A Good Reason To Make It Easy For Customers

What do you think about the information in these two boxes?

There was an interesting article in last Sunday’s Boston Globe called Easy = True. It discusses a concept called “Cognitive fluency” which is described as:

A measure of how easy it is to think about something, and it turns out that people prefer things that are easy to think about to those that are hard

At one level, this sounds pretty simplistic. While the overall observation about cognitive fluency may not seem like rocket science, the research findings about how it alters people’s perceptions and behaviors are very useful. Here are some of the insights about cognitive fluency in the article:

  • When people read something in a difficult-to-read font, they unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about.
  • When a personal questionnaire is presented in a less legible font, people tend to answer it less honestly than if it is written in a more legible one.
  • To get people to think carefully and to prevent them from making silly mistakes, make them work to process the question: make the font hard to read, the cadence awkward, and the wording unfamiliar.
  • When presenting people with written descriptions of moral transgressions, increasing the contrast between text and background to make it easier to read the description made people more forgiving.
  • Psychologists have identified what they call the “beauty-in-averageness” effect – when asked to identify the most attractive example of something, people tend to choose the most prototypical option.
  • Auditory cues can shape people’s perception of truth. Phrases that are easier on the ear aren’t just catchy and easy to remember, they also feel inherently truer.

My take: I’ve reviewed 100s of experiences (Web, phone, store, products) for companies and consistently run into problems with less-than-legible content. As a matter of fact, the most failed criterion in Forrester’s Web Site Review is typically our test for text legibility. When I last looked at the data, only 18% of sites had passed that criterion.

The advice I’ve always given is that it makes no sense to create content that your customers can’t read — it slows them down and discourages them from spending time with your company. But this research shows that there are even more consequences — it actually affects their perception about what you are trying to communicate.

This is an important topic for any organization that wants customers to deal with them honestly and to believe what the organization tells them. Hmmm… isn’t that everyone?!?

The bottom line: Text legibility really matters.

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

8 thoughts on “A Good Reason To Make It Easy For Customers”

  1. as children we find that our mediocre counterpart in the class gets equal/better scores on the strength of very legible hand writing, many a genius has been found wanting in legibility of hand writing. good stuff that is not legible may not be altogether rejected by the discerning eye if the content strength is superior.

    After all beuty lies in the eye of the beholder

  2. Fascinating stuff. What I’d love to see the marketing/design industry develop are online guidelines/benchmarks for text legibility.

    Design guidelines like these would go a long way toward helping web users judge a website on the strength of its content (as mallik notes above), rather than on its choice of font type,spacing, color, etc.

  3. I tend to agree and disagree. I agree any average Joe would appreciate simpler things in life. So, if you’re targeting the “average Joe’s”, then a button which says “click me” on a website would grab their attentions faster. However, some products are targeted to a more complicated type of audience, who, ironically, tend to favor complexity to distinguish themselves from the “average Joe’s.” In some cases, experience also counts in shaping one’s view of everything around him. Driving a car must be very difficult for a 16-year old…at least for the first time. After several weeks of practice, it would have been as easy as riding a bike!

  4. Bruce interesting points being made here which surely can be applied not just in text but also within processes and other forms of communication. That saying “keep it simple stupid” rings true even more.

  5. Hi everyone: Great comments; and all of them from different angles. I like how mallik brings this back to early years of development and Aldi makes the point about the importance of knowing your target audience. And I agree with Mark that this finding is probably applicable to more than just content. Keep up the great dialogue!

  6. Ummmm…yeah. How about applying the concept to your own blog here, Bruce. Tiny font on medium blue background is difficult for “aging baby boomer” eyes to read. Not to mention the fact that there’s a lot of empty real estate to the left and right. My browser text settings can’t enlarge the thing, either.
    Take a hint from Maddox – “The Best Page in the Universe” – white text on a black background makes for easy (high contrast) reading, particularly after a day of reading low contrast, ahem ‘content’ on The Internets.

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