Why experts are wrong to encourage effortless customer experienceby
Many CX influencers advocate "effortless customer experiences". Yet recommending effortless experiences to all companies regardless of their brand promises is a damaging misconception.
Unless the tech giants have paid their due taxes, it is not right for the CX industry to advocate effortless experience (except for companies whose brand promises are "fast and easy”). This is because it will lead to three negative consequences:
- Exacerbate income inequality.
- Reduce the competitiveness of enterprises.
- Damage the customer experience profession.
When my recent article Are companies harming society by satisfying customers? came out, I received valuable feedback and identified two misunderstandings.
In that article, when I said "CX", most of the time I was referring to the CX industry, not the tech giant’s CX. For example, “Should CX be socially responsible and stop advocating effortless experience?” “CX” should be understood as the CX industry. Therefore, although it is important to discuss whether the tech giants should assume social responsibility, my focus is on whether the CX industry should continue to promote ‘convenience’ that exacerbates income inequality.
The second misunderstanding emerges: convenience is a good thing, and income inequality is a bad thing. Convenience has nothing to do with income inequality. They are not related.
Does customer convenience exacerbate income inequality?
Yes, in theory, convenience is not directly related to income inequality. However, in reality, two factors must be considered:
- Customers are addicted to convenience.
- Tech giants pay very little tax. For example, Amazon's US profit in 2019 was 13 billion US dollars, while the tax rate was only 1.2%.
As a result, since tech giants like Amazon have an absolute advantage over any other company in providing “fast and easy” experiences, when customers have become slaves to instant gratification, those tech giants will make the most profit while paying extremely meagre taxes.
This increases income inequality; there is no doubt that convenience and income inequality are closely related. By promoting effortless experience, the CX industry has, literally, become an accomplice in exacerbating this social inequality.
Two kinds of waiting
On a special night, Chris really needs condoms. He knows that timing is everything. He rushed to the nearby 7-Eleven store without even thinking about it. But when he arrives, there is a long line in front of the cashier moving at the pace of a snail. The inefficiency of the convenience store ruined Chris’ supposedly romantic evening.
A few months ago, I had a fruitful discussion with Dave Fish, founder of CuriosityCX, on his article Innovation and Delight: How to Break Away from the “Effortless” CX Pack. Dave mentioned that he enjoys regular chats with barista Stacey at his local Starbucks. But it’s inevitable that he has to wait longer than when he was at McCafé, because many Starbucks customers like Dave cherish a hearty chat with the barista.
Does effortless CX reduce the competitiveness of enterprises?
My conclusion from the discussion with Dave is this: except for things that support the brand to fulfill its promise, the rest of the experience should be as easy as possible. Obviously, the aforementioned fictional Chris’ wait at 7-Eleven is an unacceptable pain point, while waiting at Starbucks is a tolerable effort. All of this is because one wait violates its brand promise (bad friction), while the other supports it (good friction).
For that reason, not all frictions/efforts/pain points are bad and must be eliminated. If IKEA didn’t have DIY services, Ryanair didn’t have lean and mean policies, Starbucks didn’t have premium prices nor waiting time, customers wouldn’t be able to enjoy cheap furniture, cheap air tickets, barista chats and the Third Place. These successful brands cannot be built and sustained without the good frictions.
For the CX industry to promote effortless experience to all companies, it will greatly reduce the competitiveness of the company. This is because except for brands whose promise is about or related to “fast and easy,” striving for an effortless experience will bring a homogenised experience, decrease customer pleasure, and compromise your brand loyalty. (See: Why brands must stop trying to eliminate customer effort.)
Two major misconceptions in the CX industry
1. “CX transformation is needed to become a customer-centric company.”
CX authorities, experts and opinion leaders have been vigorously advocating that CX transformation is necessary to become a customer-centric organisation. Big mistake. Forrester’s research director Harley Manning rightly remarked: "CX transformations are massive, take years, and cost millions." Since CX transformation can only be afforded by large enterprises, for most companies, customer-centricity is impossible. (See: Why a major CX misconception is causing customer experience job cuts.)
2. “Customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.”
This statement is logically incorrect: customer experience cannot be compared with or pitted against price and product, because customer experience includes them. Still, many industry authorities, experts and opinion leaders have expressed or supported this statement or similar concepts. This statement only makes sense when customer experience refers to customer interactions, rather than genuine customer experience. (See: Stop getting CX wrong: Why conventional CX is just service-in-disguise.)
The third misconception damaging the CX profession
If, at the beginning, CX authorities and experts had warned industry professionals that only large companies could afford CX transformation, and customer experience was actually service experience, most companies would avoid “customer-centric,” and non-service focused firms would not expect to drive business results by enhancing customer interactions. Hence, not only would the success rate of CX programmes rise sharply, many CX professionals would not take responsibility and lose their jobs.
The impact of these two major misconceptions is devastating.
But the CX industry is now creating a third major misconception by promoting effortless experience to all companies regardless of their brand promises. As mentioned above, unless the company’s brand promise is “fast and easy,” the pursuit of an effortless experience will drive a disremembered experience, damage brand loyalty, and reduce customer pleasure. Needless to say, the career prospects of CX professionals would be worse.
Promoting effortless experience is not the right thing to do
To conclude: it is negligent to promote effortless experience indiscriminately. When tech giants do not pay their fair share of taxes, the CX industry is irresponsible to society because it widens income inequality by promoting ‘convenience’. Whenever the CX industry advocates effortless experience to all companies (except for the brands that promise “fast and easy”) it is irresponsible to the company and industry professionals, because it reduces the company’s competitiveness and damages the CX cause.
More importantly, when an industry causes harm to society, enterprises and industry professionals, whether inside or outside the circle, the industry will be distrusted, disrespected and will inevitably decline. It’s time for the CX industry to recognise the harsh truth that promoting effortless experience is not the right thing to do.