“The Effortless Experience” Book Review

Summary:  The book The Effortless Experience presents a great deal of “findings” to support their argument that companies should reduce customer disloyalty by creating more seamless experiences. The recommendations are logical and are likely to do no harm, but the authors are on very shaky ground claiming their research demonstrates a causal link between customer effort and loyalty – and that therefore the Customer Effort Score is a loyalty predictor.

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The authors never present in any depth or clarity the research methodology, the statistical analysis or even the statistics generated — just their interpretation of many questionable statistics.  What are the flaws? 1) The research model is weak. 2) The execution of the research is questionable. 3) Their understanding of statistical analysis is dubious.

Take the findings with a grain of salt the size of Texas. And please think about the research they describe.

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As someone who had read the 2010 Harvard Business Review article “Stop Delighting Your Customers,” I was intrigued that the authors now had a book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty.  I was looking forward to reading it not so much to find out what new things they have found, but rather I was hoping to find out more about the research methodology behind their findings.

The research methodology description in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article was so sparse that I simply could not accept their findings though others, including companies paying good money to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), accepted the findings with little critical thought to their validity. As someone with a foot in the academic world, we allegedly develop “critical thinking skills” in our students. The industry response to that HBR article made me question our success. But certainly a book would afford space for a proper description of the research they did and present some details about the statistics that were behind their intriguing findings.

Alas, the research methodology description in the book is about as sparse as in the HBR article. They devote less than a page to describing “Our Methodology In Brief,” which is mostly geared to making us feel impressed that they got 97,000 responses. Having read the book and read “between the lines” to infer the research process, which the authors force us to do from their scattered presentation, I am yet more skeptical about the findings from this group and about their ability to execute sound research.

In an ironic twist, the authors in writing this book violate the very prescriptions they give their readers. They try to “Wow!” their readers will all kinds of “delightful” statistics, yet for the intelligent reader trying to understand the research behind the findings, this is truly a “high effort experience”. There is nothing seamless about the transition from research description to statistical analysis to findings and prescriptions. You would have to “switch channels” from the book and apply truth serum to whoever designed this weak research effort and generated the statistics to understand the research.

If you read the book and loved it, seriously ask yourself if you know what they did to support their prescriptions. Why the sparse description? Is it because they don’t think readers care or can understand the analysis? Did they not know how to provide an accurate and complete description? Are they hiding what they know to be a weak research stream?  Are they blind to the shortcomings? The latter is the scariest one and unfortunately the probable one given my read of the book.

So, let’s start with some positives from the book. 

First, the idea that you should reduce customers’ effort in doing business with you is simply a common sense no-brainer. (Whether it’s a predictor of loyalty… Well, that’s a different story. Keep reading.) A customer won’t be satisfied, let alone loyal, if a company creates high customer effort. We’ve all been there.

The message basically is to “pick the low hanging fruit.”  If you’ve had any exposure to quality initiatives, you’re probably familiar with that metaphor. If you were going to pick apples, which ones would you pick first? Logically, you’d pick the best looking apples that were within arm’s reach – the low hanging fruit. In a quality improvement initiative, the same logic holds. Go for the easy wins with a good payback and little risk. Reducing customer effort is a juicy apple in easy reach.

Second, their research indicates that customers do more “channel switching” than most companies believe. Most customers will attempt a resolution of their issue first by the web and then call if necessary. In fact, while on the phone, the customer may well be on the website as well. I do that. Effortless proposes that companies are mistaken to segment customers into chat, web, or phone customers. In fact, most use more than one, and the movement to web first is happening faster than companies believe.

Third, Effortless also argues that this switching corrupts First Contact Resolution (FCR) statistics. If a customer starts on the web and then switches to a phone resolution, a check mark should not be placed in the FCR column. True, and this shows even more the flawed data model in customer management systems that don’t recognize multiple contact points under one incident number.

Fourth, Effortless suggests that contact center agents should guide the customer through the resolution process to leave them more knowledgeable about how to resolve issues on their own in the future. This makes eminent sense, especially if the customer is contemporaneously on the web. A Fidelity agent did this with me recently. This is part of “next issue avoidance,” which is an area near and dear to my heart as a long-time researcher on the impact of product design upon customer experience.

The book has other positive points, but let’s turn to the big issue.

  • Have they proven that customer effort drives or predicts customer loyalty?
  • Should you be using the Customer Effort Score (CES) in your transactional surveys (in place of the Net Promoter Score®) to identify customers who will or will not be loyal?
  • Have they truly identified a new metric to which we should pay homage as we have done with NPS?

I can certainly see using CES on a transactional survey to identify an at-risk customer, but their claims for CES as a predictor of customer loyalty are simply unfounded. (In fact, they even say that!)  Those companies that use CES as a loyalty predictor may be mislead.

Why do I say CES is not a proven loyalty predictor?

  • The research model is weak. Measures of actual loyalty are not part of the model. If you don’t measure actual loyal behaviors, you cannot have a good predictor of loyalty.
  • The research design, especially the questionnaire design, and execution are flawed. Even the authors agree that they lack proficiency in writing valid survey questions! But more issues exist.
  • Their application of statistics is flawed. The authors simply do not have a good understanding of statistical processes or the correct interpretation of the statistics they produce. If the statistical interpretations in this book were the final exam in a college statistics class, the student would get a B-. Perhaps.

Let me address each of these in depth on the subsequent web pages, linked below.

And I will apologize for the depth of treatment — sort of. One of my prime criticisms of The Effortless Experience is the paucity of information about their research initiatives. I don’t want to be guilty of the same light treatment of critical information the reader needs to make a reasoned judgment.

For those who don’t wish to read further and apply the CES “just because,” Caveat Emptor.

For the inquisitive, let’s look behind the curtain.

See the related articles:
1. Weak & Flawed Research Model
2. Questionnaire Design & Survey Administration Issues
3. Statistical Errors