Cultivating Goodwill Involves More Than Reducing Customer Effort

Is the access to building meaningful relationships with customers merely a matter of improving the customer’s experience of your organisation by making it easy for the customer to do business with you?

The temptation to orient oneself this way and thus the pull of approaching the matter of customer loyalty as an engineer / economist is strong.  With the engineering approach the focus is on: improving access say through digital channels; making it easer for the customer to self-serve; putting in more interaction channels; tweaking and automating business processes; standardising way customer scenarios are handled…. As an economist the focus is on generating / extracting value from the customer and all decisions are about ROI – I give if and only if I am guaranteed to get back more than I gave.

What the engineer and the economist both lack is humanity.  In the worlds of the engineers and economists there is no room for that which lies at the core of human. What am I talking about? Think about a genuine smile. Or an authentic warm greeting. Or generosity. Or the act of touching one another even if it is a hand that touches you lightly either through a handshake or a light tap on your shoulder as an expression of thanks / gratitude ….

What is it that I am getting at here?  Allow me to explicate it by relating a recent true story.

I was working in my study. My wife came in and grabbed hold of file from one the shelves. Then left. A little while later she returned to put the file back on the shelf. In the process she dropped an A4 lever arch file (full) on to the desk. The file landed on my right hand and the keyboard of my MacBook Pro. Both my right hand and the MacBook Pro were damaged.

Noticing that I was more upset at the broken MacBook keys, my wife took it upon herself to get the keys replaced. I forewarned her it would cost her to get the repairs done: the MacBook was outside the warranty period, and in any case the damaged was a result of our actions.  I also pointed out that she should not expect the repair to be cheap; Apple is not in the cheap marketplace.

A few days later she popped into an Apple store to find out what it would take to get the keys replaced. The folks at Apple were friendly and directed her to go online and book a time to get the work done. They also told her the work could be done in the store and in about an hour. So later that day my wife booked an appointment with Apple for when she was next going to be in town.

On the appointed day-time, my wife handed over the MacBook Pro for repair. And hour later, as promised, the MacBook Pro was like new. My wife thanked the helpful Apple employee / engineer and asked: “How much do I owe you?” The answer was that there was nothing to pay, the work had been done free of charge. My wife walked out of that store delighted.  When she came home she told me the story. And then went on to tell me how unusual it is to experience that kind of generosity. She ended up by saying Apple products are not cheap and they are worth every penny.  I find myself in agreement.  So that is my wife’s experience of Apple.

What is my experience? I am also delighted with Apple. Why? Because the folks at Apple treated my wife well. My wife knows nothing about technology. If the folks at Apple had told her the cost was £150 or so, she would have paid that. She was determined to restore my MacBook Pro to its pristine condition; I look after my stuff.  My wife is someone that really matters to me. As such Apple’s generous treatment of my wife occurs (to me) as Apple’s generous treatment of me. And importantly, vindication of my decision to do business with Apple. Paying a premium for Apple products occurs as a good decision. A smart decision. Even a wise decision.

I say to you that the path of customer effort reduction / minimisation will lead you to the customer’s heart. Yet it is your generosity towards your customers that will open up the customer’s heart and allow you place in that heart.  When you/your organisation make life easier for me, I experience an ease of doing business with you. When the folks in your organisation treat me with friendliness-kindness-generosity I experience cared for, even loved.  And that makes all the difference. Let me say that again: there is world of difference between the experience of ease and the experience of being cared for / loved.

When it comes to your work on customer experience and/or customer loyalty you can settle for cultivating the experience of ease or the experience of gratitude / love.  Your choice.  In making that choice I invite you to consider that when my wife recounts her Apple experience, the ease of doing business lies in the background of her story. The friendliness / helpfulness of the folks in the Apple store lies in the foreground. And right in the centre of the foreground is the generosity.

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.

Customer Insight & Analytics Exchange: highlights from the first day

Today I wish to share with you the key points that I took away from my participation in Day1 of the Customer Insight & Analytics Exchange conference taking place in London.

Are you measuring the Customer Effort Score?

Moira Clark of the Henley Management Centre for Customer Management made the case for measuring the effort that the customer has to make in doing business with your company.  She argued that the Customer Effort Score (CES) is more predictive of repeat business and higher spend than NPS or CSAT.  This clearly suggests that customers favour those companies that take the effort out of doing business with them.

If you want to grapple with getting a handle on and reducing the amount of customer effort then Moira suggested mapping the customer journey.  The objective being to identify what level of effort is experienced at the various stages of the customer journey.  And to figure out where to intervene to reduce the customer effort.

Which dimensions of effort should one consider? Cognitive, Emotional, Time and Physical.

Customer Journey Mapping: what does it bring to the table?

The panelists (from Orange, Aviva, RSA) agreed that customer journey mapping is an effective way of generating insight.  It can give people access to what the customer goes through; the customer’s perception of the experience; which touchpoint matter to customers; where touchpoints/interactions/processes are broken; how much money the company is ‘losing’ as a result of service failures and lost customers……

A danger that was highlighted is that of confusion of customer journey mapping with business process mapping.  That is to say that it is all too easy to take an inside-out approach (focussing on what matters to the company as opposed to the customer) whilst thinking that you are taking an outside-in approach.  For customer journey mapping even to cross the threshold and enter into the margins of the outside-in orientation it is necessary to get access to/involve customers in the mapping and evaluation of the customer journey.

What are you doing about engaging your employees?

Derek Brown of Vovici made three great points.  First, employees do have valuable feedback on what matters to customers and how the customer experience can be improved.  Second, ultimately any insight has to operationalised and that involves the employees – especially those that serve/interact with customers.   Third, there is value in connecting feedback from customers and feedback from employees. It was interesting to note that only about half of the participants said that their companies sought to gain feedback from their employees.

Analytics: does the real power lie in business model disruption? 

Chris Roche of Greenplum (EMC) made the point that the real power of data mining/predictive analytics might just lie in business model disruption.  For example, by harnessing breakthrough in human genome mapping and the power of predictive analytics it is possible to identify who is at the risk of which disease.  Which in turn allows a complete transformation of the the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK: from treating acute disease to encouraging/enabling wellness.    Another example is insurance companies.  They can put a device in the customer’s car, record/analyse driving behaviour, come up with a personalised risk profile and thus provide a premium tailored to the risk profile of each individual customer.

What is the future likely to look like?  According to Chris the incumbents are likely to use analytics to make incremental improvements.  And so the task of business model disruption will fall to new entrants who do not have an installed base / revenue stream at risk.

Does the ‘age of the customer’ require a learning organisation?

Suresh Vittal of Forrester made the case that we are in the ‘age of the customer’ and that means customer obsession in term of generating customer insight (‘customer truths’) and taking effective rapid action on these truths.  How many companies are at this point right now?  About 12%.   What kind of organisation is best suited for generating and operationalising customer insight rapidly/effectively?  The learning organisation.  Which group of people are the main obstacle to putting in place a learning organisation?  According to Suresh, it is the Tops.

Which is better for generating customer insight: quantitative or qualitative?

The panelists (from Whitbread, HSBC, JustGiving, Forester) agreed that this is no longer a useful way of thinking about insight.  Customer insight is more useful if both quantitative and qualitative techniques and insights are used.  For example, if you are looking to optimise the customer experience on the website you would start with quantitative to know what is happening on the site and then follow this up with qualitative research (surveys, focus groups, user experience labs) to work out the why.  And with this level of understanding you can take action.  On the other hand it is possible that qualitative research will throw up some customer insights which will need to be validated/quantified through quantitative research in order to decide on whether it is worth acting on the customer insight.

My take on the day

It occurs to me that the customer insight community is grappling with the same kind of issues that it was some ten years ago:

  • How can we get the business to act on the insight we generate?
  • How to make sense of the information from disparate sources to get at genuine customer insights that make a difference?
  • How to convert data into actionable insight?
  • What should we be measuring: CSAT, NPS, something else?
  • How do we integrate the quantitative side (analytics) with the qualitative side to generate rounded insight?

The second ‘truth’ that hit me is that there is huge gulf between the theoreticians and the practitioners.  The theoreticians – analyst, technology vendors – make even the most complex sound so easy.  The practitioners are finding it difficult to get even the simpler stuff done.   One practitioner summed it up nicely when she stated that whilst it sounds easy, it is anything but easy to generate useful actionable insight and get this acted upon effectively and rapidly by the various players in the organisation who have their own agendas/priorities.