Effort Series (Part I of II): Making customers work is bad business

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In case you missed it…
So far in this multi-part series we’ve covered:
• Intro: Why customer effort matters

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Executives around the globe are constantly bombarded with advice on how to deliver an excellent customer experience. But no one agrees on what that really means. If you ask two customer experience (CX) practitioners what matters most, you’ll get two answers. If you then ask an Operations manager? Enter the third perspective. Pull in the product owner, well … you get the idea.

In a world gone crazy for data, businesses are managing to more performance measures than ever before. And we’re all scrambling for that one golden metric that solves everything. The customer experience and loyalty landscape is papered with metrics that have fallen in and out of favor, with none becoming the sole star that measures all we need to know.

Like many of you, we study what we preach before we start preaching. Through our internal CX Innovation Lab, each year we conduct test/control studies on a variety of topics. Everything from CSAT and NPS, to AHT and QA, to service channels and call reasons have gone under the proverbial microscope. Interestingly, over and over we find that all metrics matter at some point; it just depends on what you’re trying to do. As long as teams work together to move the same set of metrics, you’re in good shape.

The Logic Behind the Claims

So why did we add Customer Effort to our preferred set of metrics? In an era where customers have growing power and choice, and are increasingly sensitive to the amount of work they put into a given relationship, using the concept of effort as a measure of interaction quality is a win-win. We’ve seen time and again that to ignore effort is to drive customers away. For example, as interaction effort increases so does customer attrition (exponentially). And within 30 days of a high-effort experience, customers are three times more likely to defect than those with a low-effort interaction.

On the flip side, less effort drives positive word of mouth and one-to-one recommendations. Nearly all consumers in our work who reported an easy interaction later acted as a company Promoter; by comparison, most who had a difficult interaction became Detractors.

By now, all of us have heard the term “outside in” used in reference to CX best practices. Looking at a business process through the customer lens is a powerful advantage. Reducing effort clearly aligns to that outcome. And the beauty of focusing on effort is you actually get a two-for-one deal; reducing effort also shrinks operational cost. Every additional contact or channel used, every incidence of non-resolution, every time a customer is placed on hold … you’re adding operational expense to the business.

Think of the customer that wants to make a simple change to their mailing address and uses .COM (no luck), tries online chat (no luck), navigates the IVR (no luck) and finally talks to a live person. This easy interaction could’ve been resolved for pennies but ended up costing several dollars instead. All because upstream self-service failed to resolve the issue.

So by minimizing effort, you give the customer what they want from the interaction while streamlining your operational costs. Everyone wins.

Measuring Effort

As a field, customer service is overflowing with competing metrics. Whereas some steer by FCR and AHT, others hold CSAT and tNPS as their north star. The good news is that all metrics have value. The bad news is that measurement is the easy part; it’s a lot harder to figure out how to change the business based on what you measure. That’s where an effort focus can simplify how the business understands its omni-channel service environment.

In our analytics practice, we consistently see that what customers want from service is pretty simple: An easy interaction. They don’t want to spend a lot of time or energy to buy a product, answer a question or fix a problem. And most are pretty savvy about what to expect. If they have a complicated problem, they tend to be far more forgiving of lengthy question-and-answer sessions than if they have a simple question.

Adding an effort metric to your KPIs helps everyone focus on keeping experiences easy. An effort focus also enables you to understand what’s happening within an interaction, as well the interactions that came before. It provides focused diagnostic information about the strengths and weaknesses of service. And it helps direct process improvement efforts to enhance the customer experience and lower costs.

So how does one design an effort metric? The key lies in taking a structured, multi-faceted approach.

Avoid using a single survey metric that assesses overall effort (“how much effort did you have to expend on this issue?”). Instead, create an index that includes several components that measure the interaction and are critical points in your operating model.

Combine high-effort indicators like lack of first-contact resolution, call handling activities like holds and transfers, and having to repeat information while seeking resolution – the biggest culprits in customer frustration. Even better? All three are areas that your frontline agents can actually influence.

Up Next

In the final post of this series, I’ll provide tips for how call centers can use frontline agents to decrease on-call and upstream effort. I’ll also share examples from companies that have benefited from building customer effort management into their DNA.

Image source: Thinkstock

John Georgesen, Ph.D.
John Georgesen, Ph.D., is Senior Director, Analytics at Concentrix. He specializes in designing customer experience (CX) programs that drive tangible improvements. With 20 years of applied experience, John is a recognized innovator in the field of customer experience management.

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