Dumbed Down CX: Just Make It Easy, Stupid!


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For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
— H. L. Mencken

Source: Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The CX movement has been going strong for more than a decade now. Unfortunately, less than 1/3 of CX initiatives have been truly successful — meaning organizations have seen tangible business results or competitive differentiation.

Apparently, some think the answer is simple: stop trying to “delight” customers and instead just make things as easy as possible. The answer to a complex problem is to dumb it down to something everyone can understand without thinking: Just make it easy!

Am I saying reducing effort is not important? Or that you should try to “delight” customers on every interaction? Of course not. That would be equally stupid!

Origin of the “Stop Delighting” Myth

I’m dismayed that a respected publisher like HBR would allow a clickbait headline like Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers. If you actually read the 2010 article, you’ll find that a more accurate title would be “Stop Placating Your Customers, Get It Right the First Time.” The study is based on a grand total of 100 customer service heads in a contact center. As I reported in my rebuttal:

The CEB study found that 89 of 100 customer service heads wanted to exceed customer expectations, with extras like “offering a refund, a free product, or a free service such as expedited shipping.” Yet 84% of customers didn’t feel their expectations were exceeded. As a result: customers were “only marginally more loyal than simply meeting their needs.”

What’s wrong with this? When something doesn’t work as expected, giving an accommodation is not exceeding customer expectations — it’s making up for not meeting customer expectations. But the CEB (now part of Gartner) slapped “delight” on this behavior in a contact center scenario and concluded delight is a waste of time. Wow.

Stop Delighting 2.0

And now, this nonsense is being repeated as a CX factoid. One example is this recent post on CustomerThink, where a CRM analyst is quoted as saying: “You simply cannot delight your customers all the time.”

Well, duh. This is a strawman argument — a fallacy presented to justify another approach. Because you can’t delight customers all of the time, you should focus on making things easy instead.

The problem: Delight is by definition something that is a surprise. So, saying you can’t delight customers all the time is like saying you can’t make the sun rise in the west each morning. True but meaningless. I’ve asked for examples of delight-all-the-time companies, and so far have received none. Because it makes no sense to delight all the time. So no one does it. There’s no need to stop doing something no one is doing.

A second argument I see a lot is: “OMG, think of the expense! We’ll delight ourselves out of business!” The answer, apparently, is to just do what the customer asks and no more.

The problem: When you deliver just what the customer expects the result is a “satisfied” customer, but not one is that is necessarily loyal. Also, your competitors are trying to steal your customers by offering more. That’s why elite brands are constantly innovating. True loyalty (retention plus advocacy) requires exceeding customer expectations some of the time (delight), which creates a positive feeling.

Or so says Warren Buffett, one of the richest men alive:

“Any business with delighted customers has a sales force they won’t have to pay; You don’t see them, but they are talking to people all the time.”

Finally, not all forms of delight cost money. How expensive is it to smile? Show customers empathy? Flexibility? The “delight is too expensive” argument is just an excuse for lack of creativity and innovation.

Why “Easy” Matters

Kano Model

None of this is to suggest that being easy or delivering what’s expected is not important. Being easy is increasingly a “hygiene” expectation (thank you, Amazon). If routine interactions require too much effort, customers may look elsewhere.

So, just stop there, and all good? That depends on the goal for your business.

If your competitors are also trying to make things easy via digital transformation or whatever, your competitive position won’t change. This is probably one reason that CX improvement is stagnating, according to Forrester’s report “How Brands Build Loyalty With The Quality Of Their Experience” which found 48% of brands in “lockstep” — not changing competitive position.

If you’re not interested in improving your competitive position, then don’t waste your time reading the remainder of this article. Just make it easy, and you’re done!

But before you click away, you might want to consider that, aside from Gartner/CEB’s research, there is no evidence that focusing on effort is the key to customer loyalty. Loyalty expert Timothy Keiningham pointed me to a 2015 article in International Journal of Research in Marketing, “The Predictive Ability of Different Customer Feedback Metrics for Retention.” He summarizes the results as (where CES = Customer Effort Score):

1) “CES by itself has no real predictive power as it relates to customer retention, and 2) CES must be used in combination with CSAT, which results in the strongest predictive power.”

Therefore: “CES is not a better predictor of ‘loyalty’ given that it can’t predict one of the most important behavioral dimensions of loyalty, i.e. retention.”

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

Why Emotions Matter

If you’re uncomfortable using the word “delight,” then think about positive emotions instead. Because a number of studies have found that emotion has an outsized impact on customer loyalty. For example, according to Forrester’s CX Index 2018 report, the firm studied the impact of effectiveness, ease, and emotion on customer loyalty (retention, enrichment, advocacy) and concluded:

Emotion has a bigger impact on brand loyalty than effectiveness or ease in every industry. Elite brands provided about 22 emotionally positive experiences for each negative one; the bottom 5% of brands provided only two emotionally positive experiences for each negative one.

Forrester analyst Rick Parrish says it’s critical for brands to really understand loyalty drivers (most don’t) and move beyond the “find and fix” tactics to create true differentiation. This diagram shows how CX elements relate to different types of loyalty.

Source: Forrester

Furthermore, he recommends that each brand identify specific positive emotions they want to generate. A bank, for example, might want their customers to feel valued. A utility — probably not the first place to look for delight — could strive for customers to feel confident. Parrish points out that the emotions don’t have to be extreme, and most aren’t. Common emotions include:

  • Positive: Appreciated, confident, grateful, happy respectful, valued
  • Negative: annoyed, disappointed, frustrated

Can “low effort” generate some of these emotions? Yes! Again, it depends on customer expectations. When I contacted AAA for a car battery replacement, and the entire process took less than an hour, I was delighted because I expected an ordeal. But when I use an ATM, I expect it to work fast and easy. Most routine transactions are rapidly heading in this direction, where “easy” is an expectation.

Gartner’s View(s) on CX Strategy

Gartner (via CEB acquisition in 2017) is the source of the “stop delighting” meme. It makes sense for Gartner to embrace low-effort CX because it’s largely driven by technology. But there is not exactly a unified view at the firm.

Gartner analyst Ed Thompson, with decades of CRM and CX experience, was the inspiration for the “stop delight” CustomerThink post mentioned earlier. Based on a presentation he gave in Sydney, he reportedly advised: “Don’t delight, don’t innovate, and don’t correlate data, because those customer experience strategies have very limited returns.”

To summarize a lengthy email interview, his point is simply this: Most companies aren’t mature enough to focus on emotions. Their CX efforts would be better served by focusing on the basics, such as making things easier. He has a point. A number of studies (including my own) find the majority of CX efforts are immature. Focusing on basics is a good place to start. But that’s not necessarily the place to finish. I think it’s harmful to suggest that delight and innovation are a waste of time.

Augie Ray, another Gartner analyst focused on CX (there are many), says the CEB research was largely misinterpreted. Initially focused on customer service, it has been more recently expanded to include other routine experiences like buying online. But, he says “it’s incorrect to throw delight out the window” — it can work for certain brands (e.g. Disney) or situations that add value.

in a July 2018 report unveiling the “Gartner CX Pyramid” you’ll find this:

Successful CX programs don’t just find and reduce problems in current customer journeys; they also detect and resolve unmet customer needs and wants in innovative ways.

Ray recommends using this pyramid as a framework to find ways to improve customer experiences. “Each level, from bottom to top, defines an incrementally stronger way to forge relationships between your brand and your customers based on the way you listen for, understand, act on and solve customer needs.”

Source: Gartner

Reducing effort is a good place to start because it’s foundational. But Ray also points out examples of hugely successful companies that add effort. Like IKEA, which requires customers to assemble furniture. The key is “smart” CX — know where customers want effortless and where they will value delight.

Doing More vs. Being Different

Maybe you admire Amazon, I know I do. As a consumer, I love the convenience and ease. But I also shop at Best Buy and numerous other brick and mortar retailers because convenience is not the only thing that matters. Neither is low cost.

The end-to-end customer experience includes a lot of touchpoints. Some good choices to reduce effort, others opportunities for innovation and delight. What about customer service? I asked industry experts to weigh in.

Steve DiGioia, a 20-year veteran of the hospitality industry, says: “Most service can be mechanical when we focus mainly on the specific steps-of-service to be taken and forget what’s really important; how we make a customer feel special, feel appreciated and how disappointed we are when we fail them.” He shared a story about intervening after a poor dining experience, inviting a couple to be his guest at a banquet. The gesture turned things around, resulting in many repeat visits by the couple and their friends and family members over three years.

That personal touch may not scale in all situations, according to Jeremy Watkin of outsourcer FCR. He believes that it’s generally better to focus on reducing effort and just do what was promised. He contends: “Wowing customers in a way that goes viral is a nice thought but I’m not sure it’s sustainable when agents interact with hundreds daily.” However, he also noted one example of a high CSAT client that “sends handwritten thank you notes to customers” along with adopting a number of other great practices.

Customer loyalty expert Chip Bell advocates a shift in thinking about delight from value-added to “value-unique — creating an experience that is unique, unexpected, innovative, essentially the ingenuity effect.” However, he says it requires “a culture that is resourced, encouraged, and trained to be resourceful and inventive.” Those lacking such a culture, or unwilling to invest in creating one, will have a hard time executing a value-unique CX strategy, in my view.

Making a similar point, Purple Goldfish author Stan Phelps stresses that “delight is not standing on your head, it’s all about differentiation.” In some cases, low effort can be delightful — when it’s different. Like TD Bank which is open seven days a week and opens early and closes late to accommodate customers. As for just meeting expectations, he says “smart companies are trying to stay above expectations — they are always rethinking experience to find little ways to raise the bar.”

What’s Your CX Strategy?

Unless you plan to be the next Amazon or Walmart, you might want to look beyond “being easy” as a means to differentiate. Here are a few ideas to stimulate some thinking.

Some brands make the “extras” part of the expected experience, like free samples at Trader Joe’s. Even though it’s not a surprise, each time I visit a store they have something new to sample. Perhaps one out ten times I buy the featured item, but it still helps differentiate the brand.

Give your employees some latitude to “make things right” and engage with customers authentically. That’s one reason why I love flying Southwest, despite the utilitarian flight experience. Say it with me: What is the cost of a smile?

Research competitors. Look at other industries. You might be surprised that you can create loyalty-building “memorable moments” with a reasonable investment. For more on this, view this video of a presentation by Chip Heath, co-author of The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact:

There’s no simple answer here. But I can say this for certain: If you and your competitors follow the same “just make it easy” CX strategy, you’ll all end up in the same place. Is that where you want to be?


  1. Bob –

    A really timely, informative, and much-needed post. Having experienced the original thinking behind customer advocacy measurement (https://www.slideshare.net/lowen42/wragg-lowenstein-customer-advocacy) annexed and usurped by those who believe that recommendation is the metric cure for the common cold, your observations really resonate with me.

    Ease, as a concept, is an important value basic; but, per the thinking behind Kano’s model, it has become fairly one-dimensional and expected. When insufficiently provided, it performs more as a perceptual negative. On an emotional experience value delivery level, it is moderately positive, but little more. It also tends to be more narrowly service-focused rather than applicable across the entire customer experience landscape.

    Doing the small, personalized, often unanticipated things in a transaction or throughout the experience has proven, over time, to differentiate excellent value delivery from the commonplace. There is strong evidence of this in multiple industries. It is also consistent with Kano’s ideas. Think Southwest Airlines, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, Metro Bank and Umpqua Bank, Zappos, Amazon, etc. As you note, building positive emotional ‘extras’ into the CX strategy is the key. It also needs to be baked into the enterprise culture and employee behavior, which is why I so often quote books like The Customer Comes Second, Firms of Endearment, and Conscious Capitalism.

    Again, great post. I hope it stirs some dialogue.


  2. Bob, I agree with Michael that your article is timely and informative. I am amazed at how many barriers even large companies put in the way of a simple and intuitive purchase experience. As you say, if something that should be a routine experience requires too much effort, consumers will proceed to the next option. Meeting customer expectations (being easy) is “table stakes”. First get that right and you can then differentiate from there.

  3. Hi Bob,
    I agree with Michael and Christopher, great article. It usually doesn’t take much to make a difference in the customer experience, as you rightly pointed out about the cost of a smile. But at times we look past the many small steps we can take to make a difference while thinking we must provide major WOW’s in order to be effective.

    Using my example of the customer who had a poor dining experience (and thank you for including my contribution to this article), sometimes the acknowledgment that we’ve failed the customer has as big of a positive effect as the resolution itself.

    Well done and thanks again.


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