Less is more: Minimal effort is the new measure of the “always-on” customer

by Els Van Hauwermeiren

Today’s world is one of too much: too much work to do, too many communication streams and too much information. We are striving to keep up, but inevitably we’re falling behind, sometimes leaving us with a nagging sense of failure that is hard to shake off.

We feel overwhelmed by “busy-ness” because of the demands on our time: our inbox and our to-do list are bulging, there are huge expectations to respond instantly to all sorts of inputs. The “always on” mind-set has taken over and if we are not careful this behavior can make us less efficient or even make us lose track of what we really want and need to achieve.

Customer contact centers are prime examples of this conflict, with constant buzz of inputs from a dozen different channels, pressure to get it “right the first time” and mounting targets to reduce costs and increase sales. Further compounding these internal pressures are customers who demand more and have higher expectations of constant and instant action.

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that automation, including virtual assistants and artificial intelligence solutions, have become a natural extension of the contact center model. Robots are taking over many of the more mundane human tasks because they are quicker, make fewer mistakes, and, by the very nature of AI, become smarter each day.

What do customers really want?

Operating a successful contact center depends on many things, but it is primarily a balance between sensible human activity, agreed processes, and intelligent automation solutions. Only when you find the optimal and logical balance between these will your contact center thrive.

In the past, the contact center agent was the first choice for questions and troubleshooting and the company decided when agents were available to assist. Today, many customers decide when they want help and try to find online solutions first, using digital self-service tools that many companies provide. Generations that have grown up with – or grown accustomed to – having information at their fingertips through the Internet, will now only revert to a “live” agent when the online tools do not offer the needed assistance.

The golden rule of customer service is to support your customer at the right time, using their preferred channel, and make the interaction personal.

So how does this relate to customer satisfaction?

Customer satisfaction remains key and standards have changed over the years. However, whether a customer is happy with the support provided can be summed up quite simply: “Did my problem get solved; did my question get answered?” It is all about outcomes.

But there is now a new trend emerging, and it goes back to our busy lives and the overwhelming sense of “always-on” that pervades our lives: customers want their problem solved with as little effort as possible.

The long-held belief that delighting customers by exceeding their expectations would make them happier and more loyal no longer holds true. Recent research from CEB, a subsidiary of Gartner, has shown that going above and beyond only makes customers slightly more loyal and there is little correlation between satisfaction and loyalty.

The new measure to be aware of is Customer Effort Score (CES). Businesses need to shift the focus from trying to delight customers to reducing customer effort when resolving issues. CES charts how much effort a customer needs to put in during his or her customer journey. Elements such as time, money, and risk are understood as effort. Reducing customer effort means engaging with and “knowing your customer.”

This means using the vast insight of data about customers wisely to automate channel preference, profile, and process, and ensure your engagement with customers is proactive, yet simple. This in turn significantly increases customer loyalty and/or desired buying behaviour. From a benchmarking point of view, CES is perceived to be far better at predicting customer loyalty than Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS), as CES is a great indicator of the lifetime value of a customer. And CES has a further advantage: CES feedback ensures customers will point you to the shortcomings of your service so you can address problems before they escalate.

Moments of Truth – less customer effort means more business value

Managing customer experience is about recognizing “moments of truth” across the complete customer journey and making sure that everything you do drives customer experience improvements.

What it means is you need to look closely at different customer journeys, and for each step of the journey, ask if a human touch or automated interaction will be most effective in answering a customer problem with the least amount of effort on the part of the customer.

If a customer is made to work harder than they wish to get the outcomes they expect they will lose patience. Ensuring this doesn’t happen – that you recognize that the customer is also permanently busy — requires careful thought, planning, and deploying new solutions to survive.

Els Van Hauwermeiren is a senior Customer Experience solution architect at DXC Technology. She has more than 15 years of experience in designing Customer Experience solutions for clients across various industries. She has worked in diverse roles in the contact center world, including start-up, implementation, operational management, improvement assessment and overall consultancy.

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