For all of us that earn a living working with clients selling products and services, when it comes our turn to be the client, our expectations of service and the “experience” are typically higher than most — we are tough to make happy! But, why shouldn’t we expect a great experience. After all, don’t we go to great efforts to make the experiences of our clients exceptional? The answer is “yes” and “no.” The truth is that all any clients asks for is that expectations are met — typically, the average client’s expectations are not going to be otherworldly. They simply want to be satisfied. Part of being satisfied means not having to work too hard to get what you want from a provider.

This brings us to the rarely discussed yet very important concept called “Client Effort.” Client Effort is defined as the “level of effort a client must make to acquire a product or a service.” In fact, the level of client effort is inversely proportional to the probability of a sale happening. The higher the client effort the lower your chance of getting the client to do business with you. What that means to you and me is that we really need to make it as easy as possible for our clients to get what they want — or we suffer the consequences.

It’s been said that the best way to understand client effort is to think of the phrase “pulling teeth.” If you have ever used a phrase similar to “it’s like pulling teeth” while waiting to be served, or while being asked to give your personal information for the 4th time to the 3rd different person, Congratulations! you are at the receiving end of “excessive client effort.”

The good news is that most of our competition is not consciously aware that “Client Effort” is a “thing.” However, this concept is important because if you have ever felt that you’re working harder than you should as the client, your relationship with that business will be negatively impacted. It is very likely that you will stop doing business with that company, at least temporarily, if not forever. So, to be a bit repetitive, if at any point it feels like you, as the client, have to put in too much effort, then you‘re experiencing “excessive client effort.”

Following is a re-telling of an actual experience that acts as a good example of why the term “Client Effort” should become part of our regular business language. The “Client Effort” concept should become a critical lens through which we diagnose our processes in our quest for ways to differentiate our offering from that of our competitors. Reduced client effort is a sure-fire way to earn an increased share of market.

Here’s the story… As a “road warrior,” my work is all about traveling to my clients, and almost always involves renting a car. To make the car rental odyssey easier, I signed up at various car rental company “VIP” groups. Easy pick up, easy drop off means very little client effort — what could be better?! Over time I’ve eliminated some memberships to get down to just a couple of the major companies. Of course, the companies that I cancelled involved higher client effort than the others.

One of those “cancellations” happened with a company that shall remain nameless. The nameless company had always worked well for me because of their presence in all of the major airports, as well as the quality of their rental cars. Unfortunately, all of that recently changed.

After spending a week with a rented car, I filled up on fuel and headed back to the airport. At drop off, the attendant asked for a gas receipt to prove I’d filled up. Of course, I hadn’t thought of that and instead just asked him to do what was always done and look at the fuel gauge to confirm a full tank of gas. He then informed me that the policy had changed and a receipt was required! Since I wasn’t in possession of the gas receipt, I had to go inside and speak to the desk agent…catching my flight be damned!

After negotiating a long line of waiting clients, the desk agent informed me that she had to calculate the mileage I’d travelled from the date of pick up, and then charge me for the “estimated fuel used.” I was in disbelief and wanted to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood. I asked, “let me just confirm what you are saying — because I don’t have a gas receipt, you’re going to charge me for gas the car doesn’t need, because I already filled up.” The response was, “yes, that’s our policy.” I genuinely could not believe it. This, “soon to be cancelled,” car company changed the rules and would not make an exception for me…a client who had given them quite a bit of business. When I said that I have never had an issue before, she failed to respond. In fact, she suggested I go back to the gas station because she was sure they could produce the receipt. That’s when I screamed, in my head of course — “it’s like pulling teeth!”

The gas receipt saga is just one example of how introducing ‘excessive’ client effort is dangerous for your business. If you stop to think about it, you’ll likely have your own stories about excessive client effort.

In the past, I would have gone to the company’s website to make sure they heard from me. Instead, I simply stopped using them altogether. I still get calls from that company asking for my business. I say, “No thanks. I’m really happy with the little effort I have to put into renting cars now.” I doubt they get the reference.

Client effort is a concept that can become one of your company’s “sustainable competitive advantages” and as such, leveraged to gain an ever-growing share of your market. Keep in mind that when a client asks you for something, think very hard about ways to say “yes” to their request. Today’s clients want an ease in their experience and because of the many choices available to them are not afraid to simply stop doing business with one place and move somewhere else. Ensuring the client experience is effortless will ensure you continue earning your clients’ business long-term.

– Your Partner in running your “Store as a Sales Machine,” John Cordova