Reducing the “Effort Factor” in Customer Service


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As you read these lines, a small but powerful body of individuals is becoming more vocal about their dissatisfaction with corporate America. I don’t mean the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, but rather, another group with significant long range influence over the future of U.S. business: consumers upset over the high effort and frustration of interacting with customer service.

Although in the minority of American consumers, those who see dealing with customer service as less than satisfying wield power far beyond their own numbers. By airing their grievances on Twitter and Facebook, their messages have the potential of going viral, damaging the reputations of the companies they hold responsible for their bad service experiences. Before these companies realize it, they could experience a drop in consumer purchases, reduced customer advocacy, and new customer avoidance.

Dissatisfied customers don’t feel their demands are excessive. The main thing they want is “first call resolution”– prompt, accurate handling of their issue or problem the first time they contact customer service. Make the service experience hard and you might find your company the subject of tomorrow’s hottest Twitter chat.

For businesses, the cost of unfavorable social media exposure is high. Convergys’ 2011 U.S. Customer Scorecard Research shows that more than 70% of consumers who read negative social media posts about a company either avoid doing business or pick up and leave. Just as damaging to the bottom line, the additional burden of handling multiple customer contacts fuels higher contact center operating costs. Every extra communications channel, every instance of non-resolution, and every 30-second hold time endured by a customer drives incremental costs to an organization.

How can companies reduce customer effort?

First, be flexible. Provide multi-channel options that let customers select their contact preferences, and include self-service options for more queries.

Second, train agents in the skills needed to reduce customer effort. With the right training, highly rated and strongly performing agents can significantly reduce the effort that leads to customer attrition. To ensure that each interaction is productive and satisfying to the customer, teach agents what we call the “Seven Commandments of Reducing Customer Effort”:

  1. Ask questions to make sure the customer’s issue is clear
  2. Restate the problem so that the customer knows you understand
  3. If a transfer is necessary, do it quickly
  4. Avoid technical jargon and always be easy to understand
  5. Communicate while you work and tell the customer what you’re doing
  6. Use “headline concepts” to explain all options
  7. Recap the interaction and provide a timeline for problem resolution

Companies are well aware that they can and should be doing more to attack the “effort factor” in customer interactions. Recent statistics from the Customer Contact Council reveal that 77% of organizations understand the importance of customer effort and the impact it can have on attrition, but only 27% are working to limit customer effort.

Minimizing customer effort is a no-brainer with obvious benefits. It safeguards long-term customer loyalty through improved resolution statistics, drives significant cost savings out of support operations and, as importantly, transforms customer relationship management from a cost center to a revenue generator. You don’t have to spend money to increase customer satisfaction. Just focus on solving customer issues on the first contact with the least effort, for you and your customers.

Igor Sarenac
Igor Sarenac is a vice president in Convergys' customer management business, which provides agent-assisted, self-service, and proactive care solutions that support client customers worldwide.


  1. Igor, thanks for sharing your seven commandments for reducing customer effort. Each one is a great suggestion. To me number 7, is one of the most important. Too many times the company does not set the appropriate expectations for the customer, leaving them even more frustrated. By recapping the action steps and timelines, it can totally reduce another set of calls or emails from customers asking why they didn’t get something yet or why they didn’t get a follow-up since their last inquiry. Great ideas! Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention @richardrshapiro


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