I remember in my school days teachers would tell my mom, the kid has the potential that if he put in a little more effort, I would easily get a higher grade. What I’ve been asking myself, also from the point of view of Customer Experience Management, even if putting in more effort could lead to better results, exactly how much effort is involved? How does our brain interpret and define that effort? So much has been written about the Customer Effort Score, but are we sure that our brain can interpret, analyze and measure exactly the effort we want to summarize in a KPI?

Our everyday actions, the “doing”, can be classified into demanding or automatic actions. Demanding actions can be seen as the opposite of automatic actions. If I have to move from one desk to another in my office, I don’t need much reasoning. On the contrary, if I want to undertake a walk of several hours in the mountain, the reasoning is not more automatic and requires a certain effort. In this case, the effort will be purely physical, but there are also actions that involve a cognitive effort, as well as a mix of the two. The effort of reading a physics text is particularly complicated and requires an effort of thinking (cognitive effort). Cognitive effort is the thinking effort you put into achieving a complicated task.

If we had to choose between a physical effort related to a challenging (non-automatic) action and a cognitive effort we should infer that we would easily prefer the latter: there is no physical effort. However, this is not always the case. But why should exerting a cognitive effort be unpleasant? Or at least more unpleasant than a physical effort related to a demanding action? How do we make the decision to exert cognitive effort, and what happens in our brains when that decision is made?

Oddly enough, it all comes down to the costs and benefits associated with that specific effort. Sort of like the P&L of effort. Imagine you have a math test tomorrow that you need to study for. How much cognitive effort will you have to consider? Eventually, the reasoning focuses on effort and benefits: how much effort is costing me toward the benefits I will enjoy.

In our specific case, the ultimate benefit is to pass the math exam possibly with a good grade. Passing the exam is the minimum goal, getting a good grade brings further benefits, in my case making my mother happy (actually it never happened!). The cost is clearly related to the level of cognitive effort I will have to exert – to get a good grade I will have to study (think) more.

So it could be reduced to a mathematical equation: the sum of costs and benefits results in a certain value. If by increasing the costs (cognitive effort) I get more benefits, then I will evaluate them and ask myself if it is worth increasing the costs. In the end, the more we value something, the more cognitive effort we are likely to put into it.

Two regions of the brain are employed to solve the equation. Each with its own specific purposes. One specific brain region reports the potential benefits, another area calculates the cost of the cognitive effort, and then they work together to exchange information. Thus, in our example, your brain weighs the costs (cognitive effort) and benefits (a good grade) of studying and then calculates how much you value getting a good grade and, consequently, whether it is worth studying. Researchers think this information exchange occurs in a third area, a brain area where costs and benefits are weighted.

Our brain then calculates the cost of the effort and compares it to the benefits. Simply, the brain considers cognitive effort to be costly. As a result, too much effort is typically unpleasant. Accepting something unpleasant must bring some benefit, if not it immediately discards the willingness to deal with the effort.

But if we bring all this reasoning in terms of Customer Experience, what factors does the brain consider to calculate our cognitive and physical effort towards the relationship we have in place with a certain company’s product or service?

In a paper published with my friend Gian Paolo Franzoni we have observed that the success of a Phygital customer journey is the speed with which we reach its end (the goal of the latter) by comparing it to our expectations or to the memory of similar experiences. We then connected this observation to an existing and established model: Davis’s Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). In this model, two important factors are considered in order to measure the benefits and to consider the costs: the perceived usefulness, and the perceived ease of use.

When we speak of effort from the point of view of Customer Experience here, the two important factors to determine the cost are speed and ease. That clearly, considering them together, they have a certain intrinsic correlation. But the first factor also gives us a value of completeness of the process and achievement of expectations: to measure speed, I must have arrived at my destination, otherwise, time is still running out. Once I have arrived at the destination (a process completed) I can then say whether it is completed easily or not.

Here then in all the measurement of transactional experiences, whether physical, digital, or Phygital, it will be interesting to measure these two entities suggested by the TAM model using a Likert scale:

  • How fast was it to reach (if reached) the final goal?
  • How easy was it?

In order to understand exactly if the Customer Experience delivered met the customer’s expectations. Two questions that help us accurately measure our customer’s journey along with the Customer Experience, and possibly remove those impediments that make the path more chaotic. But how to identify them? Well, the open question is a must: why did you give this rating? I agree you must have a very good Natural Language Processing solution in place, otherwise, it is difficult to understand the reasons for satisfaction and dissatisfaction and, above all, to understand the magnitude of those elements.

In conclusion and in any case, think about it. Think about when you download an app to your cell phone. How do you evaluate whether to keep it or delete it almost immediately? Two simple questions: how easy is it to use this app? How much time do I save by using the app compared to how I performed the same action before?

What does Effort in Customer Experience mean?
Federico Cesconi

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