By Piers Lee, Managing Director at BVA BDRC Asia

Image by headwayio (Unsplash)

The BVA Group recently held its Reframing Value for Brands event, bringing together CX/UX/behavioural science professionals in Singapore. BVA BDRC showcased its current developments in UX research specifically around their analysis of ‘customer effort’ and its applications to product and service design.

Customer effort is a metric that is increasingly used by organisations, and it is deemed to be a far better predictor of repeat custom than customer satisfaction ratings and even Net Promoter Scoring. The theory is that the easier a brand makes it for their customers to use a product or service, the more the customer will use it; and the easier it is to onboard the customer, the higher the conversion rate to sales. 

This is even more salient in the age of ‘self-serve’, be it in online applications/purchasing, e-banking, or self-serve kiosks where brands need to avoid the customer ‘dropping out’. Product simplicity is also a major draw for products like Apple’s, with their user-friendly functionality. When Amazon moved into physical retail, it set out to make the retail experience as ‘hassle-free’ as possible by not having checkouts – the items you take out of the store are automatically billed to your phone.

However, using customer effort analysis requires a much deeper understanding of the customer experience itself. BVA BDRC has applied its CEPT Model as a framework for analysing the stresses and micro-stresses consumers can experience when using products and services. 

The CEPT Model uses the four main types of customer effort as a framework for analysis: C, Cognitive Effort; E, Emotional Effort; P, Physical Effort; and T, Time Effort. BDRC explained that when applying this to usability research, it is important to break these effort types down further by analysing the experience customers have on a range of other measures.

Cognitive Effort can result in tiredness (if there is too much thinking), frustration (if a task is not completed), and even humiliation (if it seems that they as the customer are failing to understand). Hence it is important to measure levels of frustration, stress, and confusion when the customer is using a product or service, typically via in-the-moment surveys, and in more detail by self-ethnography and in-depth usability interviews.

Emotional Effort can be specific to service interactions that make customers angry or feel mental harm or the fear of loss, particularly financial. For example, in the event of losing a credit card, customers are gripped by the fear of someone else using it to make unauthorised transactions. Hence, making it easy to cancel a card and get a replacement adds to the perceived value of the card service provider. 

Physical Effort applies if there is an irritative level of physical effort to use a product. Badly designed luggage, furniture, packaging, or even clothing and footwear can result in unwanted physical effort. The popularity of Crocs footwear, for example, is in part due to the ease with which users can put them on and take them off!

Time Effort is where there are ‘unacceptable’ levels of waiting time for the delivery of a product or service, or when the waiting time is not sufficiently managed. When ordering a car from Grab, the company ensures that the waiting passenger knows how long they have to wait, and the user can track the car’s progress towards picking them up. 

The subtleties of customer effort

Brands also need to understand some of the nuances of customer effort, whereby increasing effort can add value to products and services.

Expectations of waiting times depend on the context and the category – e.g. we seek fast service in quick-service restaurants, but if service is too fast in a fine-dining restaurant, it can detract from the perceived value of the product.

The so-called ‘Ikea effect’ is where the effort expended by customers in building the furniture adds to the perceived value of the end product. The same principle applies in the fast-growing category of meal kit delivery services. We are all used to home-delivered prepared meals, but with meal kits the raw ingredients are delivered in the right portions along with cooking instructions, meaning the customer gets fresh food with no waste and the added satisfaction of having prepared it themselves. Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are two companies operating in this space, and the value of this category is expected to hit $20 billion by 2027.

Using analytical frameworks like the BDRC CEPT Model helps to identify and diagnose the types of customer effort in order to:

• Focus on the barriers/frictions that matter

• Prioritise actions that maximise value/minimise costs/manage customer expectations

• Find selling points for the products and services of brands 

This article was first published in the Q2 2023 edition of Asia Research Media

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