Are Consumers Trapped in Sludge?
While the concept of sludge is not exactly a mystery, understanding it in the context of consumer experience and engagement certainly requires deeper analysis. Sludge commonly defined as “thick, soft, wet mud or a similar viscous mixture” is better interpreted as an analogy that describes any activity with excessive frictions. An unnecessary, dreary and frustrating process, that has real, quantifiable costs to customers and companies, is sludge. Ultimately, we see it as an obstacle or barrier that impairs and reduces consumers’ freedom when it comes to enjoying products, services or brand benefits.
To understand sludge better, consider the following scenario: if you were told that you need to go through a multistep process to get your PC in service, how would you approach it? You could make some calculations about costs and benefits, then decide it’s worth going through the process. But, what if in reality the process means that you have to: fill out a long form, scan your warranty and invoice, send them to the support center, then contact a field officer in your country to schedule a pickup, all calls having a 45-minute hold time? All this just to get your computer admitted to service. You have no clue about how easy or difficult the process would be to retrieve your computer. Would you still do it if you knew this in advance?
Even if the benefits are high, the costs of overcoming sludge can sometimes be overwhelming. In some cases, excessively difficult or complex processes require access to information, even learning something new and they take a lot of time – all of which, together or separately, might make it literally impossible for consumers to conform. Sometimes it simply comes down to them not having the resources required to wade through sludge, be it time, physical energy, information or mental space. Let’s not forget the psychological impact that unjustified or excessive effort involves, which includes feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment, disillusionment, anxiety and emotional burden.
Benefits of Sludge Audit
Brands and companies know they need to focus more on making processes easier to navigate, by eliminating unnecessary steps, simplifying procedures and reducing customer effort. While “interest in sludge reduction is growing by leaps and bounds”1, conducting a yearly Sludge Audit is the recommended course of action for all businesses, whether they’ve already identified friction points or not.
To get started, it’s important to know what sludge audits are and how they can help your business. According to Cass R. Sunstein “the purpose of Sludge Audits is to produce clarity about the magnitude of sludge and to ensure transparency to relevant others, above all those who are in a position to reduce sludge. For companies, they can increase sales and good-will. They can promote economic development and growth.”2
Without going in too much detail, such an audit should be able to identify excessive paperwork, online hurdles, obstacles to navigability – as through complex sites, multiple questions, confusing words and phrases, manipulative terms –, and generally, processes that deprive consumers of access to valuable benefits.
EAS Sludge Audit – How do we do it?
At Buyer Brain we understand that Sludge Audits can be an engine of opportunity when they are done with tools that deliver actionable customer insights. Our approach to sludge auditing rests on the Effort Assessment Score we’ve developed; this is a neuroscience-powered, online platform that measures Customer Effort across 4 dimensions (time effort, cognitive load, physical energy and the emotional impact). Based on a robust methodology that is grounded in decades of customer research data and best practices, our sludge auditing collects declarative and implicit data.
EAS Sludge Audit is readily available for companies to use online, from virtually anywhere around the world, it has an easy and intuitive interface, it is scalable to cover all internal processes and organizational departments, and best of all, it delivers accurate results and insights that apply to your specific pain points.
Do you want to know whether your business will benefit from a sludge audit? Or do you want to learn more about the benefits of the audit and find out how can the insights about customer effort hep you improve your customers’ experience? Let’s talk, contact us today!
- Mahoney, S. (2019). From Sludge To Nudge: Why Brands Need A Frustration Audit. MediaPost.
- Sunstein, C. R. (2019). Sludge Audits. Behavioural Public Policy.