Is your brand low or high maintenance? What’s your CES?


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There is a big difference between Customer Experience and Customer Service. Customer Experience (CX) is broad. CX is how your customers perceive their entire set of interactions with your company. Customer Service on the other hand can be as limiting as the set of interactions once as customer has an issue that needs to be resolved.

the cost of a bad customer experience

Herein lies a huge problem. Let’s combine two statistics:

1. Only 4% of customers actually complain when they have an issue. (Source: SDSU)

2. Of those who complain, only 21% are satisfied with the ultimate resolution (Source: ASU)

Here the one-two combo: Less than one percent of customers who experience an issue and contact the company become satisfied.

Takeaway: Once your customer has an experience that rises to the level of complaint . . . you’ve lost. 99% are dissatisfied and most will most likely never come back. Don’t try to to “delight” those customers. It’s a waste to time, money and resources.

VM matrix

In my first book, What’s Your Purple Goldfish, I introduced the concept of maintenance as part of the VM matrix. In 2009 my research showed that their were two sides to the overall customer experience.

value maintenance matrixValue – [The What and the Why of CX] What are tangible and intangible benefits that your service or product provides?  (Note: Price factors into value, but only as it relates to the level of benefits and how effective the product or service is.)  What is the level of design, craftsmanship and service?  Is the product or service fulfilling its brand promise?  Does the product or service go “above and beyond” your expectations?

Maintenance – [The Who and the How of CX] What was the buying experience like?  Do you enjoy working with the brand or service provider?  Do they make things turnkey or simple?  Are they responsive to problems / issues?  Do they demonstrate initiative and the ability to go above and beyond for customer satisfaction? Does the brand demonstrate they care?

The ultimate goal is to be seen as high value and low maintenance.

Enter CES

Back in 2010, the Harvard Business Review published an article, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.” The piece made the case against delighting customers. Rather than doing the little extras, it argued that businesses need to focus on effort. Get the basics correct and make it easier for your customers to do business with you.

cts_post_2013-11_effortless-experienceThis September the book, The Effortless Experience was published. Matthew Dixon and Nick Toman (co-authors of the HBR article) are joined by Rick DeLisi to address “the new battleground for customer loyalty.” The book is a compelling read and is a must for anyone responsible for customer service. Especially those who are running a call center. The book is based on tons of data from the CEB. The extensive research led to some strong takeaways and the establish of metric called CES or the Customer Effort Score.

Here’s author Matthew Dixon explaining CES with Adam Toporek on Customers That Stick:

The research in the book concluded that what customers really want from a service interaction is simply a quick and satisfactory solution rather than to be “delighted” by over-the-top customer service experiences. Similar to NPS, it all boils down to one question. Here CES 2.0:


The book outlines a number of proactive ways to improve the CES. Some of those include eliminating the number of repeat calls, reducing the number of times you request information and suggesting solutions to potential future issues.

Is Sucking Less a Strategy?

Annette Franz of CX Journey posed this question a couple of week ago on Customer Think. She challenged the notion of deciding “not to suck” and if it in fact could be construed as a valid CX strategy.It’s a great article with a ton of strong comments by folks like Bob Thompson, Jeanne Bliss, Michael Lowenstein, Jeremy Watkin, Adam Ramshaw, Adrian Swinscoe, Christopher Martinez, Adam Toporek and myself,  Bob kicked off the comments by correlating the idea of sucking less with the CES score.

yes it is, if… you believe that delight doesn’t matter and it’s enough to focus on fixing problems and reducing customer effort. That’s the conclusion of Matt Dixon et al in the CEB research that found most companies would be better off not trying to delight customers but rather make sure the basics are done right. I think “sucking less” is a good way to summarize this way of thinking. Why doesn’t it qualify as a #CX strategy?

This created a lot of back and forth debate. I recommend you read the article. But I wanted to touch on one last point that Bob made in a later comment:

“delight is more than service recovery…

The CEB study defined delight as service recovery. When a customer had a problem, “delight” meant giving extras like “offering a refund, a free product, or a free service such as expedited shipping.” Yet 84% of customers didn’t feel their expectations were exceeded. As a result: customers were “only marginally more loyal than simply meeting their needs.”

This is a very limited view of delight, in my opinion. I see this as placating customers, not delighting them. Consumers get offered extras when the company has screwed up. Personally, I don’t want to make customer service calls, but if I have to, I want my problem solved pronto. Any extras aren’t really “exceeding my expectations,” they are making up for the fact that my expectations weren’t met.

If you don’t exceed expectations (as customers perceive it), you’re not actually delighting customers, are you? And therefore, it’s hardly surprising that there’s little loyalty impact.

Doing what customers expect is a baseline that all companies should strive for. CEB’s research apparently finds that the majority of call centers struggle with this, and can’t delight customers with over-the-top service recovery.

The source of the problems (why customers were calling) was most likely not in the call center, but somewhere else. The product didn’t work as described, billing was wrong, etc. So in one sense I agree with the CEB study — these root cause problems should be fixed.

Having said that, the CEB article attempts to extrapolate to a conclusion that isn’t supported by their research. A more accurate title would have been “Stop Placating Your Customers, Get It Right the First Time.”

As Stan and others have said, a delight strategy isn’t for everyone. But companies that aspire to be industry leaders do in fact make exceeding expectations a part of their strategy.”

Final Takeaway: I want to come back full circle to my original point. Once your customer has to reach out for an issue . . . you’ve lost. It doesn’t matter how easy you make the process. Don’t focus solely of the basics of how you handle service issues. Look for the root causes and find ways to improve the experience.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Let’s lighten up the little extra today with a holiday theme. Here is Raleigh’s own Penn Holderness sharing a family Christmas video. Will Smith eat your heart out (in your Christmas Jammies):

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


  1. …reactive with customers? Clearly proactive, especially with regard to customer value delivery. That said, I’ll repeat my initial point to Annette about CES, which also puts me in Bob’s camp:

    While CES 2.0 is an improvement over the original, and appears to have more predictive power and actionability relative to NPS (a very dubious distinction, at best, from the perspective of many customer experience consultants and researchers), it still has fundamental research flaws; but the CEB isn’t interested in hearing that there are better measures, such as customer advocacy and customer brand bonding:

  2. We’re both in agreement on the need to be proactive.
    I think we should also agree that there will never be just one measure. We should look at the likes of CES, NPS and C-Sat as we look at a thermometer. Sure they can tell you the current temperature, but it ultimately come down to what you “proactively” do with the information.
    Fred Reichheld will tell you that to improve NPS, your need to:
    a. eliminate bad profits
    b. invest in frugal wow
    Matt Dixon will tell you that in order to improve CES, you need to:
    a. throw away scripts
    b. empower service rep’s (to demonstrate empathy, customize how they present their solutions, probe for root causes and educate on potential future issues)

  3. …measures available. Agree that proaction is extremely important, even critical. However, that said, companies don’t want to be expending resources “chasing hot rabbits”, as W. Edwards Deming used to call customer-related issues that grabbed management attention and interest, but had little consumer interest. NPS, CES, and C-Sat measures often produce false-positive results that divert C-suite execs but have little to do with downstream customer behavior.

  4. Keep it simple. To quote Antoine de Saint Exupery, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
    In three words: “Easy does it.”


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