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Interview: Kate Nightingale of Style Psychology

Jim Tincher Jim Tincher 04/17/2021

Heart of the Customer’s Jim Tincher sat down with Style Psychology Founder and CEO Kate Nightingale recently, to discuss the role of emotions in the customer experience. (But it’s 2021, so of course “sat down with” means “met on Zoom.”) Below is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation. You can watch the complete video here.

So we were on a panel together [The Art and Science of Creating Exceptional Customer Experiences, now available on demand] and we were talking about emotions in the experience. And one of the other panelists brought up the “effortless experience.” Both you and I had a visceral reaction to that book. I have my thoughts, but let’s start with you. Tell me more why you reacted to that.

Because there’s no such thing as effortless experience. There’s always some level of effort that either our subconscious or conscious brain has to expend.

And also, if there’s no effort, or there is very little effort that we have to make, then that experience is meaningless, basically.

So that’s why I like to divide that into more of a meaningful and meaningless friction. Because a lot of the times over the last few years, we’ve been hearing the idea of no friction or very little friction or reducing friction. It was like a broken record at all of the customer experience conferences.

Every single time, I was curious. Like, but that does not exist. And it should not exist. Because anything that’s actually important and truly meaningful in our lives is built in with friction. But that friction isn’t simply meaningful. It adds value, it adds depth, it adds symbolism and meaning. And it creates emotions and connection and relationships.

That’s when it matters. Yes, meaningless friction, like, ‘Please don’t ask me the same question five times on the call’ – great stuff – and ‘Please don’t ask me to press 10 buttons so I can actually get to the information that you want me to get to or that I need to get to.’

So meaning that you haven’t actually thought through what are the most important objectives for me as a business owner, or as a customer.

“If you make it too easy, then it doesn’t seem safe and secure.”

None of those things should ever be existing…no having to ask basic questions about products or features of that product. But it’s simply being very easy and very effortless. Yes, for our brain – or specifically for our subconscious brain – to be presented in a way that I can just grasp it without necessarily reading the text, for example, because it’s put well, design-oriented, the way it’s kind of talked about.

Or even things like if it’s a person presenting that to you, you can grasp the meaning and the features and the value of a product from the way they are talking about it, rather than, for example, from the words, which we don’t actually pay so much attention to.

Yes, there is a certain value. But, for example, let’s say there’s a lot of work that has gone into things like financial services, and applications for cards or for a college, or whatever else. If you make it too easy and remove something that we think creates this effortless experience, then it doesn’t seem safe and secure.

So I actually have to have certain levels of friction, because then it is meaningful, because it then feels safe to us. Because if I press just two buttons and I suddenly have a credit card, something is wrong over here, you’re trying to scam me. That’s literally the automatic reaction.

We have a lot of this, lot of that, kind of test. Same like if I’m not going to commit something, let’s say, a subscription of sorts, then it’s suddenly not really useful. Or if you are, let’s say, selling me consulting in some form or another, but I don’t have to do any work in that process. Then there’s no value for me in that either, because I’m not committing any effort into that relationship, into that interaction.

So that’s why I want to focus not on actual effortless experience, but on a clear division between what is that meaningless friction and what is the meaningful friction that actually adds value, and enhances the experience and enriches the value of the product and the interaction that someone has.

Matt Dixon obviously did a great job of capturing customer experience’s imagination with Effortless Experience. But there’s something people who read the book forget. Matt studied customers who were in service recovery…people who had a problem and we’re calling it to get resolved.

And in that situation, yes, remove meaningless friction, but make it as easy as possible. Beyond Philosophy found the same thing in their Customer X-Ray. When you look at service recovery, yes, you want to make it easy as possible. But the data from Forrester Research, the data from the XM Institute, our own data, data from several our clients…all shows that an effortless experience doesn’t actually create loyalty.

It can prevent disloyalty, which is important. But it doesn’t inoculate a customer against problems. It doesn’t build that reservoir of goodwill. It simply means that they won’t get frustrated and leave you.

Now I get that that is important. I don’t mean to understate that. But it really feels like a lot in customer experience are shooting too low. We aim for mediocrity, which is what I can an effortless experience, instead of that emotional connection that really makes a big difference in the experience. And that’s something I think is really missing in the literature.

Definitely. I’m really glad that you mentioned service recovery, because part of any kind of problem is your customer expects you to consider a number of different issues. And if you’re not being asked questions about it…and they have to say that by themselves, and you don’t seem to listen because you don’t have a box to boot it in…then they don’t feel like you’ve actually understood the holistic nature of the problem that they are dealing with.

“Commitment, which is basically investment of some level of effort…is part of building strong relationships.”

Another thing that you very nicely mentioned is the idea of enhancing loyalty and really building something that long term translates into better relationships that you have with brands.

Interestingly, when you look into the literature around consumer-brand relationships – specifically the original Susan Fournier models of relationships with brands – commitment, which is basically investment of some level of effort and use of our resources (not just money) is part of building strong relationships.

And it’s absolutely necessary and it needs to be mutual. It’s not just the customer. It’s also the brand that needs to commit certain things. That’s why, for example, things like scavenger hunts work, because it’s a commitment.

It therefore builds that stronger relationship with the brand for each of those interactions, for each of the things that they need to guess. On top of that, it’s full of intensive emotions, which are great for enhancing memory and loyalty and engagement and lots of other cool things that everyone wants to increase, right?

Right. I remember reading a piece by Steven Levitt from Freakanomics – not the writer, the economist. And because he’s a professor, he gives free consulting to a lot of companies, because he gets access to their data. And what he’s reported is that free consulting is never valued. Because back to your point, there’s no friction, there’s no effort of the company, it’s just some professor talking to them.

Whereas we could charge them $100,000 for the same advice and likely see they’re much more interested in that. We’ve seen the same thing: we’ve done a few volunteer projects. And the engagement on our recommendations is way less than if somebody pays us $150,000 for the same work. There’s a real role in meaningful friction. I definitely agree.

Yeah, I completely agree. And the same thing goes for B2C businesses, right? If you give me something where I need to, for example, personalize it or co-create it, then it’s part of that kind of engagement, part of the commitment, as well part of the friction that happens in the process. And therefore our value is higher.

I will then talk about it more. I will be willing to come back to that business again and again and again. It’s priceless to do that. But we keep forgetting that people do actually want to put in an effort.

One last question for you: If you had advice for somebody who’s drunk the Kool-Aid, believes the effortless experience, and you want to reframe them to think bigger, what advice would you have for them to get started?

Ask them what is the best, most memorable, most meaningful experience they recently had. And then just dissect it. Is what was offered effortless? Or did they have to put some effort into it?

And odds are, there’s a lot of effort there. Exactly. Excellent. Well, again, my guest here has been Kate Nightingale of Style Psychology. Thanks, Kate. Really appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

Thank you very much, Jim. It was amazing to be here.

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