What’s Better Than Delighting Customers? Reducing Friction


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Many marketing experts emphasize the importance of customer delight. The reasoning goes that customers won’t be impressed by service that meets their expectations, but they will remember businesses that exceed those expectations.

One of the most delightful delight stories comes from the Ritz-Carlton chain of hotels. The chain is highly focused on customer satisfaction and exceeding customer expectations. Every employee can spend up to $2,000 to resolve a customer problem—no managerial approval needed. Ponder that for a moment—how many businesses would empower each of their employees to spend that much money simply because they thought it would make a customer happy?

Ritz-Carlton also gives staffers free rein to be creative. When a young guest left his stuffed giraffe, Joshie, behind, the staff at the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton didn’t just ship the plush toy home. They created a photo album of Joshie’s continued vacation adventure. Photos showed him reclining poolside, hanging out with other stuffed animals, and having a great time. One photo showed the little giraffe driving a beach buggy.

Along with Joshie himself, the hotel staff shipped the album, some Ritz-Carlton swag, and even a hotel ID with Joshie’s name and photo on it to the youngster’s home. (1) Naturally, everyone in the family was delighted. The parents shared the hotel’s over-the-top effort on social media, and the story went viral. Although this took place a few years ago, I still hear customer service advocates trot out the Joshie story as an example of how to delight customers.

Unfortunately, there are three problems with holding up the Joshie story as an example for other businesses to aspire to: It’s hard to go viral, delight doesn’t scale, and—most damningly of all—delight doesn’t drive loyalty. Let’s explore these in a little more depth.

First, consider the chances of a delight story going viral. For Ritz-Carlton, there’s no doubt that the effort the staff put into orchestrating the Joshie resort experience paid for itself a thousand times over in free publicity. But, can you name a similar delight story from another company that went viral in the same way? No? Neither can I. Viral social media explosions like this are exceedingly rare. They’re also unpredictable. No amount of effort can guarantee them.

Second, it’s obviously impossible to give each customer the level of personal attention required to create Joshie’s adventure, even at a five-star luxury brand like Ritz-Carlton. If Joshie is an exception even at Ritz-Carlton, there’s no sense advising more economical brands, such as Hilton Garden Inn or Best Western, to emulate the Joshie template.

Finally, and most importantly, delight doesn’t drive loyalty. Therefore, why expend so much energy on it? Although many businesses are trying to delight their customers, the data shows that delight isn’t a big factor in keeping those customers loyal. This is not to say that delighting customers is a bad thing, simply that the type of delight that can be delivered at scale isn’t the most powerful way to earn loyalty.

If Not Delight, Then What?

Unless you are part of a large company, you probably haven’t heard of CEB Global. Today, they are part of the somewhat better-known Gartner Group. Despite their relatively low profile, CEB’s members include 83 percent of Fortune 1000 companies and the same share of FTSE 100 firms. Their customer base exceeds 10,000 in 110 countries. One of CEB’s singular efforts has been to measure customer effort and gauge its impact on customer behavior.

CEB’s research delivers some real surprises, because it indicates that most customers seek a satisfactory experience, rather than surprise and delight. While “satisfactory” may seem like a low bar, CEB’s data reveals the following:

  • Ninety-six percent of customers who put forth high effort to resolve their issues are more disloyal.
  • Fifty-nine percent of customers report moderate-to-high additional effort in a service interaction
  • Customer service interactions are nearly four times more likely to lead to disloyalty than loyalty. (2)

How should these numbers be interpreted? And what does CEB mean by customer effort? The organization CEB developed a metric known as the Customer Effort Score. It’s intended as an alternative to (or perhaps an augmentation of) more established metrics such as Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS).

The score is determined by asking customers to what extent they agree or disagree with the statement, “The company made it easy for me to handle my issue.” Customers can choose one of seven values ranging from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.” (3)

Does that sound subjective? Could it reflect personal biases and vary between customers? Could it change over time for the same experience? The answer to all three of these questions is yes, but that’s not a problem. CEB would argue that what matters is the customer’s perception of effort. A company’s process for ordering online order may be better than most, but if I do most of my shopping at Amazon using their One-Click button, I may look at a simple form and decide it’s too much work.

Although effort is subjective, CEB identified some of the activities that customers considered high effort:

  • Multiple contacts to solve a problem
  • Having to change channels, e.g., web to phone
  • Impersonal treatment and generic advice
  • Transfers, and having to repeat information
  • Perception of additional effort (4)

Is there anything more infuriating than being transferred from person to person in an organization and having to repeat personal information or describe the problem each time? Or dealing with a representative who is following a script and refuses to deviate? Unfortunately, these and other annoying things are built into all too many customer interactions.

Cut Customer Effort to Boost Loyalty

A CEB survey of 97,000 customers shows the remarkable effect of customer effort on loyalty:

  • Nine percent of customers who classified their experiences as low-effort reported being disloyal.
  • Ninety-six percent of customers who classified their experiences as high-effort reported being disloyal. (5)

This is a massive difference. It strongly suggests that the costs of a high-effort experience can’t possibly be outweighed by occasionally delighting customers. On the flipside, reducing customer effort makes it far more likely that customers will remain loyal.

Not every business can—or even wants to—create the next Joshie story. We all love to be delighted, but practically there’s no way every interaction with a business can meet that standard. But every business can take steps to sustainably reduce effort (read: friction) and limit the chances of customers going elsewhere. Don’t make doing business with you feel too much like hard work.

For more advice on winning customer loyalty, you can find my book Friction: The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

(1) Hanselman, A. (2012, May 18). Joshie The Giraffe—A Remarkable Story About Customer Delight! Retrieved July 28, 2018, from http://customerthink.com/joshie_the_giraffe_a_remarkable_story_about_customer_delight/

(2) Dixon, M., Toman, N., & DeLisi, R. (2013). The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty. London: Portfolio Penguin. p. 29

(3) Bryan, J. (2018, July 12). What’s Your Customer Effort Score? Retrieved February 5, 2019, from https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/unveiling-the-new-and-improved-customer-effort-score/

(4) Dixon, M., Toman, N., & DeLisi, R. (2013). The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty. London: Portfolio Penguin. p. 24

(5) Bryan, J. (2018, July 12). What’s Your Customer Effort Score? Retrieved February 5, 2019, from https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/unveiling-the-new-and-improved-customer-effort-score/

Roger Dooley
Roger Dooley is an author and international keynote speaker. His books include Friction: The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage (McGraw Hill, April 26, 2019) and Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing. He writes the popular blog Neuromarketing and a column at Forbes.com. He is the founder of Dooley Direct, a consultancy, and co-founded College Confidential, the leading college-bound website. That business was acquired by Hobsons, a unit of UK-based DMGT, where Dooley served as VP Digital Marketing after the acquisition.


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