This post, written by Nick Toman, is the third in a four-part series of posts about CEB’s upcoming book, The Effortless Experience. Nick is the Practice Manager of CEB Sales Leadership Council and is a co-author of The Effortless Experience.
The hardest part of any good strategy is putting it into action.
Low effort as a business concept is clear, it’s distinctive, but at the end of the day it’s worthless if it can’t be acted upon. We owe a huge credit to our members who have both pushed and urged us to find practical application of our data analyses, but also generously shared their own tactics for reducing effort. Over the course of 7 years since we started researching the idea of customer effort, we’ve seen some very clear trends and patterns in how the best companies, practically-speaking, have reduced customer effort.
Here are their approaches:
1. They help customers resolve issues in their first channel of choice. Channel stickiness. That’s what we call this. Our analysis reveals that nearly 60% of issues that end up as a call into a contact center started in another channel such as the company’s website. Each time a customer switches channels, the result is a 10% lower likelihood of customer loyalty. Leading companies such as MasterCard have recognized that customer preference have shifted dramatically toward self-service, and they’ve responded by dramatically simplifying their service websites, guiding customers to resolution instead of allowing customers to select from a multitude of options to resolve their issues. Others, such as Fidelity Investments, simply ask customers why they had to channel switch allowing them to quickly isolate root causes.
2. They head off the most likely related issues. We call this next issue avoidance. You could imagine resolving all conceivable customer issues in a single phone call, but that’s not what this is. Instead, it’s forward resolving only the most likely reasons a customer might call back. We first learned of this idea during an interview with the Bell Canada leadership team. They quick corrected us when we asked how they resolve customer “issues” – instead opting to refer to customer “events.” An issue, they told us, implies very simple one-and-done resolution. But Bell knew most “issues” were taking 2-3 calls to fully resolve. They wanted their reps to forward resolve the most likely reasons customers had to call back. By treating issue as events, their reps mindset began to shift. Companies practicing next issue avoidance dramatically reduce the likelihood of another 3- to 5-minute phone call (with an upset customer, no less) by taking an extra 15 to 30 seconds to simply forewarn the customer.
3. They realize that customer effort is mostly perception – not reality. Soft skills training, where empathy and pleasantries are emphasized, falls short amidst the realities of serving customers. This is particularly true in instances where the only option for a customer is sub-optimal. In some way, we have to tell a customer “no, you can’t have that.” Those instances can feel like really high effort. Instead, the best companies employ experience engineering techniques that rely on carefully chosen language to make “no” feel acceptable. One of the best examples we’ve seen comes from LoyaltyOne, which teaches reps to position alternatives in light of each customer’s unique situation.
4. They actually trust their frontline service teams. That might sound obvious, but the reality is that most service organizations shudder at the thought of relinquishing more control to the front line. Leading organizations have moved away from an overt focus on call handle time and a checklist mentality to handling calls. By removing these internal barriers to serving customers, they have created more cost-efficient operations (by reducing repeat contacts), and further, they’ve improved the customer experience by allowing reps to use their own judgment during the service interaction. Other organizations, such as Reliant Energy, have created “judgment incubators” where reps can safely learn how to make good decisions on behalf of customer and company.
5. They measure and monitor customer effort as a KPI. Since releasing our Customer Effort Score back in 2008, a great many organizations have adopted the metric in a variety of ways. For those not aware, we have updated the question (CES v2.0) associated with the score. However, monitoring the CES metric alone is not sufficient. The best organizations are closely monitoring the sources of customer effort across all their service channels. Services like our Customer Effort Assessment can very quickly help your organization determine where customer effort is most damaging your customer experience – and suggest clear action.
These approaches are by no means an exclusive list, but they are some of the most distinctive best practices we have seen. For those who have suggestions on ways to reduce customer effort, we welcome your thoughts in the comments below!