The Two Factor Theory and Customer Service


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Originally posted on, August 5th, 2014
 Co-written by Ben Patient and Nate Brown

In the late 1950’s, Frederick Herzberg introduced his research that has revolutionized the way we look at motivation in the workplace. This theory is known as the “Two Factor Theory” and it introduces two separate scales measuring employee satisfaction. There is one scale that measures satisfaction, and the other scale measures dissatisfaction. The key is to focus on the fact that Herzberg’s theory does not identify them on the same scale. This means satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not co-dependent opposites, but rather separate measurements all together. The two factors that comprise the theory are motivators and hygiene factors. When considered from a human resources perspective it looks like this:

  • Motivators such as autonomy, recognition, and skill development work to GROW employee satisfaction.
  • Hygiene Factors such as salary, job security, and work conditions work to REDUCE employee satisfaction.
Two Great Factors – Hot Chocolate and Marshmallows

Depending on the combination of the two, an employee could be happy but not loyal. If the baseline hygiene factors are not well considered, then we are still at risk of losing the employee even if we lavish them with exciting motivators. The best part is that Herzberg’s two factor theory can be applied to other situations. After all, it is a theory based on people, not any specific discipline.

Customer Service is a fantastic example. Unique insight can be gained by viewing service interactions through the “two factor” lens. In a service environment we can consider:

  • Motivators-  such as free products, convenient social media support channels, and “WOW” moments in service transactions can GROW satisfaction/brand loyalty.
  • Hygiene Factors- such as extended phone trees, long hold times, channel switching, or inconsistency between analysts can REDUCE customer satisfaction.

There are many hygiene factors in service interactions that take the form of customer expectations. These are elements that will rarely build rapport (even when done very well), but when done poorly they are major dissatisfiers. Expectations will vary from service center to service center based on your specific customers. For example, you will expect a different level of service at a Hilton property then you would at the Motel 6. Intentional effort to understand the expectations of your customers will be essential to predicting loyalty.

A Duck in Water
A Duck in Water

Hygiene processes and workflows are generally not fun to create and maintain. As service managers, we often pursue the sexy motivators -things often associated with “delight” – to try and wow customers and be the hero. This is only natural – who among us doesn’t enjoy the executive limelight for our efforts? The problem is that we often get carried away with creating “WOW” moments and we fail to meet expectations consistently.

Consider the statistic from “The Effortless Experience” by the CEB that a customer service interaction is four times more likely to drive disloyalty vs. loyalty! What this means is the nature of our service methodology should be defensive rather than offensive. Our role as service leaders is to first and foremost mitigate damage. When your customers are able to achieve resolution quickly, easily and consistently, then and only then should motivators become a key part of your service strategy. Research by the CEB, Forrester and the Harvard Business Review all demonstrate definitively how meeting expectations and reducing effort is far more valuable than delight when it comes to customer loyalty.

Here are several examples of common customer expectations in technology support.  Are there areas where your defense may be suffering?

  • Hammer and Nail
    Hammer and Nail

    To be guided to the BEST channel to resolve a problem quickly, not the channel most convenient for the organization

  • Short hold times, limited (if any) phone tree to achieve the correct party over the phone quickly
  • To be treated as a valued individual and shown empathy during a challenging situation
  • For the analyst to demonstrate active listening – waiting for the customer to finish the problem statement before offering solutions
  • For analysts to be knowledgeable not only of the product or service the company offers, but also of the customer’s unique situation (how else can you be consultative!?)
  • A clear channel for product feedback, (here’s the kicker) and offering the customer some type of reciprocation based on suggestions offered

The CEB data and the Two Factor Theory go hand in hand.  It explains why customers can report being satisfied or even delighted one day, and then leaving us for another vendor the next.  The satisfaction rates on surveys are subject to appear higher when we sprinkle in motivating “delight” factors, when in reality the baseline hygiene factors are not being met.  Take a lesson from Herzberg – don’t let motivators muddle your metrics and distract you from what is really important…defense.


[box] When it comes to generating customer loyalty, it is far better to be consistently good then occasionally great![/box]


IMG_6630 - Copysmall


BenPatientBen is a strategic thinker and people-focused leader who has demonstrated an ability to repeatedly achieve great business results at Fortune 100 companies by challenging himself to think about people and processes differently. He has demonstrated his ability to guide leadership development based on each individual’s strengths, and understands the importance of building genuine relationships to meet business goals.

Nate Brown
Nate Brown is a perpetual student of the world’s greatest experiences and the people who create them. Having spent the first decade of this career managing a complex technical support environment for Occupational Health and eLearning software, Nate transitioned to Customer Experience 2015. After authoring The CX Primer, Brown was dubbed the “CX Influencer of the Year” by CloudCherry in 2019. As a passion project, Nate created CX Accelerator, a first-class virtual community for Customer Experience professionals. Nate currently serves as the Chief Experience Officer for Officium Labs.



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