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Customer Service: Choice Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Customer service teams shouldn’t spend too much time and effort providing multiple ways to contact them; customers don’t value the choice that much

Too Many Choices Businessman Paralyzed by DecisionsAlmost every company’s multi-channel customer service strategy seems to be based on providing an ever-increasing array of choices to customers to make it easier to contact the company.

This multi-channel aspiration (for CEB Customer Contact members) is something we call the “∞ x ∞” (infinity times infinity) approach; it’s as if managers have come to believe that the best strategy is to allow every customer to be able to resolve every issue in every channel.

This may sound like that the height of world-class service but it is also expensive and complex to operate. Managers will say that, although it’s hard, it’s necessary as that’s what customers expect, and that’s what will differentiate your company’s service.

Customers Don’t Need Or Expect a Large Array of Choice

It came as a surprise to us during our research for the book “The Effortless Experience” that this “∞ x ∞” approach is the exact opposite of what customers prefer.

What we’ve learned is that when contacting a company to solve a customer problem or resolving an issue, “being able to use the channel of my choice” is actually preferred by only 16% of customers.  The other 84% say they prefer it when the company “just solves my problem as quickly as possible—in whatever channel is easiest!”

Big P and Small P Preferences

The critical lesson we learned from customers is that when it comes to preferences, there are two kinds: “big P” preferences and “small p” preferences.

“Big P” are the kind that customers must have.  The kind they are willing to trade off against all other considerations; “small p” are the kind that people say they prefer, but only because we asked.

Yes, in surveys customers say they prefer “this channel” or “that channel” but what they really prefer is “getting the problem solved now!”

During a recent focus group, we interviewed one customer who said, “I prefer chat when I contact a company.  I’ve had good experiences with chat and I always look for a chat option.”

But when we asked him, “What if you were contacting a company and they didn’t have chat; what would you do then?”  And he said, “I’d just see what else they had, and pick whatever seemed the easiest.”

“Wait a minute,” we interjected, “you just told us that you prefer chat.  So… do you, or don’t you?”

And he shot back, “Look, when I have a problem, what I prefer is for the company to make the darn problem go away.  Guide me.  Tell me what to do.  I’ll do whatever the company tells me—as long as it’s fast and easy.”

This is a classic case of a “small p” preference (demand for chat) masquerading as a “big P” preference.

Rethink the Idea of Infinity Times Infinity

At best, “choice” is a “small p preference.”  Their “BIG P preference” is an effortless service experience. Customer service reps’ priority should be to make the pain go away by solving the problem as fast and easily as possible.

This should make managers rethink the idea of “infinity times infinity”.  It is a strategy this is really hard and very expensive.  The good news is that customers never really wanted it in the first place.

2 Responses

  • Farrah says:

    Customer service is ultimately a customer satisfaction target, and can only be achieved through team work and providing multiple choices to satisfy the customer.

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