This week’s announcement that a two-day London tube strike planned for this week has been called off prompted widespread relief in sharp contrast to last week when a 48-hour strike provoked sighs of frustration.

I was among the millions of commuters struggling to make their way across London last week during the strike, unsure what stations were open, what trains were running and when and how we might reach our destinations.

On a positive note people were volunteering advice to fellow travellers - a glimpse of ‘customer collaboration’ in action? Nice idea, but it does not always deliver the best results, I was misdirected quite a few times.

Travelling during the strike required a combination of effort, persistence and a stroke of luck. It set me thinking about how well, or how badly organisations perform in making customers’ journeys easy, not just in unusual circumstances, but as the norm.

Customer effort is beginning to be regarded as an important factor in a positive customer experience. However there is much headway to be made, according to our research with Capita*, which found that only two in ten organisations rate customer effort within their top three customer experience measures. It is an issue Customer Experience Network is tackling and prompted interesting exchanges at a meeting hosted by Pearson VUE in Manchester this week.  Click here to register for our case study webinar on customer effort.

Critical questions include: How well services and service options are signposted? How speedily we intervene when things go wrong? How much effort is involved in moving from one contact channel to another and the most important question of all: how easily and effortlessly can customers do what they want to do?

Many companies struggle with legacy IT systems and siloed operational structures which have a detrimental effect on attempts to reduce customer effort. Our research revealed the extent of these problems, with only 15% of centres able to easily track customers across channels** and 70% operating in silos*** research.

There is almost an envy of new entrants who can leapfrog older ones, offering seamless easy service, unencumbered by legacy issues. But there are also examples of long-established organisations that have adapted and blend the best of the old with the best of the new.

Despite my experiences during the strike, I regard the Tube is an example of an organisation which has evolved from a Victorian entity to an integrated multi-modal transport system which possesses, if not a complete new entrant mindset, then is certainly working towards one.

Take the Tube map, designed in 1931 by employee Henry Beck as a spare time project, and now in wide use as an app by modern commuters. The genius of his Tube map is that it was conceived as a schematic which does not show stations in precise geographic locations in relation to one another but focuses on how passengers can get from one to another easily, with simple colour-coding and clearly marked intersections.

It is essentially a topological map which has been simplified so that only vital information remains. Topological mapping is now widely used in the transport sector but 80 years ago Beck’s approach was revolutionary. It represents an excellent example of an innovation which sprang from the mind of someone within the organisation capable of thinking about his own organisation from a purely customer perspective.

Making things easier for customers is important to winning their loyalty and prevent lasting sales or customer defection. We know that 8 in 10 CCA members themselves have abandoned an interaction with another organisation because it was too hard - that is a high ratio.

Let’s focus on the steps we need to take to make things easy for customers. Perhaps it is time we tried a bit of topological customer journey mapping of our own?

*CCA Capita Report - Customer Effort: How hard is it to make life easy for customers
**CCA Cisco Report - Customer Experience: Measuring the value of an effective strategy
***CCA Kcom Report - The Future of Customer Service