A CCC member recently asked me whether his organization could eliminate too much customer effort.  According to this executive, a service experience is an important touchstone for customers.  If you eliminate customer effort, you might also eliminate a rare personal connection between a large company and its individual customers.

Our research has shown that, in general, reducing customer effort increases customer loyalty.  However, are there instances where a little bit of customer effort is a good thing?

Below, Rick Delisi and I offer our two cents on this question.  We’ll also explain why we put a photograph of eggs in a blog about customer effort.

Rick: No. Customer effort is not a good thing.

When I think of the “effort” required to resolve an issue, I think more about “mental effort.”  Not how much physical effort is required (’cause…c’mon now…it ain’t THAT hard to push a few buttons or talk to some agent for a few minutes), but…how hard does my brain have to work?  In my ideal resolution experience, my brain doesn’t have to work hard at all.

Think about the great companies you do business with.  When you call them, within a few seconds the agent almost seems to be reading your mind.  They’re not just pleasant and friendly, they’re a full step ahead of you.  They anticipate your needs, advocate on your behalf and gently guide you toward a perfect resolution.  The experience doesn’t require any effort at all.   (This is what we at CCC call “experience engineering“)  So, there’s no such thing as TOO low-effort.  Solving problems should ALWAYS be that easy, that intuitive, that effortless.

Think of it this way.  You know those “match.com” ads, or those “eHarmony” commercials where these now-married couples always say, “Within the first few seconds—even though we’d never met each other before—we just clicked.  We spoke the same language and shared the same thoughts.  It was SO easy.”  Wouldn’t it be great if most of your customers felt like that when they talk to your agents?  (not the marriage part, just the “so easy” part!)

Matt: Yes. Customer effort is occasionally a good thing.

Effort is a two-sided coin.  On the one hand, as Rick alludes to, people dislike expending effort on anything.  We—or, at least, I—daydream about living the low-effort beach bum lifestyle epitomized in Corona commercials.

On the other hand, effort can generate positive feelings like pride and a sense of accomplishment.  Imagine watching your son or daughter graduate from college.  Doesn’t that experience mean something to you precisely because you put in a gargantuan amount of effort to raise him or her?

Customers can also derive positive feelings from certain types of effort.  Consider a peculiar aspect of our modern lives:  Why do you have to add an egg to cake mixes? The entire raison d’etre for buying a cake mix is to reduce the effort it takes to make a cake.  Why wouldn’t manufacturers simply add dehydrated eggs to their cake mixes and eliminate unnecessary customer effort?

As it turns out, the first generation of cake mixes were designed so that eggs weren’t necessary.  You simply added water or milk to the mix, baked the batter in the oven, and—presto!—created a low-effort cake.  There was just one problem:  people didn’t buy the no-egg cake mixes.  Though these mixes were very low-effort, they were also low-pride:  people didn’t feel proud of their dessert creations when they just had to add water.  It was too easy.

A dash of effort fixed this problem:  second generation cake mixes required the addition of eggs, and people began to feel proud of their cake mix creations.  As a result, they started buying cake mixes.  When a little bit of additional effort can make customers feel a personal connection to a company or its products, customer effort might not be such a bad thing.