Lower Perceived Effort to Improve Your CX

The Most Important Behavioral Principle to Improve Customer Experience

A bad customer experience can drive your customers away. And what is the greatest factor behind good CX? The effort that customers think they need to make. With the right use of behavioral economics, you can easily make that feel lower. 

In this article, you’ll discover:

  • Why an optimal customer experience is better than a great customer experience and how to achieve one;
  • How to make the actions customers need to take look way easier than they actually are; and
  • How a job-search portal increased the number of CVs sent to them by 154% simply by using the right words.
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Imagine the following situation: It’s 6:00 PM and you are about to leave the last Zoom call of the day. It’s your 7th call today, you’re tired and can’t wait to just shut down your brain and relax (sound familiar so far?)

But there’s one last task you still have to do - to return the shoes you bought for your partner for Christmas, as they’re the wrong size. You bought them online, so you need to send them back.

First, you decide to look up the return policy, but lord, it takes forever to find it on their website! But the true horror only comes after you actually click on it. What you see is a mass of unstructured text. From the first sentence, it’s clear that there’s a ton of hard-to-understand, bureaucratic language ahead. 

That’s it. Even if you weren’t exhausted, this would just make you angry. Now, you just close the website and refuse to go through this torture. But then you realize that you really want your money back, so you decide to spend the next several minutes in pain.

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Perceived Effort: How Easy Things Feel Matters More Than How Easy They Really Are
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Perceived effort is one of the main drivers of customer experience 

After an experience like this, would you come back to this site to buy again? The chances are you wouldn't. 

Psychologists have invested a lot of time in finding out what constitutes the optimal customer experience. And it’s not a coincidence that you just read optimal. Not great, not terrific, but optimal. Why? Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and, Rick DeLisi summed it up in their book The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty. 

Perceived Effort

The perceived effort is not about what your customers have to do, but how difficult they feel it is. It can be easily changed with the right choice of words or structure of information.

The research shows that there is little difference in loyalty between customers whose expectations are met and those whose expectations are exceeded. 

But there is a difference between those satisfied with the customer service and those who weren’t. 

So, the question is, what drives that dissatisfaction? 

The answer is not that hard to find. The authors’ research showed that what customers really look for is indeed an effortless experience. They want a solution, and they want it now. Without too much effort, and as quickly as possible. 

It’s no surprise they don’t want to switch between channels and look for answers for hours. If they can ease their pain quickly and effortlessly, their satisfaction goes up and they are much more likely to come back.

So far it makes sense, doesn’t it? How would you feel if you wanted to downgrade your Netflix subscription plan, but to do so you had to fill out the longest form and call a customer service line that’s only available for a couple of hours per day? Not great, right? 

Fortunately, this is not the case, and Netflix assures you that downgrading is seamless right away during the registration process. But that’s a story for another time.

However, there’s one thing that isn’t that obvious. The objective obstacles in customer service account only for a third of how difficult customers think something is. And the other two-thirds? That’s how customers feel about it.

The effort that customers perceive is even more important than the objective effort
The effort that customers perceive is even more important than the objective effort. Source: InsideBE

Why is that? Our brains simply don’t like hard work. You’ve surely noticed that yourself already. Every time you need to do something that you’re really not looking forward to, you’d rather go on YouTube and spend the next half an hour watching random scenes from The Office.

Even if it’s just a 15-minute task, our brains are constantly evaluating how difficult it will be with one goal in mind - to preserve energy. The task doesn't need to be objectively hard, but if it looks horrible, we perceive the required effort as much higher than it will actually be. 

To be more scientific about it - the harder it is to process the information, the harder the action seems to be. 

In a study by Song and Schwarz, two groups were provided with a text explaining a simple workout routine. One of them was given a difficult-to-read  script, while the other was given an easy-to-read Arial font:

Easy to read and hard to read instructions. The harder it is to process, the harder the action will seem.
Easy to read and hard to read instructions. The harder it is to process, the harder the action will seem. Source: Song and Schwarz

When the instructions were written in Arial, people estimated it would take about 8 minutes to perform the exercise. Those who read the message written in the hard-to-read script estimated it would take about 15 minutes and were less willing to incorporate it into their daily activities.

Tips to lower perceived effort and improve customer experience

So, to improve your CX, you need to decrease both objective and subjective effort. With the objective effort, it’s a bit easier. You need to get rid of friction and make the desired behavior as easy to do as possible. 

However, to lower the perceived effort, you need to make it feel easy. There are a couple of ways to do that.

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