Sometimes complex customer problems require complex solutions. We can get stuck in considering how do we address it instead of thinking of the customer first. Addressing the complex problems of your customer requires finding a way to be part of the bigger ecosystem that the customer’s complex issue sits in.
In marketing and innovation, there’s a repeated mantra that we should focus on the problems of our customers, before jumping to solutions. A worthy goal but it can become difficult when the customer problem is complex. We can get bogged down in the problem. And these days a lot of our customers’ problems are complex. With these days being both before, during and after the pandemic. It’s a modern dilemma. Though the pandemic has made that reality more obvious.
Complicated vs Complex
I want to take a step back and explain what I mean by complex. Easier done by contrasting complex against complicated.
Complicated problems are problems that may need time to figure out, require multiple steps to fix, may need various resources or a defined process to handle it. But they are generally figureoutable with time, elbow grease, belief, and patience. An example of a complicated problem might be dealing with a breakdown of my car – it will need a mechanic as I can’t fix it myself. The garage may have limited times right now and not offer me a shuttle which introduces a scheduling complication. I might have to put the charge on my card or defer getting it fixed. But it will eventually get fixed.
Complex problems are multi-threaded with many moving pieces and competing priorities. Change one thing and you impact another. There isn’t one easy way to deal with it. You might not solve it forever. You might just need to solve it for today. Or put in place ways you deal with it today and manage it over time. A complex problem might be figuring out business connectivity during the pandemic, keeping customers happy, not endangering employees, connecting with suppliers, dealing with regulations, and just keeping the lights on. For me getting my car fixed might be complicated but for the dealer offering that as a service right now is complex.
I know I started with talking about customer’s problems being complex, but then flipped it around in my example and talked about a complex vendor problem. That’s the trap we can fall into. Sometimes complex customer problems require complex solutions and we can get stuck in considering how do we address it instead of thinking of the customer.
Now back to the point I started with…. What are some approaches to addressing the complex problems of our customers?
Take the complexity away from the customer
Maybe what the dealer did is one way to deal with it. Taking care of the complexity for the customer so that they don’t have to worry about it. Just getting my car fixed, right now, could be complex for me if the dealer didn’t take precautions.
Decide what part you want to cover and what you don’t
You don’t have to solve the entire problem; you might focus on a part of it. But it means taking time to understand the complex nature of customer’s problems and making decisions on what part of it you want to cover and what part of it you don’t. And being clear and direct about your boundaries.
It does require you to maybe go a bit past your brief to decide where you stop and others involved start. It also means that we might have to collaborate with other suppliers our customers work with. Our solution needs to fit into the bigger solution the customer is executing on.
I think covering a piece of a complex problem is the purvey of specialists. Doctors are great examples. Humans are complex beings. Our family doctors take a general view, and then refer us onto a specialist when we have a more complicated issue. And when we have complex issues, it usually means we must see multiple specialists who communicate with each other. My elderly mom has lung scarring and sees both a cardiologist and a respirologist, who communicate with each other. (And yes, she is self-isolating now!)
With a background of working for software vendors who served large customers, our products were usually a piece of their complex solution. We we led projects, our delivery included fitting into the big picture.
Balancing risk to your business by dealing with the competing priorities
I think recruitment is complex. When I returned to Canada in 2008, I used the services of a recruitment specialist to hep me re-create a North American style resume. She offered both executive placement for firms, and career counselling services for employees. She said that made her boutique firm recession proof. The market response to her range of services changed as the economy changed.
Address the complexity in your marketing messaging
The point is to not be tone deaf when we talk to the customer. Understand their complex situation and address it without wallowing in it. Respect that it is complex; don’t over commit to solving it.
Going back to ar dealers, promoting cars while also talking about sustainable solutions to climate change is addressing the complex issues of our world.
Getting into the symptoms and how you relieve can be another way to break down a complex problem in a way that resonates with customers. Drug companies talk about inflammation, soreness, and stiffness rather than the specific diseases that cause them.
Addressing the complex problems of your customer requires finding a way to be part of the bigger ecosystem that the customer’s complex issue sits in. To talk about how you fit into how they choose to deal with the problem. I don’t know about you, but I think the ads that are showing contactless pizza deliver resonate more with me than the companies that are showing empty streets with a voice over that says we are here you at this time. It shows they are in there with me.