How hard do you make it for customers to deal with you?

What you need to know:

  • Jeff Bezos knew that the easier he made it for his customers, the more likely they were to use Amazon as a default.

So do you address customer effort and friction systematically? The folks at the UK’s Henley Business School have thought of an easy-to-use framework for you.

To answer the question “how easy are we to do business with?” they ask you to focus on customer ease – but in two ways.

First, there is the objective time and energy customers spend on any encounter with your brand or organisation; but also, there is the intangible perception customers hold about how easy you are to deal with.

Customers interact with organisations in many ways: they try to get information from them; they buy their stuff; they use what they buy; and they deal with issues that arise after buying.

If they feel that they have to expend too much energy in some or all of those encounters, their perception of value dissipates. You cost them too much in extra effort to be worth their while.

Henley’s Centre for Customer Management has found four types of energy customers expend in dealing with you, using the acronym CEPT (pronounced “kept” for ease of recall).

First, there’s cognitive energy – the mental effort of figuring out your offerings or making decisions. Next, think about emotional energy, which is the anxiety or stress or frustration they might experience in encounters with your organisation. Thirdly, physical energy: travelling to get to you, or carrying heavy loads. And lastly, time energy: how long it takes to wait, or transact, or consume.

So, if your company befuddles customers with complicated information; if it annoys or vexes them; if it makes them come long distances and expend much time in dealing with you; then guess what?

You score very poorly on customer ease. And this will cost you.

Henley’s research suggests that rather than making too much effort “delighting” or “wowing” your customers, you should first just make sure you don’t overburden or annoy them! Use CEPT when mapping the journeys customers make in dealing with you, to see where you have unnecessary pain points.

This applies equally to those businesses who sell to other businesses – B2B companies. You have to first and foremost be easy to deal with, across all departments.

Most of your customers, whatever you sell, are busy, stressed-out people. They face many frictions and challenges in their daily lives. They will, therefore, react very negatively to any business that makes them waste even more mental, emotional, physical, or time energy.

On the other hand, businesses that are easy to deal with are favoured greatly because they make life a little easier. Those services and products that provide great customer ease become habits – they are purchased as a matter of course, without too much thought. They just work.

Some of the greatest thinkers around customer experience have known this fact, instinctively. Apple’s Steve Jobs made simplicity and ease of use core features of all his offerings – as important as the “wow” side of surprisingly great functionality.

Jeff Bezos knew that the easier he made it for his customers, the more likely they were to use Amazon as a default.

My neighbourhood shop guy knows it too. Give customers fewer things to think about. Predict their needs by studying their lives. Make it easy by taking the goods to them, quickly. Oh, and don’t annoy them. Smile and be friendly, a lot. They will like all of that. Kaching!

So what stops you, big-firm bosses? Why do you find every reason to not make your organisations easier to deal with – it costs too much, I don’t have the right people, my customers are too annoying, it’s the regulator’s fault, etc? Why don’t you sit down tomorrow with your team, map out some typical customer journeys and use the CEPT framework to find the pain points?

I guarantee you will find some big, glaring, unnecessary ways in which you are making the customer do too much work.