e-Commerce Marketing; the links between customer effort, loyalty and delight

By: Chris Middleton

August 24, 2016

Categories:

Customer Experience - eCommerce - Featured -

It’s become a well-known practice in customer relationship management to minimise the amount of effort that a customer has to make online, or in dealing with a company through other channels, in order to win their loyalty.

Reducing the number of hoops that people have to jump through to buy a product, the buttons they have to press, the registration windows they have to click through, and so on, and the more likely they are to see the experience as positive and decide to order again. Indeed, many customer relationship professionals now believe that reducing customer effort is a better predictor of loyalty than investing in customer satisfaction, net promoter scores, and so on.

The same principles apply to sourcing information about a product, solving a customer service problem, and even using the product itself.

Over the years, some marketers and customer relationship professionals have interpreted this as an instruction to never delight their customers, merely to make the experience of dealing with the company as straightforward and frictionless as possible.

As Moira Clark, Professor of Strategic Marketing at Henley Business School put it in an excellent in-depth report on customer effort,

“Effort is a cost, and so there is a trade-off between the effort the customer puts into something and the reward they expect to receive. The outcome of that trade-off influences their perceptions of how happy they are. Putting obstacles in the way of a commodity purchase, or making people jump through multiple hoops to access a simple service, makes people frustrated, because what they get in return doesn’t feel like compensation.”

To this I would add that trust – that most fragile and hard-to-define of qualities – is an equally important factor.

Recently I stopped shopping with a well-known clothing manufacturer online because their website mishandled my payment details, its customer feedback form was broken, and the customer service agent was unhelpful. The combined experience dissuaded me from buying anything from them – so much so that I cancelled my direct purchase and chose to pay more for the same branded item from a third-party retailer, which provided a much more secure, reliable, and effort-free service.

But what do we mean by effort?

Clark says that there are four main categories: cognitive effort (how much mental energy customers expend in dealing with your company); time effort (the measure of how much time customers believe something takes – “I was held in a queue for 20 minutes!”, when it was actually five, and so on); emotional effort (any anxiety, stress, or frustration they experience when dealing with your company), and physical effort (which applies to real-world, in-branch transactions, more than virtual ones).

A customer who believes that a company is difficult to deal with is much more likely to defect to a competitor than a customer who is in some way merely dissatisfied, she explains (as I found myself with my difficult clothing manufacturer).

According to Clark, Henley Business School’s detailed research into customer effort among both B2C and B2B companies has found that the key to implementing customer effort improvements is to ensure cross-functional support within the business. In other words, the whole organisation needs to work together to make life easier for customers, all the way from the ecommerce back end to the front-end customer contact system, service agents, and/or in-branch experience.

“There is no point in striving for excellence if other aspects of your service seem difficult and push customers away,” she explains. “Get the basics rights first and reduce the customer’s effort – which includes their mental and emotional effort as well as the time and/or physical energy it takes for them to do something.”

But while all of this is true, and supported by in-depth research among different types of organisation, it isn’t the whole story. The key is to reduce customer effort wherever it is too high, and to reduce service levels and costs where they (unnecessarily) exceed high expectations. Or as Clark puts it,

“Delight your customers, but only where they value it, rather than stop trying to delight your customers!”

This is one reason why many types of organisation are now beginning to think more and more about how their processes affect customers’ feelings, and less about the technology involved or whether something is being responded to quickly or efficiently. Put simply, customers like to feel appreciated just as much as they enjoy unimpeded, stress- and effort-light relationships.

The challenge, therefore, is to identify the point at which customers expect low- or high-effort experiences and deliver against those expectations. “

In general terms – with some exceptions – effort also links into perceptions of value for money. Customers are unlikely to spend more with difficult companies, but will opt to increase their spending with competitors that seem easier to do business with.”

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