A Toaster’s Perspective on Customer Experience

I returned recently from another memorable family vacation in Canada. We visited Niagara Falls and Toronto as well as made our first trip to Ottawa. All three cities offered fun and entertainment, but those stops were merely warm-ups for the highlight of the trip: a visit with my 87-year-old aunt in Granby, Quebec, located 50 miles southeast of Montreal. Aunt Marcelle truly is inspirational- she possesses a combination of beauty, grace, charm, and intellect that makes her one of a kind.

Aunt Marcelle has something else that is unique: A toaster that gives a refresher course in designing customer experience. It is not just any toaster; it is a shiny, silver 50-year-old Sunbeam model that I am pretty sure could be used as an anchor for a small boat when its toasting days are over. Yes, I said a 50-year-old toaster. Marcelle said it has needed only one repair during that time which cost $20. Each morning, I found myself marveling at the toaster as it performed its sole function. What made the toaster even more remarkable was its simplicity- there were no buttons, levers, or switches. Plug it in, drop in bread, and let the magic begin! The finished product was nearly perfect toast- browned but not burned.

The toaster did more than make breakfast; it was a reminder about the importance of simplicity when designing customer experience. Inclusion of features in a product or service often occurs because the capability exists to develop them along with a belief that customers would value the features. The result sometimes is over-engineered products that may be less convenient to use and more prone to failure compared to a product with a more simplistic design. Also, a trend toward developing products that multi-task leads to the possibility of negatively impacting customer experience if customers perceive that tradeoffs in quality or ease of use exist.

The familiar KISS method (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) comes to mind as I reflect on Aunt Marcelle’s classic toaster. Customers do not want to be dazzled with the capability of a product or service as much as they want to enjoy the benefits of how it adds value to their lives. For some people, simplicity has a connotation with being unsophisticated. If that is the case, I am content to have unsophisticated interactions with companies and brands that can simplify the experience of using their products or services.

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