In a forever pandemic-changed world where the quality of your company’s customer service and experience means the difference between surviving or thriving, you may be hearing more about the Effortless Experience framework for mitigating customer disloyalty.
While we can talk at a conceptual level about all of the research that’s gone into the framework, the research findings and the principles of low-effort service experiences, the question remains — in a volatile market where one customer interaction can compromise an entire customer experience — what does an effortless customer interaction really look like?
Andhow can you turn customer effort into effortless customer loyalty in every interaction? We’ll teach you that and more in "The Anatomy of an effortless service customer interaction."
THE BIG TAKEAWAYS:
One customer interaction can undermine an entire customer experience.
There’s a lot of good from simply delivering what the customer expects.
Customer loyalty is not guaranteed unless you bridge the gap between expectations and actuals.
Why your service interactions are 4x more likely to drive disloyalty than any others.
If you’re not examining the micro-interactions (customer feelings in response to agent behaviors), then you’re missing the point of effortlessness
Effort scoring your customer interactions outperforms every other customer experience, satisfaction or loyalty measure in the market.
The three fastest routes to reduce customer effort in your interactions.
A cheat-sheet on how to improve your customer effort score with Tethr.
One customer interaction can undermine an entire customer experience. One single, solitary phone call, chat message or customer support email can mean the difference between your customer’s positive perception of your brand and experience and their frustration with it, and eventual churn.
Especially the last part of that interaction. How did it go? Did you leave off on sound footing where you came to a natural closing or resolution? Or, did it leave a bad taste in your customer’s mouth — and an unfortunate lasting impression for your brand?
"78% of consumers share that a single customer service interaction permanently changed how they felt about a brand."
We’re seven months into a global pandemic that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. You don’t want to be leaving your customers’ needs and experiences behind while you rush off to meet sales quotas or try zigging instead of zagging your product or service in an unstable market climate. We invite you to grab a cup of coffee or your favorite loose-leaf tea, find a comfy seat and get ready to anatomize with us, if you will, an effortless customer interaction.
Table of contents:
Chapter 1: What is a customer interaction?
Chapter 2: What makes an interaction “effortless”?
Customer interactions come in many shapes and sizes these days — from the long and often drawn-out phone call to the quick chat message that you key in with all of your thumbs from your mobile phone on the way to pick up your kids from school finally (of course, never texting while driving!). But you get the idea.
What used to be just a visit to your brick-and-mortar or a phone call from a customer has evolved into a multitude of methods to interact with customers across a variety of virtual channels. Today's customers are engaging everywhere: from social media and open text messengers to live chatbots, email and SMS. Add in the tools your front-line staff use to respond (customer support ticketing systems and entire enterprise CRM solutions for the contact center), and you've got plenty of touchpoints where a customer interaction can potentially occur.
The first question to ask yourself:
How do you deliver on what you say you’ll deliver with the least possible effort for your customer?
And a customer’s journey (a.k.a. all the micro-interactions they have with your company across every channel, department and team) touches many parts of your business. From a customer service interaction over the phone with a customer care rep. in your contact center, to a live chat with your product support team online to a customer prospecting or account maintenance interaction via email with a business development manager or an account manager.
Even more, there are so many influencing factors that lead customers to choose a specific channel to communicate with companies:
Social posts, comments and messengers: our customers know that using a little social pressure can work to their advantage, getting them a faster response, and potentially, a more speedy resolution. With more than half the world's population using some form of social media in 2020 (anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5 hours per day), it's a channel your customer base is likely engaging with. You should be showing up to the conversation too.
Email and live chat: Customers shoot an email or hop on a chat when their issue or questions isn't time-sensitive. And for those of us who like a paper trail to refer back to, these channels offer a written record of the conversation.
Text messages: Customers prefer text messages for quick replies and reminders, like appointments and scheduling. And with an increasingly tech-savvy population, according to business text messaging provider, Snapdesk, "67% of people would rather text with a business than talk to them on the phone." SMS is used best for on-the-go replies to a business (for example, 58% of consumers have tried to reply with a text message after missing a call from a business). And, consumers are four times more likely to respond to a text message than call back a business voicemail.
A good, old fashioned phone call: contrary to the days of old when picking up the rotary phone was one of our quickest forms of communication; nowadays our customers pick up the phone when we don't have a digital channel or we have a cumbersome one and it's their last resort. Our customers also typically call when they're dealing with more complex or sensitive issues that may need expert help.
In a post-COVID world where we’ve all been forced online, and with so many more ways to interact with your customers than ever… how do you know what you should be doing to keep happy customers happy? And what you should not be doing to keep them at all?
Chapter 2: What makes an interaction “effortless”?
Providing an exceptional customer experience is supposed to be the one thing that encourages happy customers who are loyal more than anything, right?
Well, it’s half-right.
What the Effortless Experience* research (of more than 100 thousand customers) tells us is that “customers who are delighted are actually no more loyal than those whose expectations are simply met,” explains Matt Dixon, Tethr’s Chief Product and Research Officer, and one of the key researchers on the project. So, “actually delivering a good, straightforward, frictionless, effortless customer experience is what our customers are really looking for,” he goes on to say.
* The Effortless Experience is a trademark of Challenger, Inc. To learn more about Effortless Experience solutions, contact Challenger.
“Delighted customers are actually no more loyal than those whose expectations are simply met.”
Matt Dixon, Tethr
To sum it all up for you, two of the big takeaways from the Effortless Experience research:
There’s a lot of good from simply delivering what the customer expects.
When we do more than the customer expects (like freebies, giveaways, longer calls and escalations), customers don’t pay us back with their loyalty.
In actuality, where the effortful friction is happening the most in your business is an even more surprising outcome of the research. “When we look at the impact of a service interaction on loyalty,” Dixon expands, “what we found is that a service interaction is almost 4x more likely to drive disloyalty than loyalty.”
“A service interaction is almost 4x more likely to drive disloyalty than loyalty.”
Matt Dixon, Tethr
Why? The seven critical drivers of high-effort customer interactions, and therefore disloyalty, tend to happen with frequency in a company’s service operations. This is where your customer care and support staff typically shoulder the burden of upstream and downstream business strategy, process and resourcing issues.
Effort drivers can come from every angle around your customer service delivery. A few questions to reflect on for your business:
Are you putting your customers in high-effort binds (like having to call you back multiple times)?
Are you passing the buck by transferring their calls across departments with no facilitation or orientation... so they have to repeat information?
Placing the burden of your inhumane or robotic service practices on them or forcing them into onerous and constraining company policies and procedures.
And don’t forget the overall hassle of having to call you in the first place! All of these disloyalty drivers make your customer’s experience worse, never better.
We suggest you start by looking at your customer service interactions — the stuff that's happening in the contact center or with your customer care and quality assurance or support teams.
As CX and Customer Care or Quality Assurance leaders, what questions should we be asking ourselves about “effort” in each of our customer interactions?
How are our customer interactions lending themselves to a low-effort customer experience?
What’s the level of customer satisfaction in our service operation?
Do our customer relations bridge the gap between our customer’s pain point, their expectations and the actual service experience they have with us?
Are we easy to do business with for our customers in every interaction we have with them?
Are our customer interactions creating happy customers, loyal brand ambassadors?
What’s our employee’s experience like and how’s that impacting our customer interactions?
What’s our employees’ behavior and how’s that impacting our customers’ experience with us?
Chapter 3: Typical components of an effortless customer interaction
Our research reveals: if you want to improve your customer relationships, shore-up customer expectations, fine-tune your customer service operations or full-on practice the tenets of effortless service to re-architect an effortless customer experience from the ground up in your organization, you'll want to start with the smallest incremental component — the customer interaction.
And regardless of the scale of the initiative you want to undertake, effortlessness begins within each individual interaction. And an effortless experience is made up of hundreds and thousands of effortless customer micro-interactions happening at any given moment across every team and customer touchpoint in your org. So, let’s dig into the common components of an effortless customer interaction.
Tracing an effortless customer experience by the quality of each interaction over time
As humans we’re built to want to show and see improvement over time — in ourselves and in our relationships. So much so that forecasters expect the $38B global personal development market to grow by more than 5% over the next seven years due, in part, to the rise of advanced digital platforms for self-improvement, indicates Grand View Research's Personal Development Market segment forecast.
And it’s no different from our relationships with our customers. To measure our customers’ experience we look at two axes: Quality of the CX (represented vertically above) and Time (illustrated horizontally above). You can switch the Time axis out for many other measures to paint the picture of our customers' experience, including by industry, team, channel or platform or touchpoint in the customer journey.
The point(s) where those axes meet in the example graph above indicate the quality of a touchpoint, or customer interaction, in the experience over a period of time. The data will ultimately paint a picture of the ideal customer experience by touchpoint, or interaction, or the current customer experience by comparison.
Managing both customer expectations and your experience actuals
The reality is that as humans who lead businesses, it’s as hard to see our own blind spots as it is to see them in our business. And it’s especially hard to see blind spots in each individual customer interaction happening across our business.
When you’re looking at the quality of a customer interaction over time, you’ll naturally see a rise in your customer’s expectations of your product, service or of doing business with you.
This rise can be attributed to market shifts, technological innovation, broader-than-ever access to information and sharing, domain maturation, and generational norms. Below are a few stats that sum up these ever-evolving shifts impacting your customer interactions and your experience as a whole:
So when you're tracing the reality of your customer's experience — interaction-by-interaction — it's easy to see how a gap can emerge between their evolving needs and expectations and what you're delivering.
So, how are you addressing that gap currently? Answer that question honestly.
Are you investing in coaching for your customer care and support teams?
Are you investing internally in the employee experience?
Have you built a customer experience technology stack that invests not only in listening, but also in closing the loop with customers?
And, are you getting a return on these investments?
To gain insight from a human interaction, you must consider both perceived feelings and behaviors
Let’s face it, we’re all human. So, suppose you're not examining the micro-interactions (customer feelings and perceptions in response to agent behaviors) in your customer interactions. In that case, you're going to miss the nuances that can immediately elicit a customer's emotions and drive-up customer-perceived effort.
This scale measures low-to-high customer effort perception on the vertical axis happening over customer interaction flow. In the example above, we’re looking at the flow of a customer call. And what our research shows is that some common reactions/responses differentiate high-effort interactions with low-performing agent behaviors from low-effort customer interactions with high-performing agent behaviors.
Approximately a third of customers define effort around what they actually have to do to resolve their issue.
Two-thirds of customers base their perceived effort on how they felt when resolving their issue.
Effortless Experience research finding
Let’s look at two examples of high-effort and low-effort customer interactions below.
For each example, we'll break the call down into the three parts that are important to consider when analyzing the customer experience's quality and effort across your interactions: beginning, middle and end or what's often referred to as greeting, middle, closing.
Example 1: The qualities of high-effort interactions with low-performing agent behaviors
First, let’s focus on the beginning of this example customer interaction shown above. Here we see the customer call starts well with the customer care agent making an apologetic acknowledgment of the customer’s pain point that probably sounds something like, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear you’re experiencing x.”
Next, what happens is the key points of differentiation between an effortful and an effortless customer interaction. It's where the customer gets real about how your company missed their expectations. And it’s here that we find low-performing agents identifying themselves.
Low-performing customer service agents aren’t skilled at handling the difference that arises when customer expectations don’t match up with experience. What they do instead is to defer, or avoid, the issue at hand. Acknowledging a problem, but actively avoiding addressing it with deferral is a sure-fire way to watch the rest of the interaction plummet into the depths of low-quality and high-effort.
By the middle of a high-effort customer interaction, what was acknowledged, but deferred turns into customer confusion. What that looks like in a customer interaction is the customer expressing something like, “I just don’t understand why your company cannot get this right.”
And what they’re met with in a high-effort experience is none other than equal confusion from the customer support rep. Agent confusion can look something like this: “Hmmm… you know, I’m not sure about that…” or “That’s never happened before. Can I put you on hold to figure x out?”
Now, what could be more frustrating than reaching out to a professional representative of a company — whose job it is to help you as a customer and help you understand — and being met with equal levels of confusion while they figure it out?
The end of a high-effort customer interaction is no different. Quality progressively plunges as the contact center agent escalates the call internally, feigning powerless to help the customer. Ultimately, like a deer caught in car headlights, their unfortunate tactic is to deflect.
Deflection has other names you may recognize, like “passing the buck” or “hiding behind a company’s policies.” What this sounds like is the contact center agent saying, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do to help,” or even “Our company policy prevents us from doing it that way.”
As a customer, you’ve likely experienced these unfortunate tactics yourself. So, how did you feel at the end of an interaction like this with a brand you trusted? Frustrated much? We get it.
What's the real value/ROI of resolving a call?
It might surprise you to read this, but “I don't think service leaders need to be sold on the notion that issue resolution is important,” shares our SVP of Product Research, Ted McKenna. While we acknowledge that ROI is one of the main things call centers measure, often using a metric referred to as FCR, or first-call resolution, our research indicates it’s more nuanced than that.
What we've learned from dissecting thousands of customer interactions shows that the components of an interaction that have been long-considered as negative from a performance standpoint are the very choice points where your customer sales and service staff can completely turn an interaction around. (For example, these are things like asking probing questions and making the customer repeat information, allowing them to air out their frustrations or taking more time to handle the pain points the customer is presenting)
Not only is first-call resolution a bit unrealistic for both companies and their customer service and support staff, but it's also missing the bigger picture. Literally. From our perspective, and what we suggest companies do to help their customers avoid future issues, use a more realistic resolution measure that takes into account the themes across multiple customer points of contact and prepares customer care agents to actively listen and take an offensive approach. Using Next Issue Avoidance (NIA), customer service staff listen in the present while doing a bit of predicting the future downstream customer impacts that could trigger another call, chat or support case.
And using NIA may very well mean your support staff needs to dig in a little bit more deeply and a little longer to offer that kind of preventative guidance. We’ve found that high-performing sales, service and support agents get higher scores on these commonly negatively-weighted variables in a customer call (27% higher scores) while generally taking 5% longer on the call. Why? We’ll show you in the next example below.
Example 2: The qualities of effortless customer interactions with high-performing agent behaviors
Like we did in the high-effort customer interaction above, let’s break this low-effort example into its three parts (beginning, middle, end) and start at the beginning. What’s interesting to note about this one may have immediately become apparent if you’re looking at the call flow illustration above. What? Wait. So, an effortless customer interaction begins with the very things I’ve been coaching my customer care team, my call center floor managers and supervisors (or maybe even been coached myself!) to NOT DO?! What gives?
This is where the research gets exciting and might initially even seem counterintuitive to what you’ve learned about good customer interactions. In the customer call scenario illustrated above, the customer’s effort perception immediately takes a skydive. So, wait (you may be asking yourself)… let me get this straight — is this a trick example? Did you accidentally switch the high-effort and low-effort examples of a customer interaction?
Nope. We didn’t. In a low-effort customer interaction with a service rep. who is practicing Next Issue Avoidance, for example, you’re going to wade through the murk of the customer’s unmet needs well before you crawl ashore to the island oasis of customer happiness on the other side. (We all wish it felt like an island oasis right now!) The "murk" looks like asking your customer lots of questions and listening to their answers. Which might sound like, “Tell me more about what’s going on?” Or “What’s it been like for you?”
And to make sure you got it right, you may need to have them repeat some information to you, which can certainly end up creating customer perceived frustration at its lowest point because you're actually allowing the customer to get it all out on the table.
But, that’s all just before the dawn.
By the middle of a low-effort customer interaction,right when it seems the sun will never rise again on your island oasis of customer happiness, a high-performing service or support rep. with all the customer’s frustration out on the table will pull out two of the sturdiest skills in their toolkit. And no, they don’t involve busting apart coconut husks, digging up seashells or recovering old fisherman’s wire that’s washed ashore. They are advocacy and proactive guidance.
High-performing agents not only commit to holding space for the differences that can naturally arise when your customer’s expectations and your company’s actuals don’t line up, they embrace it. With all of the murkiest details of the customer’s frustrating experience in hand, they take ownership of the customer’s problem as if it were their own using the power of advocacy and guiding them toward a resolution.
The end of a low-effort customer interaction employs acknowledgment again, but it's not the kind you might be used to coaching or receiving. As the agent eases the customer's perception of effort, it rises steadily in this last service phase. A high-performing service agent isn't going to give empty "I'm sorries" to their customer. Instead, they'll more confidently acknowledge their shared relief at being able to work through the frustration and find a resolution. Assertive acknowledgment sounds like, "I am so relieved that we were able to work together to fix this issue for you today!"
What happens next might also surprise you, but in a low-effort customer interaction, the customer — feeling met in their moments of frustration — will give what we call promoter signals. These are verbal signals where relieved and unburdened customers then actively advocate for the agent or your company. Promoter signals sound like, “OMG, you were awesome! I am not going anywhere.” Or, “You got me,I’m a customer for life!”
Add drivers and contributors to create depth and dimension in your understanding of the interaction
The last quintessential component of an effortless customer interaction will focus on what we call drivers, or the events that elicit effort, disloyalty or increase business cost.
Understanding these drivers on your customer interaction and, ultimately, the driver themes across your customer’s journey creates the context for both the service agent’s behavior or the customer’s response. Drivers give your interaction traceable dimension.
They also give the interaction more traceable depth. Take the example of the seven key drivers of disloyalty above. Tracing these as structured customer data on your customer interaction will help you understand a lot more about the contexts and situations across your business that are currently (and have the potential to) increase disloyalty from your customers.
Now, take our five buckets of effort drivers: Customer sentiment, Call handling effort, Self-service effort, Rep-related effort, Non-service effort. You may notice how broad these buckets are, and there’s a reason. Our effort research has borne more than 50 different nuances of effort that can occur on an interaction and across a customer experience! Imagine diving 50 levels deep into all the shades of effort across your channels, stages in a customer service interaction, customer responses like Confusion, Frustration or Missed Expectations, and customer and agent behaviors like Channel Switching, Repeat Contacts, Proactive Guidance and Escalations.
Chapter 4: What are the quickest ways companies can reduce customer effort in their customer interactions?
Start small and get specific. Concentrate your attention on the places (and the specific customer interactions) in your business that significantly drive-up customer disloyalty first before expanding to all the customer interactions across your entire organization. (hint: they’ll be the high-effort interactions with low-performing service agents. What we call Difficult interactions.)
Get to know your customers’ pain points by listening. Then start simple by targeting at least one of the top five customer effort drivers or one of the top seven drivers of customer disloyalty first. (pssst: they are all a function of your customers’ effort, or the friction they feel, in doing business with you.)
But at Tethr we take that effort scoring quite a few steps further than the original Customer Effort Score. Our platform removes the natural limitations of a survey-based score and increases your ability to score both effort and agent behaviors at-scale across all of your customer interactions. And our integrations allow you to automate internal and customer follow-up workflows across some of the industry's best CX and CRM tools (pssst... Qualtrics and Salesforce).
So what’s a good effort score for a customer interaction?
We dive into the Tethr Effort Index (TEI) model's details, how we tuned it and a ton more in our Complete Guide to the Tethr Effort Index. But for our purposes in this article, let’s start simple with a single customer interaction.
First, it’s necessary to understand that “we built TEI as a disloyalty detector,” states McKenna, and “the research tells us it's the disloyal situations worth paying attention to — where negative word of mouth becomes an issue and customer churn becomes real.”
So, looking at the typical TEI distribution across a customer interaction, a score between 0 and 4 is what you want to watch out for. These are red-flagging your Difficultcustomer interactions, or those that indicate high-effort from the customer’s perception. Typically around 10-15% of customer interactions fall into this range.
On the opposite side of the range, and experience, are your effortless customer interactions, what we term Easy that fall into the 7 to 10 score range. These are the ones you want to sit back, listen to and learn from. What are the themes you’re seeing? The behaviors of your service agents? The perceptions of your customers implied in their tone and sentiment? And what can you put on repeat?
But what about those ~70% of Moderate scores in the middle, yellow range? “Moderate scores basically say it was neither great nor terrible with respect to perceived effort,” adds McKenna.
"While it's far more impactful to think about the best and worst customer interactions through an effort lense and how to replicate or fix them," explains McKenna. What he's found is that "when scores hover in the middle, it almost always means the agent isn't doing much to engineer a great experience. So, you want to ask yourself, why was that not an Easy interaction? What could have made it so?”
Customer effort score: industry benchmarks and best practices
“We recommend you continue using things like CSAT to pick up on positive CX indicators like product affinity,” he shares. Still, survey-based scoring methods have natural limitations as they rely on, well, someone putting forth the extra effort to complete a survey when they may just have told you their pain point over the phone, in the live chatbot or via the email they sent.
"96% of customers who’ve had a difficult, high-effort experience report back that they’re unlikely to repurchase, unlikely to spend more and very likely to spread negative word of mouth."
Matt Dixon, Tethr
Did you realize that the most widely-known survey-based methods for analyzing your customer interactions to get at customer satisfaction, loyalty or effort can actually drive more effort for your customer? Here's a quick look at the industry-standard measures, what they measure, how they're calculated, what that means and suggested uses.
Survey-based customer effort, satisfaction and loyalty scores: CES vs CSAT vs NPS by comparison
What it measures:
Customer effort with an organization (short-term, per interaction)
How it's calculated:
(No. of satisfied and very satisfied customers / No. of survey responses) x 100 = % of satisfied customers
What's the question:
“On a scale of ‘very easy’ to ‘very difficult’, how easy was it to interact with (Company X).”
What it means:
Short-term amount of effort a customer had to exert in a single interaction
Incomplete picture; use with NPS for a more holistic view
What it measures:
Customer satisfaction with products or services (short-term, per interaction)
How it's calculated:
(No. of satisfied and very satisfied customers / No. of survey responses) x 100 = % of satisfied customers
Perceived customer effort isn’t just about what they’re saying on the interaction. As we’ve demonstrated in chapter 3: the common components of an effortless customer interaction, it’s also about what they’re feeling and perceiving, what they’re doing, what the service agent is doing and what the context is within which everything takes place.
So, what do you do once you have all of this insight about your customer’s effort? In the same Qualtrics study, more than 80 percent of customers who’d had a high-effort experience wanted a callback so they could share about their experience. And customers the business intentionally recovered using a closed-loop action were found to be 2x more loyal.
“Customers who the business intentionally recovered using a closed-loop action were found to be 2x more loyal.”
You're going to need to do some automating to close the loop at scale. Luckily you can automate effort scoring using Tethr to surface difficult interactions at scale. Then, automate closing the loop on those difficult customer interactions in your service practice and with your customers.
◯ Step 3: explore the themes in your customer’s perceived effort across interactions, agents, teams or any other custom metadata you define. You'll do this by choosing one or two of the most prominent themes, or drivers, you see in your VoC data. With Tethr's built-in customer effort score dashboards, you can visualize customer sentiment across effort and disloyalty drivers using our extensive subscription library of more than 50 effort-tuned categories.
Layer in the other party: the service agent and their behaviors in response to the customer:
◯ Step 4: using the latest agent-focused derivative of TEI, the Agent Impact Score (AIS), measure quality, improve rep performance and track changes in how your support team handles those Difficult customer interactions.
Finally, close the loop to turn difficult into effortless customer interactions: