According to the Henley Business School, customer effort is, “A customer’s perception of the amount of time and energy that they have to spend in an encounter with a brand/an organisation”. It is viewed as a non-monetary cost of consumption. In other words, effort can be seen as a positive and relevant input to a given exchange. Research has shown that consumers who put more effort into a particular activity have an increased likelihood of seeing it as a good decision.
They want to compensate for the amount of effort they have invested. So it’s fair to say that the more effort an individual exerts, the more they will expect in return.
Let’s consider the four types of customer effort:
#1 Cognitive effort: the mental energy required to process information
If an interaction isn't simple or it involves too much choice, our cognitive effort will be high. This discipline has been widely researched by several, interlinked schools of thought including psychology, marketing, economics and decision theory.
People strive to reduce cognitive effort all the time, without even realising they’re doing it. The amount of cognitive and mental effort associated with a particular decision can distort our perception of satisfaction.
For example, research has shown that people don’t always want the best answer, they often want one that incurs the least decision cost. When decision complexity is high, we can sometimes find ourselves backing away from the decision altogether.
#2 Time effort: how much time spent waiting, consuming and transacting
The amount of time that consumers think they will take in order to do something, is known as time effort - and often it is a perception, not a reality.
Studies have shown that consumers will overestimate the time they spend waiting - for example, in a queue. We all invest time in purchasing a product or service, sometimes involving a long queue, and view this as part of our monetary exchange.
Some have argued that waiting in a queue is simply a design issue. Factors that influence a customer’s reaction to waiting show that the physical environment, the service, the perceived fairness and the customer’s state of mind are all involved in their perceptions of time.
Suggesting that time effort isn’t just measuring the minutes, it’s about perception.
#3 Physical effort: how much energy it takes to do something
This component refers to the amount of physical energy we exert to complete a task, such as chugging our suitcase to the train station or going to the gym. Having to physically go to the bank to verify your identity rather than simply calling up the branch can be seen as a combination of physical effort and time effort.
#4 Emotional effort: How we weigh up negative versus positive emotional energy
Emotional effort is perhaps the hardest to translate into a cost. It involves all types of emotions, everything from anger, stress and anxiety to excitement, frustration and anticipation. They're all psychological costs related to an emotional effort. For example, applying for job vacancies can be time-consuming and involve emotional effort. We invest psychologically, hoping the stress of applying will produce an end result that is rewarding.
All four dimensions come together to create, ‘customer effort’ and each component can be used to develop easier customer journeys. The relationship between effort and involvement is hugely interlinked, with the perception of risk playing a part in decision making processes.
On the whole, purchases with low value involvement and high familiarity require little effort. They're simple and straightforward. But if customers set a goal with a particular brand, they are going to have a higher level of involvement and a higher perception of risk. Therefore, an individual’s perception - whether to take or avoid risk – can influence the amount of effort a consumer is willing to invest.