Thought leadership

Valuing Customer Time and Effort

Insights from the Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Centre

Key parts of the customer experience (often because they happen first) are the time we spend waiting and the effort we have to expend to achieve our objectives. Our studies show that in both of these, it is not the actual experience that counts, it is how customers feel about the experience that matters. It is the memory of the experience that counts.

Emotions colour memory and many great organisations know that how they make the customer feel at key stages of the journey e.g. during unavoidable waiting times, or when the customer has to make a level of physical or cognitive effort to achieve their objective, is at the heart of a great experience. Research by B.T. has shown that there are 4 types of effort:

  • Cognitive effort – which is all about how much brain-power a customer needs to apply to their part of the process, e.g. filling in a form, finding something on a website, navigating a complex voice menu.
  • Time effort – concerned with the amount of effort that customers think it will take them to do something – for example queuing, whether physical or virtual.
  • Physical effort – how much do customers have to carry? How far must they travel?
  • Emotional effort – where anger, anxiety, boredom or frustration become energy-sapping for customers and have a psychological cost.

By understanding and examining these ‘effort components’ it is possible to break down and understand the customer journey from a different perspective. It enables us to see where we can take effort out of the process for the benefit of the customer.

There are two effort areas that can then be used to guide customer experience design:

  1. The removal of ‘non-added value time’ waiting periods that cannot be transformed into adding value for the customer through, education, information or entertainment. Lidl, for example, have re-engineered their checkout procedures so that the big delay with customers repacking their shopping after scanning is done away from the till. It reduces the delay impact of a major bottleneck.
  2. The focus on Minimum Viable Actions, a concept borrowed from Six Sigma. It seeks to creatively design experiences that ensure that customers can achieve their objectives in the minimum possible number of steps.

Amazon has taken this to heart. In fact, their mantra is “the best service is no service – when things just work”. By systematically removing impediments to the customer achieving their objective they have driven up satisfaction and revenue. One click ordering being a very good example of ensuring nothing gets in the way of a customer making a purchase.

The Transportation Security Administration in the US are modifying their queuing system at airports based on the amount of help a passenger needs, streaming customers not by the order they have presented themselves, but by whether they have children, are infrequent flyers and need help, or are frequent flyers and know the procedures backwards.  Ensuring each group clears security with the minimum viable number of steps given their level of knowledge or number of children.

BT’s ‘Customer Effort’ research indicated that effort really is a key measure for customer loyalty and it does have an impact on perceived value for money (only five per cent of customers who had a difficult experience said that they felt that they had got good value for money). Customers who said BT was an easy company to do business with were 40 per cent less likely to churn than a customer who ranked BT as difficult.

Research by the Corporate Executive Council estimates that, in any experience, how a customer feels about the effort they expend represents 65% of their total assessment of the experience.

We know that what happens first (Law of Primacy) in an experience sets the tone for the remainder of the experience; a good start and the customer will be more forgiving of future transgressions. What happens last is what the customer remembers (Law of Recency). The combination of these two is known as the Serial Position Effect.

If the first impression of an experience is a long, unproductive wait followed by a high effort interaction, no matter how well the experience ends, the memory will be a poor one.

Managing waiting time and effort is therefore critical to positive memories of the event.

Computer Science researcher Don Norman in his paper on the ‘Psychology of Waiting Lines’ identifies 8 principles that govern how we should think about waiting time:

  • Emotion dominates
  • Eliminate confusion (provide a clear model of how the queuing system will work)
  • The wait must be appropriate
  • Set expectations then meet or exceed them
  • Keep people occupied (filled time passes more quickly than unfilled time)
  • Be fair
  • End strong and start strong
  • The memory of the event is more important than the actual experience

The top organisations in our CEEC analysis observe these 8 principles but in assessing how they deliver against them they pay attention to three important things:

  1. What was actually done to or for the customer
  2. What was perceived by the customer
  3. What the customer expected.

Valuing Time and Effort: Golden Rules

Make my time investment pleasurable

Disney theme parks are probably the champions at handling the dislike of queues. When asked what did you dislike most? Would you go again? The answer to the first question from people all over the world is immediate: the lines, the queues, the waiting. People dislike the queues. But the answer to the second question is much more revealing. Would you go again? Yes comes back the answer, immediate, without any need for thought. People may dislike the queues, but Disney handles them so well that they feel appropriate, fair, and manageable. It is memories that count. For many rides, Disney has cleverly incorporated the queue into part of the experience, as a briefing or an orientation exercise.

Give me simple clear instructions

Albert Einstein remarked that “a thing should be made as simple as it can be but not simpler.”

The balance between too much information and too little information is a fine one. Apple is celebrated for their design led approach to simplicity. The start-up guide to a new phone or iPad ensures the customer can get started and be made productive immediately.

Minimum viable steps to my objective – maximum of three

What is the irreducible number of steps required for the customer to achieve their objective? A recent much publicised advert from Lidl dramatized how much easier they are to do business with than Morrisons. The ad listed the 44 steps you needed to undertake to achieve lower prices via rival supermarket Morrison’s loyalty card, or the ad said “you could just go to Lidl”. Our research shows that any more than three steps begins to irritate or confuse. NPS scores tend to fall at step 4

No longer than 2 minutes waiting

Psychological research has shown that when forced to wait our minds turn towards things that are troubling us or we are preoccupied with. The net result is that our mood state deteriorates. Typically, we see NPS scores drop when people are forced to wait beyond 2 minutes. In Australia, the banks have moved to a two tier contact centre model, an immediate answer (almost like a switchboard) and then being routed to the necessary area of expertise. They have seen significant improvements in satisfaction. The immediacy of speaking to a human being removes many of the negative waiting effects, even though the elapsed time to resolution is the same.

Provide the answers I need when I contact you

In a world of ubiquitous information we expect the person we speak to, to have all of our relevant information to hand and to have a level of competence in the subject matter that exceeds our own. Prudential moved over 100 places up our UK Top 100 in 2014. The result of a huge investment in training their people and the deployment of CRM and knowledge systems that supported first point of contact resolution

Advise me of pitfalls ahead

It is important to stay a step ahead of the customer and recognise potentially negative situations before they develop. One respondent described when asking a bank call centre agent to enable his debit card for usage in Paris. The agent completed the task and then offered a phone number that could be reached via the customer’s mobile phone from the till in Paris, which would immediately authorise the transaction in the event of any problems.

Increasingly, speed and ease are becoming a source of competitive advantage. As humans we desire instant gratification, willing to forego greater rewards in the future for immediate rewards now. Kindle, for example, has revolutionised book reading. See it, buy it read it, transact in seconds and all from the comfort of your own home. AO in our most recent CEE analysis were lauded for their rapid approach to appliance purchasing: order before 7.30 pm at night and the appliance will be delivered free of charge the following day. The effortless speedy experience is becoming a key differentiator.

For more Golden Rules to The Six Pillars take a look at: Personalisation, Integrity, Resolution, and Empathy at

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