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The Streetlight Effect: Are Your Customer Experience Efforts Suffering?

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The Streetlight Effect: Are Your Customer Experience Efforts Suffering?

Do your customer experience improvement efforts suffer from the Streetlight Effect?

Have you heard the story about the drunk who is asked why he’s looking for his lost wallet under the streetlight, rather than where he thinks he dropped it? It goes something like this, according to Wikipedia

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys, and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes, the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “This is where the light is.”

This parable describes the phenomenon known as The Streetlight Effect. It is defined as a type of observational bias where people only look for whatever they are searching for by looking where it is easiest. The search itself may be referred to as a drunkard’s search.

It got me thinking about how companies decide to make improvements to the customer experience. Assuming they do anything at all, it often happens just like that: they go to where the light is. In other words, they pick the low-hanging fruit. And sometimes, when you’re picking the low-hanging fruit, you get stuck in this loop or cycle of finding other low-hanging fruit – and feeling like you’re making some progress, but you’re really not.

Bottom line is that it’s a waste of time and resources to just do what’s easy to do.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

Company’s suffering from the Streetlight Effect:

  • improve only the stuff that’s easy and accessible to fix
  • apply band-aids rather than work to get to the root cause, to fix the systemic issue
  • often delay doing the hard work
  • have disparate and siloed improvement efforts happening throughout the company
  • don’t make improvements based on work they’ve done to identify what’s important to the customer
  •  don’t identify what’s important to the customer
  • don’t make improvements based on the impact of the fix, i.e., on the customer and then on the business
  • don’t think about outcomes 
  • only focus on time to fix and cost to fix
  • think touchpoints, not journeys – don’t think about the experience holistically
  • are very tactical, not strategic, in their efforts
  • aren’t able to transform the organization, culture, experience
  • either lack or haven’t communicated well a customer experience vision
  • haven’t defined and communicated a customer experience strategy
     

The best way to keep employees or individual departments or business units from conducting a drunkard’s search is to create, communicate, and live and breathe your…

  • brand promise
  • guiding principles
  • organization’s mission
  • customer experience vision
     

… and outline and communicate the customer experience strategy, which helps to define, design, and, ultimately, deliver the desired customer experience (desired, of course, by your customers). The strategy is mainly about the how, but your customer experience strategy may also include details about the who, what, when, and the how much of experience design and helps everyone focus on those activities or improvements that will be most impactful to your customers. (It gets everyone on the same page, marching to the same beat.)

Working in the light of the street, focusing on the easy stuff, derails you from the hard work that is required by your customer experience strategy. Don’t get me wrong: sometimes doing that solves an immediate problem. But while it’s tempting to only focus there, stick with the strategy outlined to achieve your goals. That strategy spells out how you’ll do meaningful work and make a real transformation.

Improving the customer experience requires that the entire organization works toward a common goal, being cohesive and consistent and deliberate about the approach. It also requires heavy lifting, not just doing what’s easy.

Stepping out of the glow of the streetlight is where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. Don’t be afraid of the dark!

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