The Effortless Experience: Sensational Headlines, Misleading Conclusion?

In this post I complete my take on the key assertion and the 4 findings put forth in the book The Effortless Experience.  Before I launch into this post let’s recap the following points from the first post.

Recap of the essential points from the earlier post

The four major findings put forth by the authors:

  1. A strategy of delight doesn’t pay
  2. Satisfaction is not a predictor of loyalty
  3. Customer service interaction tend to drive disloyalty, not loyalty
  4. The key to mitigating disloyalty is reducing customer effort

Let’s also get clear on the scope of the research that gave rise to these findings. The primary mechanism was post (contact centre) call surveys completed by customers. And the scope did not included the end 2 end customer experience:

An important disclosure before we reveal the results and their implications: we intentionally limited this study to service transactions and their impact on customer loyalty.

And my position?  I shared in the first post that these findings show up for me as a statement of the bleeding obvious. And it occurs to me that the headline grabbing finding “Satisfaction is not a predictor of loyalty” is misleading if not flawed.  Now I fulfil on my promise to share my rationale.

Dealing with findings 2, 3, and 4

How many studies do we need to get that satisfaction is not a predictor of loyalty?  Just look into your experience!  I can be satisfied, even delighted, with a physiotherapist and switch to a chiropractor. Why? Because by switching I reduce my travel time from 45-60 minutes (each way) to  15-20 minutes each way.  I can be satisfied with a particular restaurant and try out new restaurants that show up on my radar – usually as result of some recommendation.  I can be satisfied with a particular mobile telco and switch because of some promotion heavily promoted by a competitor …

Who does the customer turn to when s/he has a pressing issue which needs to be dealt with?  Customer Services and the folks sitting in some distant contact centre.  What does it take for a customer to make the call to these contact-centres?  My experience that many of us only call the contact centre if and only if we cannot address the issue through other means: internet, self-service channels, friends….. Why? Because, on the whole the experience of dealing with contact centres is effortful and painful.

It occurs to me that customers increasingly turn to Customer Services as a last resort and usually with the more complex issues/problems.  And on the whole the Customer Services function is not designed to help customers with these complex issues/problems;  contact-centres are staffed and run to minimise the cost of operations not to deliver a good customer experience.  As a result of the mismatch between the needs of the Customer and the design-operation of the contact-centre customers often have to force a solution out from the contact-centre.  That is to say that at best the interaction shows up as effortful. And there are many instances where the contact centre is unhelpful: quoting policy or making promises and not delivering on them as Customer Services has little power in the rest of the organisation.  Given this is it any surprising that “Customer service interaction tend to drive disloyalty, not loyalty” and “The key to mitigating disloyalty is reducing customer effort”.  Don’t take my word for it, read this post for my British Gas experience.

Dealing with the profound finding: “A strategy of delight doesn’t pay”

Take a look at delight.  What shows up?  For me, taken a phenomenological approach, the following shows up:

  1. I rarely find myself delighted in the course of interacting with companies of which I am a customer.

  2. When I do find myself delighted it is because someone who is a representative of the company , or the company itself, has ‘given’ me something that shows up for me as valuable and which I did not expect.

  3. Delight is contextual – the  content which shows up as delightful in one context does not necessarily show up as delightful in another context. For example, being upgraded from an economy seat to a business seat, in Virgin Atlantic, for a transatlantic flight showed up a delightful.  If I had been upgraded in the case of an hour flight the hassle would have probably outweighed the ‘delight’. Friendly-chatty service show up as delightful when I am relaxed and have plenty of time to spare; the same friendly-chatty service shows up as annoying-intruding-unprofessional when I am in a hurry and simply want the job done, the outcome delivered. If getting the job done turned out to be easier than I imagined, involved less effort on my part, then I tend to be delighted at how easy-effortless the experience was – whether conducting research, making a purchase, or contacting the customer services team and getting help with an issue.

  4. In service transactions there is something like a recipe for generating delight in customers. The recipe involves: solving the customer’s problem; doing so quickly not leaving the customer hanging and most likely worried; minimising the effort that the customer has to make; and last but not least the human element – how you treat the customer as a flesh and blood human being with or without respect, with warmth or with coldness/indifference, as a unique fellow human being or just another call to be handled asap to meet the call time metrics….

How do the authors of the Effortless Experience see, define and measure delight? They see it very differently to me.  They do not see delight in phenomenological terms: that which shows up in the customer’s lived experience – body and mind.  No, they have defined a strategy of delight as consisting of a number of tactics falling under the category Moments of “Wow”:

“Moments of “Wow”

– Willingness of service to go above and beyond

– Applying knowledge about customers

– Exceeding customer expectations

– Teaching the customer

– Offering alternatives

– Perceived value of alternatives”

So what the author’s research is testing, if it is testing anything, is the effectiveness of these tactics in generating delight and thus loyalty.  What if these tactics annoy customers rather than delight customers?  Just this week, I rang my broadband supplier as my patience had run out. The contact-centre agent was helpful. In between conducting the tests, and understanding the size of my home, she was telling me about a special offer (wireless range extender) that the company had on, encouraging me to take advantage of this offer, and telling me she would be happy to guide me through the online process.  Did this land as delightful for me? No! Why not? Because I just wanted her to fix my broadband so I could get my work done!  I didn’t ring to get advice. I didn’t ring to get a free wireless range extender. I range because the broadband was slow, had been slow intermittently over weeks, and that day I desperately needed the broadband to work because I had pressing work to get done and for that I needed a fast (enough) internet connection!

Now take a look at what the authors have placed under the category of Customer Effort:

“Customer Effort

– Number of transfers

– Repeating information

– First contact resolution

– Number of contacts to resolve

– Perceived additional effort to resolve

– Ease of contacting service

– Channel switching

– Time to resolve”

It occurs to me that many of the factors that are likely to lead to delight showing up in customers, as a lived bodily experience, in-around-after a customer service interaction have been placed in the Customer Effort category.

If I am correct, this exhaustive research, the millions of data points, and the subsequent profound finding “Strategy of delight doesn’t pay” is:

  • misleading at best;
  • has been misinterpreted and misreported by many in the media (including bloggers) who failed to dive into the fundamental grounds of this research;
  • does not prove that leaving customers feeling delighted does not generate an economic return.

I get that I make mistakes. If you see mistakes in the analysis that I have shared with you then please point them out to me by commenting.

The Effortless Experience: Is There Anything of Value Behind The Hype?

The Effortless Experience Promises the Roadmap to El Dorado

Over the course of 2013 I noticed a certain buzz about ‘customer effort’ and its associated metric, the ‘Customer Effort Score’.  So when I was invited to review The Effortless Experience (the book behind the buzz around customer effort) I took up the offer.

The central assertion of the book can be summed up by the following paragraph (page 3):

“Whilst most companies have been pouring time, energy, and resources into the singular pursuit of creating and replicating the delightful experience for their customers, they’ve ironically missed the very thing that customers are actually looking for – a closer in, more attainable, replicable, and affordable goal that’s been sitting right in front of them all this time: the effortless experience….”

That paragraph got my attention. Why?

First, because my experience contradicts the first half of the paragraph. It occurs to me that most companies have NOT been pouring time, energy, and resources into the singular pursuit of creating and replicating delightful experiences for their customers!

Second, the authors make a bold claim. Is there anything of substance to support this claim or is it as ungrounded as the first half of the paragraph?

The Effortless Experience: Four Core Findings

The authors claim that they surveyed over 97,000 customers and conducted a whole bunch of research through which they “ended up with a few million data points..” which they boiled down to four simple yet profound findings.  What are these findings?

1. A strategy of delight doesn’t pay

“…. there is virtually no difference between the loyalty of those customers whose expectations are exceeded and those whose expectations are simply met… loyalty actually plateaus once customer expectations are met.

2. Satisfaction is not a predictor of loyalty

“… we found virtually no statistical relationship between how a customer rates a company on a satisfaction survey and their future customer loyalty..

3. Customer service interactions tend to drive disloyalty, not loyalty

“.. according to our research, any customer service interaction is four times more likely to drive disloyalty than loyalty…”

4. The key to mitigating disloyalty is reducing customer effort

” … four out of the five drivers of disloyalty are about additional effort customers must put forth…..”

What showed up upon a closer-questioning look at these ‘profound’ findings?

If one reads the book carefully it becomes clear that one has to be very careful about these findings.  Why?  Because the scope of the findings is limited to only one domain, one piece, of the end-2-end Customer Experience:

“We wanted to know ….. exactly which elements of the customer interaction with customer service have the biggest effect on making people more (or less) loyal….

In the first of these surveys, over 97,000 customers – all of whom had a recent service interaction over the web or through calling a contact centre….. – were asked a series of questions about their recent service interactions….

An important disclosure before we reveal the results and their implications: we intentionally limited this study to service transactions and their impact on customer loyalty.”

Now you understand the scope of this “exhaustive study” is limited to interactions between the customer and the contact-centre. And you understand that the data was collected through post call surveys.

Take a look at the four findings again. And think back to your telephone interactions with contact centres.  Get present to the situation that led you to call the contact centre. Get present to the state that you were in just before you made the call.  Get present to your experience of being on the phone to the contact centre.  Now ask yourself if these four profound findings are not a statement of the obvious?

Looking into my own experience, the four findings showed up for me as being true to my lived experience. And yet nothing new. These so called profound findings show up for me as a statement of the bleeding obvious. In the next post (in this series) I will share my rational with you. I will also set out and explain my assertion that reducing customer effort in customer interactions with the contact-centre is a ‘strategy of delight’ and does generate delight in customers.  Until then, I wish you the very best and invite you to share your perspective by commenting.

The value of transparency or why I am no longer mad at BSkyB

Ok, you have just got a new customers and you want to keep that customer happy: you want to keep her and thus build an annuity stream from her.  Looking at the situation from a service centred (and I would argue normal human perspective) you have three strategies available to you:

  • Do your best to make sure that there is agreement on expectations and that you don’t create problems for your customer;
  • Make it easy for the customer to get hold of you by prominently displaying your customer services number;
  • If and when the customer contacts you then deal with her problem or complaint there and then with empathy.

Where is the leverage in this?  Surely the leverage is in the first of the three strategies: doing your best to ensure you and the customer have the same expectations and that you do not create problems for your customer.

So why is it that so many companies do such a poor job of this?  Let me give you just three examples:

  • I know of one brand name etailer that knows that their shopping process causing big problems for them and their customers and yet continues to do nothing.  When you place an order the website forces you to enter your credit card details leading you to think everything is done, settled.  Yet, this credit card data is only processed later when the ordered items are despatched.  As a result some customer payments do not go through because the card is no longer valid or because the details supplied by the customer were incorrect.  Of course this comes as an unpleasant shock to the customer who was left thinking that their credit card had been accepted  – when she had placed the order.
  • Mobile phone companies continue to sell mobile phones that they know have faults.  They know because they keep a track of which phones are failing and sent back by their customers.  They even know what the main defects are on these phones.  Yet they continue to sell them to new customers knowing that it will lead to trouble down the road!
  • When I joined BSkyB and took out a bundled (pay TV, broadband, fixed telephone line) package with BSkyB to simplify my life I found that it did nothing of the kind.  Whilst BSkyB did a great job of setting up Sky TV I had a horrid time getting the broadband set up.  And when I wanted to get the issue fixed or later cancel the order I found myself bouncing between different customers service teams and different customer services numbers.  In the end I was not able to cancel my order because I found out that I had actually been signed up for three different orders – each with different start dates, different end dates and different conditions!

What if these companies practiced transparency?  What might be the results?

Lets take a look at my BSkyB experience – particularly why it was that I was so mad with BSkyB and am not anymore.  What has made the difference?  Well as a result of research I now know what I did not know before.  Specifically, I have found out that:

  • BSkyB has made up of product divisions, TV belongs in one division, Broadband in another and so forth;
  • The contact centres for Sky TV are outsourced to one company, the contact centres for broadband are outsourced to another company and so forth

From this information I can now make sense of my baffling experience.  No wonder that I had to contact one set of people to get the TV services installed and another set of people to get the broadband set-up.  No wonder the SkyTV contact centres did not have a clue about the order I had placed nor about my broadband issues.  No wonder that the Broadband folks had no idea of my total order and were not able to deal with anything other than broadband stuff. 

Being a human I can empathise with the human beings who were on the end of the phone – in some of the most infuriating interactions I recognise that I was talking to the wrong people because I had a faulty map of the territory!

But why did BSkyB not make this clear to me?  Why did they give me the impression on their website that I could simplify my life by buying the bundle of products from them?  Why did they give me the impression that they would take care of it all and I would have a single point of contact?

If they had told me then it is possible that I might not have signed up and become a customer.  It is also possible that I would have signed up and very clear on what to expect and as such would not have experienced a horrid time dealing with BSkyB.

Yet I cannot help thinking that in a structure where customer acquisition is separated from customer retention, this kind of behaviour is simply what occurs.  So the access to transformation in behaviour is to change the structure: to integrate getting customers and keeping customers under the same person, the budget, the same department.

How the world has changed: TeleTech buys The Peppers & Rogers Group

I was a part of The Peppers & Rogers team here in the UK at the turn of the century.  That is where I met some of the people who I find to be the most passionate about advising and assisting companies in creating sustainable competitive advantage through customer-centricity.

At the height of the dot com collapse I left Peppers & Rogers – as did some of my colleagues.  Yet, I have continued to follow the company as I have fond memories and am in agreement with what the company stands for: a customer centred approach to doing business.  So it is with interest that I read that TeleTech have bought 80% of The Peppers & Rogers Group.

What I find it interesting is that Peppers & Rogers has not been bought by a marketing agency. It has been bought by a company that specialises in outsourcing including Customer Management Outsourcing.  How times have changed!

When I worked at Peppers & Rogers (200 – 2001) I would never have imagined that things would turn out this way.  Those were the days of CRM.   At that time we did almost all of our consulting for the marketing function – typically the marketing director or the CMO.  Occasionally we did work for the Commercial Director and even the odd CEO.  Yet, the people who were in the driving seat were the marketing folks.

At that time I always envisaged that if anyone would buy Peppers & Rogers it would be a marketing agency.  And at the end of the dot-com collapse the UK arm of Peppers & Rogers was sold to Carlson Marketing – they used to own the Peppers & Rogers brand name in the UK but now it is branded Carlson 1to1.

CRM fell flat on its face because too many people in business are looking for the quick fix – the silver bullet – and the software companies (like Siebel) were happy to provide it.  Out of the ashes of CRM arose Customer Experience.

Today we live in the age of Customer Experience and in this age the marketing function is not the most important one.  Not by a mile – customers rarely decide to continue doing business with a company as a result of the advertising nor the direct mail pieces that land in the letter box.  In the age of Customer Experience the Customer Services function (and contact centres in particular) play a primary role: depending on which survey you read, some 70 to 80% of respondents claim their decision to stick with or leave a supplier is based on the service that they receive.  And a significant part of that service comes out of the contact centres. So it makes perfect sense that TeleTech has purchased The Peppers & Rogers Group.

I want to make it clear that I am not against marketers, the marketing function or even advertising.  Whilst I passionately believe that marketing and marketers have to embrace a completely new paradigm I also get the value that good marketing creates.  Good marketing contributes to the customer and adds to the bottom line.

One role of marketing – indeed advertising – is to add stuff that customers want and which is not in the product itself.  Think about the classic USA adverts for the Volkswagen Beetle – they took an odd-looking car and made it sexy.  Think about the Avis advertising – it took a number 2 position and made it into a virtue: we are No 2, we try harder.

Some brands – especially luxury brands – depend critically on good marketing: customers are buying status and the marketing has to continue to create that status.  Automotive insiders tell me that the quality of Honda cars is just as good as anything on the market yet no-one looking for status buys a Honda, they buy Mercedes, Audi, BMW….