The Myth Behind “Low-Hanging Fruit”

Customer Service Training

Note: This article comes from the perspective of the author’s work in the science and the art of customer experience. Its implications may be more broadly received.

At the beginning of their customer experience enhancement journeys, many organizations go after so-called low-hanging-fruit projects. These are the ones that minimize the need for change while increasing economic outcomes at the same time.

With a desire to (eventually) affect vital enterprise-wide changes by running a series of smaller (albeit less impactful starter) projects, well-intentioned practitioners present their cases using their favorite analytical tools: statistics, measurements, observations, interviews, six sigma, etc. Seeking improved experiences, they typically measure the outputs of current capabilities first. Then, they pick the most likely to succeed mini-projects based on which require the least amount of change and fewest resources and hold the greatest promise of winning the attention of budget-granting executives. The numbers often affirm this approach because, well, that’s what numbers do.

The problem, however, is that low-hanging-fruit thinking introduces a dangerous and invisible bias. A bias that doesn’t emphasize the creation of value for customers enough and keeps companies on their current improvement-oriented trajectories. Low-hanging-fruit thinking robs people and organizations of the choice to be different AND better. It only lets them pursue a better-at-what-we-already-do strategy which can lead to irrelevance. An analytics-only approach may look appealing ‘by the numbers’, but it can blind an organization to even larger numbers that can come from fully exploring customers’ and clients’ desires for innovation.

Low-hanging-fruit thinking can prevent leaders and teams from seeing opportunities to:

  • create greater value for customers and the business at the same time
  • optimize operations between departments not only within them
  • learn valuable new lessons because ‘what’s new’ isn’t efficient yet
  • anticipate customers’ needs earlier

Both the analytical tools (improvement-focused) and design tools (innovation-focused) mindsets are valid.

–Analytics are fantastic at identifying targets for improvement and for optimizing processes over time.

–Innovation-friendly tools are better at doing first-of-a-kind work, tackling design challenges, and for exploring decision options when the future is unknowable.

In this author’s opinion and experience, avoiding the tendency to use one over the other works best. Using both of them in unison yields the best results. Doing so requires an attitude of openness, an orientation toward learning new things, and a deeper understanding of the value of design as a problem-solving tool.

In this case, design isn’t about picking pretty colors or fonts. It’s a serious problem-solving tool that focuses on the desired outcomes of all parties. Thanks to its roots in systems thinking, it tends to surface solutions to problems where everyone gets more of what they want. Compare that to some business-first tools that include an I-get-more-and-you-get-less bias.

What’s the bottom line?

Better business results come from better design. You can earn improvement and innovation gains at the same time. Focusing these two powerful toolsets on the same area often leads to game-changing results.

Man writing on board with Einstein drawing

It depends on your goal: improvement or innovation.

Mike Wittenstein

Mike Wittenstein

Mike Wittenstein was doing customer experience before it was cool. Since 1998, as IBM’s eVisionary, he has been designing and developing experiences that differentiate brands and deliver bottom-line results. Mike has worked on over 700 client engagements in 26 countries. He understands first-hand the value of properly translating experiences to meet unique cultural differences. Mike founded StoryMiners, one of the world’s first experience design consulting agencies in 2002. The firm is known for its ability to find the essence of a company, brand, or service and translate it into a compelling experience that help clients shape their futures. The value of his work is estimated at over $1.6 billion in sales won, expenses cut, and brand value added. Mike is the world’s only working speaker/consultant/experience designer to have earned the top designations in his chosen fields (CSP, CMC, CCXP). Mike earned his MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management. He works in English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian.

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