Reducing customer effort is not the panacea for customer experience
Reducing customer effort, we hear from many in the customer experience world, is the latest “magic ingredient”. “Making things easy” and delivering “effortless experiences” is the big and latest untapped field of business opportunity so some would have you believe, or is it just the path to least resistance in unlocking corporate budgets?
Is standing out really only about being the company where things go wrong the least? Is being no frills for all your customers enough to get you where you want to be?
The reducing customer effort case often centres on the idea that customer experience success is simply about businesses getting back to basics by reducing the effort their customers make, the business case is simple, and customers will be happy because all they want is to put in the least effort. I would suggest that for all the good intentions it’s not that simple. Unless you connect your efforts to customer value you will NOT end up improving the customer experience and you may even find increasing costs in places you didn’t expect.
Some of the biggest, most successful companies in the world right now are requiring customers to arguably make more of an effort not less. They are guided by insight, led by a desire to be better and they’ve understood it is distress that people don’t want, so they focus on avoiding distress and delivering consistently. The most successful companies are embracing a design thinking mindset, practicing more integrative learning and they are working tirelessly to create mutual value. They are thinking about relationships rather than just consumption, or cutting costs and re-shaping the way they think, interact and deliver.
Some of the biggest, most successful companies in the world right now are requiring customers to arguably make more of an effort not less.
I’m not totally discounting the need to reduce effort just suggesting caution. The path of customer effort reduction may or may not lead you to the customer; it depends where you start from and why. It is, however, your generosity towards your customer, your desire to build something worthwhile, something better, doing that will keep that customer from your competitors or indeed keep them coming back for more.
Dr Kit Yarrow is an award-winng consumer research psychologist, in her 2014 book “Decoding the Consumer Mind” she notes: "The 50 brands showing the fastest financial growth from 2000 to 2010 were all associated with one of five human traits - eliciting joy, enabling connecxtion, inspiring exploration, evoking pride or impacting society". So, making things easy or reducing effort didn't make the top five positive traits.
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- You can’t hail an Uber on the side of the road you’ve got to use their App, yet their customer base is growing….
- You can’t walk into an AIRBNB at the last minute you’ve got to book online and wait for a response, AIRBNB continues to grow in reach and use.
- You can’t try before you buy your ASOS outfit, you’ve got to buy it and then wait for it to arrive, yet their customer base featuring many so called impatient young folk keeps coming back for more.
- You can’t buy a fully made up table at IKEA, you have to put it together or pay someone to do it for you, yet they are one of the most profitable retailers in the world.
- You can’t even buy from Costco online or without membership, yet they have just exceeded $1billion in sales in their new market of Australia.
The human traits mentioned by Dr Yarrow all connect to building relationships. For relationships to flourish requires both sides to put in an effort. The question is what effort is it, valuable or upsetting? Only your customer can answer that, but are you willing to listen deeply? Are you willing to change accordingly?
Look: I get it, we as customers shouldn’t have to make effort for stupid things. I shouldn’t have to call a contact centre and then write in because a toy retailer takes my money but doesn’t deliver the goods after 1 month with no communication. I shouldn’t have to enquire about my order to find out that the product is actually not in stock and they aren’t sure when it will be. That sort of thing is distressing and not the sort of effort any customer should have to make. It’s the kind of painful effort that the acclaimed business thinker, John Seddon would call “Failure Demand” and yes I do agree failure demand will ruin your bottom line, but it’s not about reducing all effort a customer makes. We don’t need to create vanilla, automated vending machine like companies.
For relationships to flourish requires both sides to put in an effort.
The Uber’s, the Costco’s, even companies like Cummins and American Express are realising relationships are built on mutual value and that requires effort from both sides. The difference is that they are requiring effort from customers so they share in something valuable. The companies mentioned above are not resting on their laurels, they are trying to change and improve their whole operations so that the focus isn’t simply on the effort you make to consume something, and it’s more emotional.
I would suggest it’s less to do with effort and more to do with the principles of consistency, continuous improvement and mutual value; it’s those things that build and sustain relationships. Part of the solution is mindset; the successful companies have embraced the idea of changing and getting better rather than the mindset of defence, where you protect the status quo and effectively stay the same.
Without effort from both sides you are ill-equipped for a relationship of any longevity. So maybe as you’re working to reduce effort you should also be working to develop some consistency in how you deliver on your promise. Maybe it’s about working to continuously improve all aspects of your operation, and maybe it’s about remaining interested and curious enough to be able to create mutual value, maybe there’s more to it than just effort.
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Lead a function that's all about the customer and business performance. Provide hands on support to the business and act as a change agent. My team is always looking to explore and understand the richness and complexity of human behaviour by studying it from more than one standpoint.