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What you need to know about customer effort now

Posted December 16, 2021 - Updated May 19, 2022
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Customers aren’t looking for difficult experiences unless they’re shopping for Rubik’s cubes. Instead, they expect an effortless engagement with your brand — and the delivery of such an experience maximizes the chance that they’ll keep coming back for more. That’s been true for some time, but the specifics of their expectations, the most effective techniques for handling their queries and the way we measure customer experience (CX) delivery are all in a perpetual state of evolution.

To keep pace, we recently hosted an exclusive online event with world-leading CX expert and bestselling author, Matt Dixon on all things customer effort. Having already joined us for a chat once before, this time Dixon shared illuminating insights about what’s changed and what’s changing. For example, when he wrote The Effortless Experience in 2013, 57% of customers calling a contact center did so after previously trying to self-serve — and Dixon thinks that number could have comfortably risen above 80% today. Indeed, the ever-increasing influence of digital experience technology was a constant thread throughout the recent conversation, underscoring its importance to any customer effort reduction journey.

Without further adieu, let’s explore that journey and take a look at how brands can set forth in the right direction.

Why you should create an effortless experience

In the words of author and TEDx speaker Simon Sinek, “Start with why.” Your customer effort reduction journey should begin with an understanding of why it’s an effective, research-backed approach in the first place.

As Dixon explains, “The conventional wisdom is that when our customers reach out to us with problems, it’s not enough to just solve the problem — you actually have to do more than what they expect. You’ve got to exceed their expectations.” But that isn’t borne out in the research. Instead, “Those who had their expectations exceeded were actually no more loyal than those whose expectations were merely met,” Dixon continues. “The better strategy for service leaders is not to go above and beyond in the hopes of making customers more loyal — the better strategy is actually to make them less disloyal by making service interactions easier than you make them today.”

An important factor here is that you must be “cognizant of the bottom line,” something that leaders who set out to surprise and delight often lose sight of, says Dixon.

What successful companies get right

Brands are not powerless in the pursuit of an effortless experience. For those who are successful, it all starts with digital.

“Customers today are much more likely to use asynchronous channels, like chat or Facebook message or SMS. So we’ve got to really think about our digital experiences, and create low effort, guided, intuitive, simple, frictionless experiences.”

But what does that mean, exactly? To make customers less disloyal, move away from the pain points that add effort and frustration to your CX. That means you should stop making people reach out again and again (“repeat contacts”), stop making people repeat themselves, stop treating your customers like account numbers, and finally, stop making them switch channels to digital if your experience isn’t intuitive.

Hone in on simplicity. Make it simple and then simpler still. You don’t need “all the bells and whistles,” but you do need to provide “a lot of guidance,” says Dixon. That should set you up to be proactive and apply focus to next issue avoidance. Dixon adds that low effort companies “think not just about solving the customer’s issue in one contact, but also forward resolving the issue the customer might call back about.”

The benefits of emotional engineering

There’s a consequence to a low effort experience that you need to be aware of.

When you’ve built out your digital CX and it’s easier and easier for customers to self-serve, the things customers reach out to your customer care team about are bound to become trickier. And tricker issues may lead to a rise in effort.

According to Dixon, this is where emotional engineering comes in. It’s the idea that “a lot of reducing effort comes down actually to the language and the techniques, the way in which the representatives handle those customer issues.” He’s seen it in his research: “There are companies out there that are investing in teaching their frontline representatives sophisticated language techniques [that are] rooted in human psychology and behavioral economics. They get the customer to feel like it’s a lower effort experience, even if at point of fact, it’s a high effort experience.”

The concept of “advocacy” is one such practical technique that customers have been found to respond to. When faced with a difficult issue, an agent can say something as simple as “Let’s see if we can figure this out together.” In research shared in an article Dixon cowrote for Harvard Business Review, advocacy language reduced customer effort by as much as 77%.

Screenshot of host, Patrick Haughey, and guest Matt Dixon engaging in a video conversation

Host Patrick Haughey interviews CX expert Matt Dixon at a recent TELUS International event.

Measurement and machine learning

To make sure you’re heading in the right direction on your customer effort reduction journey, you need to measure your activities. And, as it turns out, a lot has changed since Dixon originally wrote about customer effort.

In the past, measurement in this space was reliant on survey-based effort, but modern brands are taking new approaches. “And what they’re doing today is looking at all the unstructured data” that they receive during their normal, daily interactions with customers. He continues, “So these are our phone conversation recordings, email exchanges with customers, chat interactions, social media exchanges […] think about all the data we collect. Back in 2013 these technologies didn’t exist, but today the technologies exist to make sense of all of this unstructured data.”

This is a strong use case for machine learning, which can be used to estimate a customer’s effort without ever having to ask them. What’s more, whenever a customer’s experience drops below a certain threshold, technology can be used to trigger a personalized survey in real time. This means you’re only soliciting feedback from those who could be left feeling frustrated, and your approach is likely to resonate. “This makes a customer feel heard,” concludes Dixons.

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