Customer effort is good: How successful brands make their customers sweat

5th Apr 2017

This is the second piece examining why customer effort is a good thing. Read part one: Why brands must stop trying to eliminate customer effort

In the last article, we explained how the work of Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman demonstrates that human beings only remember two moments of any experience - the peak and the end. The problem of an effortless experience is that insignificant peaks and ends are generated, while using large amounts of resources to eliminate customer effort. You are simply wasting your company’s resources as the experience is not remembered by your customers. An effective experience has to be remembered.

Allowing pain or imperfection focuses on the critical few moments - peak and end. This approach creates a memorable experience with significant pleasure peaks, while spending fewer resources.

And great brands have one thing in common: they make customers sweat.

  • IKEA makes customers sweat with DIY services to generate unmatched pleasure on good value for money.
  • Starbucks makes customers sweat with premium pricing and waiting time to create extraordinary pleasure with their “new coffee experience” and the Third Place.
  • Louis Vuitton makes customers sweat with the different service levels to deliver unprecedented pleasure with exclusivity.
  • Southwest Airlines makes customers sweat with no meals, entertainment, upgrades or reserved seats to offer knockout pleasure with cheap airfares.
  • Jiro’s sushi restaurant makes customers sweat on most aspects of the dining experience to render the utmost pleasure with the best sushi in the world (see my article Sukiyabashi Jiro: Make the World's Best Sushi by Creative Aggravation).

By making customers 'sweat' - allowing Good Pains - resources can be channeled to their Branded Pleasures. That is why IKEA, Starbucks, Louis Vuitton, Southwest Airlines, Sukiyabashi Jiro and other great brands are able to deliver a highly memorable and branded experience.

Don't get me wrong! Customer effort could be a good metric

Despite my emphasis on the potential damages caused by customer effort score (CES) in driving an effortless experience, I do totally agree with the CES creators that customer effort score is a good metric when using in a service environment driving effortless service interactions.

In the last article, I said "Deploying customer effort score could be destructive: use CES as a key metric for your critical touch-point experiences." But it could be equally constructive if you apply CES in non-critical touchpoint experiences.

Take, for example, a banking experience. When withdrawing cash from an ATM machine, doing a simple online transaction, or calling hotline to report loss of the credit card, customers simply need a frictionless or an effortless experience. No more, no less.

The majority, say 90% (just a ballpark figure, it varies from industry to industry, and company to company) of the interactions with a brand fall in that category: customers don't need any significant pleasure peaks, they merely want to ‘get things done.’

Don't get me wrong! CES could be useful: CES is the right metric for a pure service environment and the non-critical 90% touch-point experiences.

Adopting CES blindly is a wrong strategy

For the remaining 10% interactions are the true differentiators of a brand – touchpoint experiences that deliver their promises and drive customers to buy from them in the first place – e.g. the IKEA in-store. Unless your brand values are about effortless, faster and easier, like Amazon.com, McDonald's or Seven Eleven; otherwise, CES is definitely not the right metric to use.

I understand that the customers’ bar of unacceptable levels is ever rising; customers tolerate less and less in terms of inconvenience and slow speed. Even IKEA has added shortcuts and fast lanes for checkout at some of their stores. However, slightly raising the pain points in order not to drive customers away, is entirely different from driving full force for an effortless experience. Don't mix them up.

Strategy is about resource allocation. The effectiveness of a strategy is judged largely by the effectiveness in resource allocation. Adopting CES is not only a bad strategy - put your resource in poor use - it's a wrong strategy. It is wrong because it delivers the opposite of what you desired: drives a disremembered experience, damages your brand loyalty, and reduces customers' pleasures. Instead of a win-win, it becomes a lose-lose outcome for both customers and your company.

Perhaps you should ask yourself this: Why spend monies and resources to strike for an effortless experience - at the expense of a memorable experience, your brand loyalty and customers' pleasures - just for the sake of enhancing customer effort score?

My two cents advice

Here is my two cents for different scenarios that you may encounter:

  • Let's say effortless is your brand promise, then CES is a perfect metric for all your touch-point experiences, no matter critical or non-critical.
  • Given that your brand values have nothing to do with faster or easier, if you are already deploying CES, you should seriously consider narrowing down the scope to cover only the non-critical 90% interactions.
  • If your company is thinking of adopting CES as a key performance metric for the critical 10% touch-point experiences, you should pause and spare a thought for: "What are my brand promises?" before a final decision is made.
  • When your major rivals have applied full-scale CES in their CX, and their brand values are unrelated to effortless, you should do two things: open a champagne to celebrate and pray that they never get their hands on this article.

I do believe, that it’s simply a matter of time, before the sensible leaders are able to rectify their mistakes with the aid of common sense and critical thinking: to stop pursuing frictionless unmemorable experiences (the flat red line) and start creating Good Pain and branded pleasures (a dynamic blue curve).

Blue line

Replies (9)

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By LinkedIn Group Member
06th Apr 2017 12:10

From LinkedIn user Monique Jansen:
In my opinion we need to disconnect the term and metric "customer effort" from optimizing customer engagement and customer participation. This article mixes those topics which might be confusing for people who make a point of reducing customer effort to improve the overall experience.

Thanks (2)
Replying to LinkedIn Group Member:
By JenniferCWright
07th Apr 2017 15:07

I agree with Monique. Effort is important for a different reason than engagement or creating memorable experiences. Conflating the two just adds confusion to an important discussion, and dilutes a good point, that there are some times when reducing effort is more effective than others.

Thanks (1)
By Blessed25
06th Apr 2017 14:32

Sampson - I'd be keen to know about the science that supports the graph at the end of this article? I.e. is this based on a survey sample?

I think a lot of the populist brands being tagged as 'effortless' are actually just front-loading effort. Uber and Airbnb are the usual examples. All the effort is predominantly at the start of the experience. I'm not sure I agree that thereafter the experiences are no longer memorable though.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Blessed25:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
08th Apr 2017 06:42

Blessed 25,

Thank you for your questions.

The last graph is assumed to take leverage of the Peak-End Rule and by allowing pain, then what would happen comparing with the conventional approach. It's neither scientific nor based on survey sample.

The IKEA's Emotion Curve of Dutch consumers shown early is based on the empirical data derived from the Global IKEA In-store Experience Research.

If you want to see more quantitative data from official research which support my argument on the dynamic blue curve, you could read “Sukiyabashi Jiro: Make the World's Best Sushi by Creative Aggravation”: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/secret-eliminating-imitators-preventing-y...

Regarding your second question, I’ve a couple of questions:

1) Do you agree that ‘effortless’ is the brand value of Uber and Airbnb?

2) What do you mean by “All the effort is predominantly at the start of the experience” and “… thereafter the experiences are no longer memorable though.”

Thank you, Blessed 25.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Sampson Lee:
By Blessed25
09th Apr 2017 21:22

Thanks Sampson.

I think Uber and Airbnb certainly see effortless experiences as part of what they are, if not exclusively part of their brand values. that being said, looking at Uber's website, it says their core value is to 'exist in the place where bits and atoms come together'; which is utter nonsense.

When I say 'front-loaded' effort, I mean to say that at point of first engagement, you could say it's far easier to hail for a cab then set-up an Uber account. But the effort is there at the start, under the expectation that future experiences will be easier thereafter.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Blessed25:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
10th Apr 2017 11:56

Thank you for your reply, Blessed 25.

I agree with you that their brand value is about ‘effortless.’

During the honey-moon period, they would enjoy the first-mover advantage. Say, for example, Uber. For customers trying to get a taxi on a rainy day in a busy city like London, they would generate significant pleasure peaks to customers. The experience is both memorable (as the pleasure peaks are high) and is branded (as their brand value – effortless – is reflected at the pleasure peaks).

When the rivals and imitators come in, and if they could provide similar ‘effortless’ experiences, then the pleasure peaks would drop drastically.

The Blue Ocean turns red. The industry enters into an ‘effortless plus’ stage. The real differentiation game starts. Players have to add more values on top of their core product – faster and easier – as it becomes a commodity. Example such as Amazon – ‘effortless plus cheaper’ and Zappos – ‘effortless plus service.’

So, in my personal view, merely basing on effortless, as a brand value, to delivering a memorable experience could only last for a short period of time.

Thank you for your question, Blessed 25.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Sampson Lee:
By Blessed25
11th Apr 2017 16:13

Thanks Sampson.

I also think it's important that employees across a business are made aware of what these moments of truth, pleasure peaks, etc are. I work in a small sales team but I'd argue that if my team identified with all of the 'pleasure peaks' our customers had with our product it would make us all, as salespeople, more effective.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Blessed25:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
12th Apr 2017 06:38

I can't agree with you more. That's why mapping the customer/user journey is an important start, and subsequently you've to operationalize the mapping. See if my article could generate any insights to your UX colleagues - Starbucks: Operationalize Customer Journey Mapping: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-many-cx-professionals-get-promoted-20....

I enjoyed very much our conversations here. Thanks Blessed 25.

Thanks (1)
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
08th Apr 2017 06:46

Monique and Jennifer,

Thank you for your comments.

I do understand what you said. However, even I'm concentrated on only 'effortless experience' and CES, the length of my article already exceeded 3,000 words. That's why the editor of Mycustomer.com has to split it into two pieces.

Would you be so kind to share with us, say for example, how customer engagement could fit in the IKEA case?

Thank you Monique and Jennifer.

Thanks (1)