How To “Assemble” A Great Customer Experience

See Figure 2.6 for frustration: The product assembly customer experience can be awful. It’s a touchpoint ripe for reinvention, and one startup might have the solution.


[Editor’s note:  This post was last updated on April 18, 2022.]

What do your barbecue grill, ceiling fan, bike trailer, and kids’ swing set all have in common?  If you’re like many people (particular the mechanically challenged), your experience with these products began on shaky ground.  Why?  Because they all require assembly.

Excitement with a new product purchase can quickly wane when people open a box to reveal an intricate, poster-sized exploded parts diagram, or an installation manual thick enough to double as a doorstop.

We’ve all been there at one time or another.  Tools scattered about.  Sweat on the brow.  Instruction sheets blowing away in the wind.  Partially assembled components precariously positioned beside us.  Impatient kids scrutinizing our progress.

Product assembly can be an aggravating, rage-inducing experience — a customer episode that seems ripe for reinvention. Why, then, does it look largely the same today as it did decades ago?  There are a few reasons:

  • Product assembly falls in the customer experience blind spot.  Businesses often possess an excessively narrow view of the customer experience (CX).  When they think about (and try to improve) customer touchpoints, they tend to focus on the most obvious interaction episodes:  product usage, customer service, warranty claims, etc.  That creates a blind spot where companies don’t fully appreciate the wide spectrum of touchpoints that actually shape people’s brand impressions – including seemingly mundane and administrative parts of the experience, such as billing, correspondence, return processes, and, yes, product assembly.
  • Companies view product assembly as a revenue generator.  Profit margins for product manufacturers and retailers are always getting squeezed, and these firms are perpetually on the lookout for new sources of revenue.  Fee-based product assembly and installation services provide such an opportunity.  That’s why some companies are happy to neglect the product setup experience, as they’d prefer to take care of that for you, and make a little money doing it.
  • Companies think assembly aggravations will fade from memory.  Firms skilled in CX design recognize that, given how our brains are wired, most of the customer experience is forgettable.  Touchpoints positioned early on in the encounter (like product assembly and installation) tend to fade from memory, as compared to touchpoints which fall later in the experience (like actually using your new barbecue, or watching your kids enjoy their new swing set).  Some companies bet on this cognitive bias, shifting attention and investment to those parts of the experience that they believe will shape enduring memories and, therefore, improve customer loyalty.

If companies are neglecting the product setup touchpoint for any of the above reasons, their logic is flawed on several counts:

First, some of the greatest customer experience innovations come by focusing on “unsung” touchpoints and artifacts that others have overlooked (or at least dismissed as less important).  Cases in point:  Lowe’s in-store augmented reality wayfinding, Berkshire Hathaway’s three page insurance policy contract, and Target’s prescription medicine bottles.  In retrospect, these innovations look brilliant – but the fact is, they targeted customer pain points that many companies (if not entire industries) had long ignored.


“Some of the greatest customer experience innovations come by focusing on ‘unsung’ touchpoints and artifacts that others have overlooked (or at least dismissed as less important).”


Second, while some consumers may be willing to pay for assembly and installation, many others are not.  And the latter’s ranks are likely swelling, as the pandemic has tightened purse strings and made people more reluctant to welcome servicepeople into their homes.

Third, while customers do tend to forget earlier parts of an experience (and better remember more recent elements), that only holds true if those earlier touchpoints are unremarkable.  If those interactions are instead extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad (and product assembly exercises could be either), it creates an emotional peak in the experience that people will remember.  In short, memory biases won’t save a brand from a truly awful product setup experience.

And, fourth, even if product setup wasn’t bad enough to create an enduring memory, it could be bad enough to share with others in the moment.  After all, what better time to post a picture on social media of your new dining room set, entertainment center, or outdoor shed – than right after you finish building it?  Product setup might not rise to the vaunted customer experience threshold of a critical, brand-building “Moment of Truth.”  At the very least, however, in a social media-enabled world, it may rise to a “Moment of Tell.”  Companies would be wise to consider what customers might say in those posts, coming on the heels of an arduous product assembly task.

The good news here is that this is one story of customer experience neglect that might actually have a happy ending.

BILT corporation, a Texas-based startup, has engineered a mobile app that reimagines instruction sheets, parts diagrams and the whole product assembly task.  Born out of an SAP executive’s frustration trying to assemble an IKEA nightstand, BILT was spun out of the software maker in 2016 and is now a standalone company.

The BILT app removes many of the frustrations inherent in typical product assembly instructions:  small, unreadable fonts; constant flipping between direction sheets and parts lists; two-dimensional drawings that never seem to show the perspectives you really need, etc.  Instead, BILT users get a legible, intuitive interface that guides them step-by-step through the assembly process, complete with three-dimensional rotatable views and clickable on-screen parts descriptions.

It’s an elegant solution, and one that’s even attracted the attention of Fred Reichheld (creator of the widely-used Net Promoter System), who recently joined BILT’s Board of Directors.

There’s more than meets the eye here, though, because the digitization of assembly instructions doesn’t just aid consumers, it aids product manufacturers and distributors, too.  The BILT platform allows companies to infer where customers might be struggling during the assembly process (by spotting where they spend more time on an instruction step than would be expected).  Those insights helps drive improvements to the instructions, which can then be rolled out in real-time (something that’s not possible with printed guides).

Like many advances in customer experience, the benefits of a more effortless product assembly process aren’t soft and intangible.  Any interaction that makes customers rave rather than rage has value, as it cultivates loyalty and drives repurchase and referral behavior.

And if that loyalty lift seems at all imprecise (though it shouldn’t), consider the more immediate and quantifiable advantages of a better assembly experience:  fewer product setup inquiries coming into customer service, and reduced return rates from people who just give up on the product in frustration.  Both are favorable outcomes that BILT has observed with its product partners, and the resulting impact on a company’s bottom line is undeniable.

Product assembly is a customer touchpoint that simply hasn’t received the attention it deserves.  Companies in both the B2C and B2B realms shouldn’t resign themselves to the status quo in product setup.  As BILT has demonstrated, there is a better way, and digitization of assembly instructions holds great promise.

If companies want to piece together a better customer experience, they should focus more on helping customers piece together their products.

[Editor’s note:  BILT is among the innovative CX-leading companies featured in Watermark founder Jon Picoult’s new book, FROM IMPRESSED TO OBSESSED.  A version of this article originally appeared on  Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.]


Jon Picoult is founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress customers and inspire employees, creating raving fans that drive business growth.  Author of “FROM IMPRESSED TO OBSESSED: 12 Principles for Turning Customers and Employees into Lifelong Fans,” Picoult is an acclaimed speaker, and advisor to some of world’s foremost brands.  Follow Jon on Twitter or Instagram, or subscribe to his monthly eNewsletter.


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