The final leg of a journey is often the hardest. Your train arrived on time, you made your connection, and now you’re standing in the station car park. But the station car park isn’t where you want to end up on a rainy Monday night. You actually want to get to your house. But the last bus has gone, the taxi rank is empty, there are no Uber drivers in range. So you’re searching online for a taxi with two bars of phone signal.
Like a real journey, the final mile is the hardest on the customer journey, too. Customers will have an end-point in mind, and it’s often on that ‘final mile’ where the biggest pain points are. And it’s in this final mile that businesses win or lose.
A faster final mile
So what does this final mile journey look like in reality? Take an e-commerce purchase – you’ve decided you need a new pair of shoes, you’ve found the ones you liked and you’ve added them to your basket. Everything that comes next, between your decision to make the purchase and then receiving a parcel in the post – that’s the final mile. And it’s here where small changes can have the biggest impact for your users.
You don’t have to look far to see final mile innovation in action, especially in the e-commerce space. One-click checkout speeds up the checkout process. Next-day delivery makes receiving your shoes faster and more transparent. And payment innovations, from saved card details to ApplePay and Buy Now Pay Later, all help to smooth the payment portion of the final mile.
Obviously, e-commerce is still a fairly new industry, so it’s easier to spot innovations in the final mile. But there are still plenty of e-commerce buying journeys that are slow, repetitive and opaque because not enough time and thought has been put into final mile innovation.
Why is that? Why are so many user journeys not meeting the needs of users? The answer is simple: We’re innovating in the wrong places.
Innovation isn’t enough
As product managers and business leaders, it’s easy to think innovation is the answer. But from our users’ point of view, things look very different. Few people are sitting around thinking, ‘I need a cutting-edge consumer product experience’, or ‘I wish I could pay for things without getting out my wallet’. They just want to get on with their lives. They’re not interested in the ‘user experience’ – except insofar as it helps them to achieve their aims.
It’s a subtle shift in mentality, but it makes a huge difference. Businesses that focus on new technologies, rather than on the outcomes they facilitate, are likely to find themselves struggling to build traction with their users.
Moreover, their innovation is less likely to map onto real user needs. Where companies have a large market share, we can fool ourselves into thinking that such companies must really understand their customers’ needs. But all it takes is a single innovation to reveal that, actually, customers were putting up with such a service, merely because it was the best fit at that time. Were online shoppers really satisfied with 3-5 day shipping, or did Amazon Prime’s next-day service meet their needs better?
Or take ApplePay. The technology itself is nothing to shout about. The underlying payments infrastructure is mostly decades old, with some limited middle-mile innovation (like the inclusion of network tokens). But it massively eases people’s lives. It makes an everyday action – spending – less burdensome. And it makes the Apple ecosystem that little bit more painful to leave.
Tackling our product biases
The first step here is simply acknowledging our own biases. Take payments as one example. If you’re trained in a traditional banking mindset, or payment card mindset, or even a blockchain mindset, it’s easy to get stuck in a particular way of looking at – and therefore solving – customer problems.
As a result, companies fixate on the mechanics rather than the user experience. We approach UX from the perspective of our business case, our design methodology, our staff rosters, our compliance and operational processes. And all the time we’re forcing users to compromise without realising it. We give them the innovation they want, insofar as it fits within our traditional way of doing business, which we instinctively protect.
Final mile comes first
So: customers will quickly shift to the latest innovation that better fits their true needs. But businesses struggle to shake off legacy ways of doing things. What gives? The answer is flexibility. Don’t get stuck in one mindset. Don’t get stuck in your organisation’s processes. Stay intimate with your customers’ true needs, and make sure your efforts are felt in the ‘final mile’, where your customers’ attention is.
Thinking ‘final mile’ first forces you to think more deeply about what customers actually want from you, rather than building on what you’ve done before. It also reduces the risk of developing innovations that, while genuine steps forward, affect the customer comparatively little.
And this final mile mindset also gives greater clarity to the role and value of external partners that can focus on the supporting functionality. This is exactly what we do at OpenPayd: putting together the building blocks that allow flexible solutions to fit different financial use cases, so that our client’s internal processes impose fewer restrictions on their customers. Our client’s want to innovate and improve their users’ experience: we give them the capability to do so by innovating the middle mile.
Which means more customers getting where they want to go, and fewer left out in the rain.