: Neither strongly positive nor negative
  4. Acceptable: Meeting basic expectations
  5. Longitudinal: Occurring over an extended period
  6. Convenient: Easy and embedded in everyday practicality

At first glance, these might not seem like aspirational qualities. "Neutral" and "acceptable" don't exactly scream "competitive advantage." But that's the point. These ordinary experiences are the foundation of customer loyalty.

Case Studies

Let's look at some examples of companies that understand the power of ordinary experience:

Amazon

Amazon's success isn't built on flashy innovations or delightful surprises. It's built on being consistently good at the basics. One-click ordering, reliable delivery estimates, easy returns—these aren't exciting features, but they make customers' lives easier in small but significant ways.

Consider Prime. On the surface, it's just a shipping service. But by making fast, free shipping a default, Amazon has embedded itself into the daily lives of millions of customers. It's not about delight; it's about removing friction and becoming the path of least resistance for everyday purchases.

Spotify

Spotify's success isn't about creating "wow" moments. It's about understanding and adapting to the rhythms of its users' lives. The "Discover Weekly" playlist isn't trying to blow your mind with obscure tracks—it's trying to find songs you'll actually like and want to hear again.

The real genius of Spotify is how it fades into the background of your life. It's there when you're working, when you're working out, when you're cooking dinner. It's not trying to be the center of attention; it's trying to be the perfect accompaniment to your everyday activities.

Uber

When Uber first launched it felt like magic. A car appearing at your location by requesting it on an app? Revolutionary. But Uber's true achievement wasn't creating that initial "wow" moment—it was in making that experience ordinary.

Today, calling an Uber is as mundane as hailing a taxi used to be. And that's a good thing. Uber has become a reliable, predictable part of urban life. The app doesn't try to dazzle you with new features every time you open it. It just works, consistently and reliably.

The Implications for Digital Strategists

So what does this mean for those designing products and crafting digital strategies? Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Focus on removing friction, not adding delight. Your primary goal should be to make your core offerings as smooth and effortless as possible. Every extra click, every moment of confusion, every unnecessary step is a potential point of failure.
  2. Prioritize consistency and reliability. Customers value predictability more than sporadic moments of delight. Ensure that your digital touchpoints provide a reliable, consistent experience across all channels.
  3. Design for the long-term relationship. Don't get caught up in creating one-off "wow" moments. Instead, think about how your digital strategy can support and enhance the ongoing customer relationship.
  4. Embrace simplicity. Remember that your product or service is often just a small part of your customer's day. Design interfaces and experiences that can be easily understood and navigated without demanding too much attention.
  5. Measure what matters. Instead of focusing on vanity metrics like "customer delight," consider measuring factors that reflect the quality of ordinary experiences: task completion rates, time-to-resolution for customer service issues, repeat purchase rates, and customer effort scores.
  6. Use technology thoughtfully. Before implementing any new technology, ask yourself: Does this solve a real customer problem? Will this make the customer's life easier or more complicated? Is this likely to become a seamless part of the ordinary customer experience, or will it be a distraction? Bonus points if you have real customer feedback to back up your answers.

The bottom line: creating great customer experiences isn't about being extraordinary. It's about being good at being ordinary. It's about understanding the rhythms and routines of your customers' lives and finding ways to fit into those patterns.

This might not be as exciting as chasing the next big technological breakthrough. It might not win you any innovation awards. But it will win you something far more valuable: loyal customers who make your product or service a part of their routines.

In the end, that's what great digital strategy is about. Not making technology the star of the show, but solving real problems and making life just a little bit easier, one ordinary experience at a time.

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