The Effortless Economy

This article was originally published by Management Today in November 2016.

I was a month into a rather surreal complaint with my unnamed British telecoms provider, when a ray of hope appeared in tweet form. My pedantic 140-character rant had triggered an alert on a social media monitoring screen, throwing the team into emoji-led action with a response offering apology and help. But the smiley face was as good as it got.

The one thing I really didn’t want to do, I told them, was to speak to their orders department for a fifth time. The one thing I would have to do, they told me, was to speak to their orders department for a fifth time. And they don’t do outbound calls, so I’d have to call them – but I could do that at a time convenient to me. As long as it was also a time convenient to them. The problem eventually got sorted, but my energy was evaporated.

My bank specialises in this high-effort experience too, as demonstrated when trying to close an old account over the phone. This wasn’t possible, they said, unless there was fraud on my account. A month later, the promised account closure͛ form arrived (slow, but to be fair, the form was coming from the 1980s). It wasn’t pre-filled, had no return envelope, and no freepost either, meaning I had to pay 55p to close an account with 26p in it, or leave it open and at risk of fraud. Which ironically would have meant I could close it over the phone.

Unfortunately for these big business behemoths, customer experience is increasingly about saying good riddance to customer effort, fuelled by the do-it-for-you world we live in. We’re surrounded by services helping us in every aspect of our lives, just a FaceTime away from an on-tap expert ready to remotely fix our plumbing. Siri is picking my songs, Alexa is arranging my adventures, and DoNotPay is overturn my dubious parking fines.

This is all designed to save us time, making up for the hours were losing to commuting, reviewing, and WhatsApping. And it’s time we want to spend in exciting and Instagrammable ways – trying new foods, travelling the world, and acting out 1990s films. We do not want to spend that  time on the phone to BT. For example.

We’re demanding a no-effort world, at least as far as customer experience is concerned – and it’s a world being won by Uber. It’s low effort physically, with just one click to get a car, and no clicks to pay for it. And it’s low effort mentally, being able to track my car, and not worry about running out of cash. This is attractive because our brains are set to find the easiest route from A to B, the simplest choice to take, the one that requires the least strain.

So once you’ve used Uber, it’s hard to go back to a world of in-the-rain arm waving and cash machine panic.

Credit: Zohar Lazar

Any company can be as effortless as Uber, if they choose to be – something best exemplified by the new customer͛ syndrome. Want to pay off a Mortgage with your bank? Wait 25 minutes. But want to enquire about a new Mortgage? There’s no wait at all. And with my  old telecoms provider, I guarantee that if you say you want to leave, you’ll be connected within seconds to someone willing to offer you a half-price deal. But have a query about billing? Sit tight, put the kettle on, and listen to sounds of the seventies for half an hour.

Companies that repeatedly choose to create effortful experiences are seeing those choices being made without them involved, by customers being offered better, simpler ways to live their lives. Just ask Jessops.

Thank you for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me in twitter @johnJsills

2 Thoughts

  1. Made me smile on a Friday morning John. I couldn’t agree more, having just left behind 6 years of BT frustration for EE – it was effortless to do, great communication, everything happened when they said it would and the experience on the phone when ordering was fabulous. It’s also10mb per second quicker!

  2. Enjoyable read as ever. People don’t want a relationship with their provider, they’d prefer to not talk to them. Give me an app or web site where I can do everything effortlessly and I’m happy, make me speak to customer services and I despair.

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