The Myth of the IKEA Effect: Why choose Effortless Customer Experience over DIY Customer Service

5 min readJul 20, 2017


Do you remember putting together your first IKEA purchase? Flipping through the indecipherable manual, deciding which small part goes where? If you were building with your significant other, there was probably some yelling and tears involved too.

It doesn’t sound like a great experience. But experts have determined that The IKEA effect has a positive lift on customer loyalty. In 1957, researchers demonstrated that the more effort people put into a pursuit, the more they value the result. This phenomenon encourages companies to make their customers “sweat for it,” like how IKEA asks you to put together your own furniture. The theory is that by making customers put in more effort, they will value the service more and become more loyal.

Using the IKEA Effect is common in onboarding flows.When you set up a Twitter account, you need to follow 10 accounts during sign up. It’s only a little bit of effort, but it means you’re more invested in your Twitter feed from the start. In this case, asking customers to do a bit of work results in a better experience for them.

OKCupid, an online dating site, asks for similar engagement when you set up your online profile. You need to add a photo, tell them what you’re looking for and answer a few questions. In this case, setting up your profile will lead to meeting your date faster.

For both onboarding experiences, the “IKEA effect” is used to prevent friction from interacting with the product in an empty state. No one wants to be staring at an empty timeline or presented with no potential matches. That’s a bad first experience.

The danger in the IKEA effect is extending it beyond what it’s actually useful for. Most of the time, your customers don’t want to do your work for you. They want you to help them accomplish their goals… easily.

The Myth of the IKEA effect

The original IKEA effect research was done in 1957 — certainly a different time than we live in today.

Now, convenience is King. We live in a world where you can have pizza delivered with the touch of a button. Humans are more time-poor than they’ve ever been. We’re constantly busy, looking for ways to be more efficient, preferring the effortless customer experience.

Instead of valuing effort, we find inconvenience exhausting. And we avoid it at all odds.

Plus, the IKEA effect ignores the real reason people buy IKEA furniture. We don’t sit in our one bedroom apartments staring at our LIATORP bookshelf thinking “I put that together with my own two hands. I’m a real life carpenter!” It’s much more likely that we saw our books lying on the floor, decided we needed a bookshelf, and went for the most cost effective solution.

We keep our IKEA furniture around because of the value it provides — keeping our books organized — and not because we built it ourselves.

In support, asking customers to do more work doesn’t result in loyalty. It results in bad customer experience and frustrated customers.

In support, asking customers to do more work doesn’t result in loyalty. It results in bad experience.

The IKEA Effect in Customer Support

As The IKEA Effect gains popularity in technology, there’s been the temptation to test this phenomenon in customer support interactions.

If we encourage situations where customers must interact with customer support, does it give us more opportunities to delight them? The theory is that engaging with a great customer support team provides a more memorable experience — leading to a more loyal customer.

There’s a big problem with that theory.

Customers confronted with necessity of contacting support won’t.

If the options are either: contact support or stop using the product, many customers will choose Option B. Statistically speaking, only 1 out of 26 customers who experience an issue will complain about it. That means 96% of customers remain silent and suffer. If you need your customers to contact you to use the product, you can expect a big drop-off in usage.

1 out of 26 customers who experience an issue will complain about it. 96% remain silent and suffer.

Humans are generally conflict adverse.

Have you ever let a subscription roll on for a few months because you didn’t want to call and cancel it? I’m sure we all have. We’d rather lose money than pick up the phone and call.

Rather than searching for a solution, most customers will choose to ignore the problem — along with your product.

Instead, make it easy.

In customer support, our biggest opportunity to increase loyalty is by reducing friction. We want to get out of our customer’s way, and let them achieve their end goals.

Providing effortless customer experience means reducing the need for customers to contact us. If they do have to contact us, we want to get them back on their way as quickly as possible. An effortless customer experience is like the pit crew in Formula 1. Well executed, effective and speedy.

Your customers aren’t paying you for a bumpy ride. They are paying, and deserve, a well thought out experience that gets them to their end goal effortlessly.

Learn more about creating an effortless customer experience using the Customer Effort Score.

Creating opportunities for delight

Does removing bumps from the road make for an entirely unremarkable experience? It doesn’t need to.

Instead of counting on moments of effort to delight customers, find ways to create happiness outside of support problems.

Rather than looking to the IKEA effect to improve support, we should be taking our cues from hospitality industry. 5 star hotels don’t ask you to make your bed before you get in them, in the hopes that you’ll value your stay more.

5 star hotels don’t ask you to make your bed, in the hopes that you’ll value your stay more.

Instead they provide everything you need to have a great and most of all effortless customer experience — from the fuzzy bathrobes, to the chocolate on your pillow. The best hotels will pick you up at the airport, and deliver your luggage directly to your room. When you check-in, the concierge offers personalized suggestions to help you enjoy the surrounding area and get the most out of your trip.

We can do the same thing for our customers. We are the concierge of our product. Focus on the details. Look for opportunities to add value.

Don’t make your customers work for their loyalty — work for your customers.




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