On bad complexity

How many times have you had to do a task and throughout the experience say to yourself, “there must be an easier way to do this – why do they make it so complex when it should be so simple”?  I often have this very thought when paying a bill or searching for a product on a website – why is it so difficult to get what I want done?  After all, don’t these people want my money?

Web expert, Gerry McGovern, offers an explanation in his recent blog post, Eliminating bad complexity. Gerry is not talking about complexity science but rather how complex an activity or task is.  Does the activity or task have to be that complex if it doesn’t lead to good customer experience?  Gerry makes the distinction between good complexity and bad complexity.   “Good complexity leads to greater convenience, choice and options. Bad complexity leads to frustration, wasted time and wasted money”.  I can definitiely say that I have often experienced bad complexity.

There are people responsible for providing services, especially on the web, who are not thinking of the customer but are thinking of their own personal agendas.  Tasks and activities are more difficult  than they have to be because the provider wants to do something else than serve the needs of the customer.

And this type of behaviour also occurs within organisations.  Gerry goes on to say: “Many organizations have enemies within. Departments and divisions care only for themselves. They will introduce complexity that makes the organization as a whole more dependent on them. In fact, the way modern organizations are structured rewards bad complexity”.

I often wonder whether organisations really care about good customer experience. 

I appreciate that understanding the customer and their needs is difficult.  Making complex organisations work together to maximise good customer experience is also not easy – but it can be done. Amazon.com is a great example.  Amazon has a simple (and ugly) website that makes it easy for the customer to buy products; usually books in my case.  In addition, Amazon gives me the occasional alert on books I might be interested in based on my searching and buying history; a service that is not intrusive and where I have often found a book that might otherwise have remained unknown to me.  The work behind the scenes at Amazon is probably a complicated and complex set of interactions and behavious but the customer experience is simple and fulfilling.

It seems clear to me that maximising good customer experience should lead to more sales and greater revenue.  However, perhaps increasing revenue is still not enough motivation to change “bad complexity” within organisations or in service provision.  There are obviously other motives in play…motives we see all the time as a customer, at work, in sport, and in politics.

Perhaps it is the customer experience that is “bad complexity”….. well, at least for many organisations.


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