A while back, my teammates and I spent hours in a conference room mulling over the concept of effortless experience. Prior to this, we had all read the book, “The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty,” and one question came out of it: Is effortless really enough? 

While some data says yes, other research says no. 

So we got together to dissect both sides of the argument and come to our own conclusion. From the title of this article, it shouldn’t be a spoiler if I tell you now that we decided effortless experience is not all that matters when it comes to cultivating customer loyalty. 

I could go on about our reasoningwhich I willbut I want you to make up your own mind. So I’ll provide the reasoning behind both positions, starting with the argument for the effortless experience. 

The argument for an effortless experience 

Gartner published a comprehensive article highlighting the key reasons why an effortless experience is the best approach for businesses. 

The article states that customer delight (in other words, exceeding expectations) won’t bring customers back to your brand. Rather, customer loyalty depends on how easy you make it for your customers to do business with you.

They summarize the four key findings that prove the value of an effortless experience approach: 

  • Finding no. 1: The delight strategy doesn’t improve revenue and there is no need for it⁠—loyalty doesn’t increase when customers are delighted. And in fact, the book argues that it costs more to delight. 
  • Finding no. 2: Customer satisfaction doesn’t predict loyalty as well as brands believe. The book states that 20% of customers who reported being satisfied also reported they intended to leave the company. 
  • Finding no. 3: Customer service interactions drive more disloyalty than loyalty, in general. Which emphasizes the need for an effortless customer service interaction. 
  • Finding no. 4: The key to mitigating disloyalty is to reduce customer effort. In fact, 96% of high-effort experiences result in disloyalty, compared to 9% of low-effort experiences resulting in disloyalty. 

These are all solid points, right? No argument here. 

The book makes two specific arguments that are key: 

  1. We pick companies because of their products but we leave because of their service failures. 
  2. Loyalty is influenced by many touchpoints across the journey–service happens to be one of those touchpoints–and one that is far more likely to lead to disloyalty. 

Do you see the pattern?

The findings in this book are solid, but for the most part, they’re related to the service experience. What about the rest of the customer journey? Is an effortless service interaction enough?

Why effortless experience is not enough 

There is a statement in the “Effortless Experience” book that really caught my attention: The impact of service experience on loyalty is far greater when the customer does not have an extremely strong attachment to the product.

Reading this told me that effort is not the only important element of great customer experience; a strong emotional connection to the brand is also key. 

So I did some digging and found the opposing view on effortless experience. In particular, I found an article by Forrester that did a great job at breaking down this concept. 

Forrester argues that ease, speed, and convenience (which all fall under effortless) alone are not enough to build an emotionally resonating experience that develops customer loyalty. 

The idea is that ease, or the effortless experience, should be looked at as a transition metriccompanies will need to move to more emotionally driven metrics, eventually. 

According to Forrester’s CX Index, a CX program must touch on three key elements to establish customer loyalty: 

  • Emotion: Customers feel good about the experience.
  • Effectiveness: The experience delivers value.
  • Ease: It’s not difficult for customers to get value from the experience.

For every type of engagement, CX professionals need to consider whether an easy interaction makes customers feel valued. In other words, will they leave with a sense of meaning, purpose, and validation? Most of the time the answer will be no.

Now prepare yourself, the facts are coming out…

Rick Parrish, a Principal Analyst at Forrester focused on CX, found in a 2018 consumer study that emotion had a bigger impact than effectiveness or ease:

Elite brands provided about 22 emotionally positive experiences for each negative one; the bottom 5% of brands provided only two emotionally positive experiences for each negative one.

A case in point is TurboTax, says Parrish, which found striving to minimize clicks actually hurt consumer experiences and hence loyalty. A more loyalty-building approach features TurboTax adding an extra step to ask “How are you feeling about doing your taxes?” Subsequent dialogs are customized based on whether the answer is good, not so good, or don’t ask.

After filing taxes with TurboTax, customers are left on a high note by receiving a congratulatory message and assurance they are finished with the process. According to Parrish, “traditional designers would balk at that, since it adds pages, clicks, and wait times, but it improves the experience.”

This example proves that emotion can be designed into automated processes. Common positive emotions include: appreciated, confident, grateful, happy respectful, and valued, according to Forrester’s research. Brands should design for emotions they want to generate, and not assume that being easy is the only thing that matters, nor that every touchpoint requires a wow.

But it’s not just Forrester’s research that puts an emphasis on emotion. 

CustomerThink, an independent research firm, found that while process improvements are often necessary, the best CX initiatives also bring emotion into the mix. 

In their research, when asked to select very important attributes of experiences that drive customer loyalty, functional attributes dominated with 83% of all respondents selecting easy. However, the best CX initiatives prioritized emotional and human attributes much more highly. See below.

CustomerThink--cx-attributes

Emotional connections will help the bottom line. In fact, 70% of emotionally engaged consumers spend up to two times or more on brands they are loyal to, compared to less than half (49%) of consumers with low emotional engagement.

I brought these findings to my team and together we came to our own conclusions, which we now apply to our own CX strategy.

Key takeaways 

That was a lot to read, I know, so here is a very high-level recap of the two different viewpoints. 

Those in favor of prioritizing the effortless experience believe that effortlessness drives a great customer experience and loyalty. Mostly because it is tied to service experience which, according to them, has the most significant impact on loyalty.

Those not in favor believe that, although the effort is important, emotion is the key driver of CX and customer loyalty.  

Based on everything learned, my team and I came up with these key takeaways:  

  • Low-effort is the foundation of any great customer experience, but it’s not the only element. Emotion should always be at the forefront of your CX strategy, accompanied by customization, ease, effectiveness, etc. 
  • The importance of an effortless experience will vary by department. For instance, it’s extremely important in service, but less when it comes to product development, where effectiveness is extremely important.
  • Although the value of effort varies by department, it should still apply to all touchpoints across the customer journey. 
  • In some circumstances, delighting your customers does prove to increase business costs, but not always. Exceeding expectations shouldn’t be the main goal, just like low-effort shouldn’t be, but it’s important to find a place for it in your program. This is where the emotional connection and human touch really goes a long way. 
  • Just like effort, the need to delight customers will vary by department. It’s less important in service, but very relevant in customer success.
  • Don’t try to delight all customers across all touchpoints. Instead, prioritize specific interactions and groups. For instance, giving a little extra, personalized love to Promoters will go a long way.

Want to know what else we have to say about customer experience? Check out: An Article on CX That Actually Makes Sense. If you’re interested in learning more about customer loyalty, the free guide below is a perfect starting point.

Guide to Boosting Customer Loyalty

Learn how to use customer loyalty metrics (NPS, CES, and CSAT) to improve customer experience and increase retention rates.

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