MUSINGS ON EXPERIENCE, TRANSFORMATION, STRATEGY AND MORE
Almost every company wants to make life easier for its customers. Reduce that Customer Effort Score.
But when trying to easy-fy a customer experience, we often work on the wrong problem.
We blame the process, the software, or ourselves.
We try to reduce the objective effort the customer needs to make. It is often the right thing to do.
But it may also cause us to work too hard. Spend too many resources on a problem that we can fix another way.
Because for customers, perception is the only reality.
And the perception of effort is more important than the effort itself. It’s like the UK train operator who discovered that instead of spending billions on making their trains go 20 minutes faster (= less actual customer effort), they could also spend a fraction of that amount to make the trip itself more enjoyable (= less perceived effort).
If you make this mental shift, there are multiple other paths to easy-fy your (digital) customer experience. Not all may apply to your situation, but I find at least one of them opens the mind to new ideas and directions. I’ll phrase them as questions.
1. Can I simplify the experience?
I’m not talking about the process itself, but the degree to which the process burdens the customer’s mind. The human brain determines effort based on cognitive load, or the amount of information it needs to deal with at one given time.
So if we need to pay a lot of attention to something because it is complicated or unfamiliar, it will feel like a lot of work/effort. Just think of how you felt the last time you saw a form full of detailed boxes, a never-ending survey or that time you had to type text, upload a scan, confirm your identity on your phone and do two other things. In that case, it’s not the effort that gets to us, but it’s the amount of stuff we need to deal with (i.e. the cognitive load).
Suggestion #1: Look beyond your process or technology to reduce customers’ cognitive load. Simplify your (visual) language, reduce the variability in actions, drop all the stuff that doesn’t matter. It might even make life easier for you. BOOK TIP: John Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity.
2. Can I funnify (ludify) the experience?
Have you ever noticed that when you’re having fun, effort seems to fade to the background? When you are hiking in a beautiful landscape, you can walk for miles without getting bored or feeling your legs. But when walking from one airport terminal to the next, the journey seems endless.
Point is that us humans don’t mind making an effort if they enjoy doing so. We hate standing in line at the cash register but happily queue at Disney waiting for a ride. We hate filling out forms, but spend hours customising our avatar for our favourite game or platform.
Suggestion #2: If you cannot make the experience easier, try to make it more fun. Insert humour, games, stories or social elements to make the task fun to complete. Book Tip: The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell.
3. Can I connect effort to reward?
To most of us, effort is relative to the expected reward. For the right reward, people will do more than you think. Ikea is a prime example. In return for affordable furniture (and the pride of building), customers are happy to transport heavy packages home and then spend hours putting them together.
Sometimes we even want the effort. Just think of the ready-made baking mix brands which add steps/effort to our experience to reward us with a feeling of accomplishment.
Suggestion #3: Instead of just making life ‘easier’, also look at the other side of the equation. Trade effort for a benefit, experience or emotion that makes customer feel the pain is worth it.
4. Can I boost the oxytocin levels?
Neuroscience teaches us that higher levels of oxytocins in the brain increase the amount of discretionary effort people are willing to make (and their satisfaction with the result). Being seen, cared for, or heard directly affects our perception of effort.
Every parent knows this. The mere fact of sitting next to your child and being there can turn a hard piece of homework into a manageable task.
So an effective way to reduce a customer’s feeling of effort is to make them feel valued, ideally by a fellow human being. Who sees them. Helps them along.
Suggestion #4: When effort increases, a friendly, motivating voice can do wonders. So consider having a friendly human or empathetic AI to accompany customers on tasks that require effort. Check out one of the virtual humans used by Soul Machines below. Congratulate them when they achieve results. BOOK TIP: Immersion: The Science of the extraordinary and source of happiness by Paul Zak (to be published Summer 2022).
5. Can I tailor the experience to the customer type?
What is easy for one person is hard for someone else. We find tasks to require less effort when they align our personal strengths or abilities. So if I have worked with computers my whole life, I don’t mind learning a new online service. If I’m less digitally savvy, or struggle with less than perfect eyesight, even the best app on the planet won’t save me.
So when the customer effort scores are low, it may be worth diving into the customer types who struggle most and fix the problem for them, rather than change the entire system.
Suggestion #5: To reduce the feeling of effort, create tailored service models that play to the strengths and (emotional) needs of different customer profiles. Once you have cataloged a customer, only expose them to the experiences that they are comfortable with. Eliminate everything else.
6. Can I manage the context?
If our environment distracts us from our pain, we are capable of more than we think. So fitness centers bombard you with loud music, unrelated images and light shows during a spinning class. Distraction makes us push harder.
And MRI manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies distract children with virtual reality or Little Mermaid projections during procedures where they need to attempt to ‘sit still’.
Suggestion #6: If you cannot avoid effort, think about distractions to keep the customer busy or occupied. Ideally, with enjoyable impulses. READING TIP: The effect of distraction on the perception of exercise by R.B. Fillingim et al.
7. Can I influence the customer's expectations?
The expectation with which we approach a certain task often acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I dread calling a contact center to change my information, or expect a sales transaction to be unpleasant, the chances of this being the case increase dramatically. If only because my brain will look for confirmation that I was right.
Inversely, if, I look forward to that pleasant conversation with the service agent or believe that a certain transaction will be easy, chances are this will be the case as well.
Suggestion #7: While great expectations cannot undo an unpleasant experience, there is room to shape your customer’s expectations (a little) before a transaction and this way reduce the effort involved. If only by thinking afterwards ‘that wasn’t that bad’. BOOK TIP: The Expectation Effect by David Robson.
What do YOU think?
I realise that these questions won't magically transform your customer's experience from difficult to easy.
But I find they can open new avenues for thinking. Even produce the occasional quick win.
So what do you think? Do these questions resonate? Have you got simplifications I didn’t cover?
Alain Thys is an experience architect who helps organisations drive profit and transformation through experience.