Should we care about effort if we don’t measure Customer Effort Score?

September 15, 2020

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One thing I’ve learned is that for customer experience and customer service leaders, metrics are like religion...and suggesting a new one or an alternate approach to what a company currently uses can spark a religious debate. We certainly learned this when my CEB (now, Gartner) co-authors and I debuted the Customer Effort Score back in Harvard Business Review in 2010.

To take a step back, we found in a global study of service interactions across 75,000 customers that those customers whose expectations were exceeded were no more loyal than those whose expectations were simply met. 

It turns out that customer service interactions are four times more likely to create customer disloyalty than loyalty. Why? Because of the effort customers have to go through to get their problems resolved—e.g., they have to call back repeatedly, they have to repeat themselves over and over, they get sent to websites and apps that don’t resolve their issues, they get treated generically and robotically by service reps, etc.

So, the punchline of our research—as well as the main argument in The Effortless Experience—is that, rather than trying to delight and wow their customers, companies are better off trying to mitigate disloyalty by reducing customer effort. In other words, by making service moments easier than companies make them today.

The (controversial) birth of a new score

One of the outputs of the research was a new metric that companies could use to understand when and where effort was happening in the service experience—we called it the “Customer Effort Score” (CES).  

It went through some iterations over the years (in terms of the way the survey question is phrased and the scale we used), but the core idea remained the same: if we know effort creates disloyalty, CES was a good way to find it so that companies could do something about it.

But the reality is that, as much as we thought CES was a valuable contribution to the CX or CS leader’s dashboard (one backed by lots of research and no small amount of common sense) we ran right into or perhaps created the religious debate we were hoping to avoid. 

“We love the Effortless Experience,” we’d often hear from CX and CS leaders, “But our company is an NPS shop.”

Since joining Tethr, our product team has been hard at work building and deploying the market’s first machine-generated effort score, the Tethr Effort Index (TEI). 

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We’re really excited about this innovation. For the first time, companies can see the level of effort that they or their agents are creating in service interactions, simply by flowing call recordings, chat transcripts or even case management data through the Tethr platform. These organizations can now understand when and where effort is happening without having to wait for a customer to fill out a survey to tell them the experience was high effort. And, unlike surveys, using unstructured data like call recordings gives companies a treasure trove of rich, contextual data that helps answer the question of why an experience was high effort (and, therefore, what to do to fix it).

“I don’t measure CES so why should I care about TEI?”

Rolling out TEI, however, has again brought the CX/CS metric religious debate to the forefront. We are regularly asked by prospective customers whether they should care about TEI if they don’t measure CES.

But I believe that underlying this question is a fundamental misunderstanding about the purpose of a CX/CS metric. The question isn’t whether TEI or CES should be on your executive dashboard or whether you should be compensating managers and leaders for it (in the way leaders are often compensated for NPS scores).  

[The answer to that question is “well, maybe.” Meaning, if your organization has prioritized effort reduction as a primary objective and if you have leadership team alignment, then yes, having TEI or CES should be a central operating metric—even one that is part of leaders’ variable compensation—might make sense for a company.]

Instead, the right question to ask is whether your company should care about making things easier for its customers. And the answer to that question is always yes. 

Measuring Customer Effort is critical, no matter which score you use

Every company should absolutely care about being easy to do business with for its customers.  

If you’re running your customers through a gauntlet of obstacles and frustration to get things done with your company, chances are that those customers won't be your customers for very long. And chances are high that those customers will go out of their way to tell others—whether family members, friends, or colleagues—that they shouldn’t do business with you either.  

The research bears this out in very stark terms: 96% of customers who’ve had a difficult, high-effort experience report back that they are unlikely to repurchase, unlikely to spend more and very likely to spread negative word of mouth. This is compared to the 9% of customers who had easy, low-effort experiences who say the same.

Now, if all companies need to think about the level of friction and effort they’re creating for their customers, they should also be thinking about the best ways to identify friction points and high-effort moments in the customer experience.  

At Tethr, we believe that TEI is a revolutionary tool that allows companies to do this at scale and without having to ask customers to fill out post-call surveys—which is, ironically, a high-effort experience for your customers. To see TEI in action, request a demo.

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