CX Strategy (8) – Measurement and improvement systems – Part 3 – Customer Effort Score
The Customer Effort Score is the metric described in the excellent book The Effortless Experience by Dixon, Toman and Delisi. The primary focus is service-center work and the associated metrics. The authors present a compelling argument that what matters most for some customer interactions is how hard it is for the customers to get what they want. The single topic that surprised me most was their data that shows that the majority of people who phone a company to get something done are simultaneously trying to resolve their issue or answer their question on the company website. Furthermore, you have to get to the 60+ age group for the proportion of simultaneous interactions to drop below half.
Delighting does not work
A central message from the authors is that “delighting” customers is pointless in most situations. Remember the main focus is customer service interactions. Their data suggests that delighting customers does not usually make them more loyal than simply meeting their expectations. They show that a service interaction is four times more likely to cause disloyalty than loyalty. You should take from this that the best service interaction is no interaction at all. As you build your strategy, think of another point the authors make, which is that spending resources on delighting customers displaces those resources from things that are more important.
Best practices of low-effort companies
Particularly in customer service interactions, customers want to spend as little time as possible to get what they need. They just want to get on with their lives. The authors found four ‘best practices’ that were common to companies that successfully reduced customer effort:
- Low-effort companies make self-service channels as effective as possible, minimizing the need to call in the first place. Personally, I dread phoning service centers, passing through ambiguous recordings that ask me to classify my request according to how their company is organized, rather than the problem I have, and spending long periods on hold. I do all I can to avoid it.
- When customers do call, low-effort companies train their people to head off the next problem as well, based on their experience of what problems are likely to be related to each other.
- These companies work hard on the delivering an appropriate emotional and psychological experience on the phone. In my reading, this is more about empathy than being nice to people.
- Low-effort companies favor quality-related metrics for their representatives over volume and call-duration metrics.
The key points made relate to the fact that most customers are happy to self-serve. Your company needs to work on how to keep customers in the self-service channel. Don’t fall into the trap of just making it hard to talk to a live individual. When reading this, I was reminded of a story one of my INSEAD lecturers told us. He was asked to help Galeries Lafayette improve their customer complaint and suggestion system at their flagship store in Paris.
At the time, Nordstrom was still relatively new and had made a name for itself with its process. My lecturer mainly seemed to copy the Nordstrom process, installing stands around the store where people could fill out a form with their comments. A management change happened after the project ended. The new management noticed the rise in complaints. Their response was to remove the stands and install a complaints desk in the basement. Complaints dropped dramatically. Success? Definitely not! The Effortless Experience authors suggest that the main improvement you can make to self-service is to simplify it, using several suggested techniques.
I loved the book’s message on the conflict between company metrics and human perception. Companies typically report first-contact resolution rates of 70 to 80 percent, while their customers report rates of half that. Some of this is because a different channel is used for the first contact than the one being measured. A lot of it is because the customer’s real problem, say with an invoice being late, has not actually been resolved. Customers call back on related issues that they consider to be the same thing, but company metrics start from scratch. I have had this situation with Air France where in resolving one issue, they accidentally changed my street address in their system, so I phoned them again, using the same incident reference number. We fixed the address. They then closed the service event without resolving the first issue. I phoned again and had to start from scratch as they had closed the first event. The authors suggest a way of changing the metric definition, so that a repeat call is one from the same person within seven days, no matter what the reason. This seems like an excellent idea.
Training service reps
Training of the service center people matters a lot and quite a bit of what the authors describe works against classical metrics associated with reducing call time and getting as many calls done as possible per day. I particularly liked their work on personality-based resolution processes. (The customer’s personality, not the service representative’s.) Overall, I believe the book is essential reading for all service center leaders. It is experience-based and outstanding.
Back to the Customer Effort Score (CES)
The authors refer to their current metric as v2.0. It has evolved, both in terms of the question asked and the scale used. They tried many variations of the question and settled on one that translates well into most languages. With their current question, customer behavior changes radically by response. As they put it, “For instance, 94 percent of customers who had low-effort experiences reported that they would repurchase from the company, while only 4 percent of customers experiencing high-effort interactions reported an intent to repurchase.” The Customer Effort Score is the response to the question, “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement, ‘The company made it easy for me to handle my issue.’” It is measured on a scale from 1 to 7.
Better than CSAT
The authors found that when comparing CES to Customer Satisfaction scores, across thousands of customers, CES was 12 percent more predictive of customer loyalty, as measured by stated intent to repurchase. They did not determine whether the customers actually repurchased.
If you are already using Customer Satisfaction, or indeed NPS, as a metric in a service center, I suggest adding CES and tracking both for a time. Then compare trends with your financial trends to find out which is a better predictor of success.
I freely admit to being attracted by the common-sense nature of Customer Effort Score. My personal experience with service centers drives me to agree with the authors of The Effortless Experience. While I recommend their book, I do of course have to recommend my own books too. This article is a slightly modified part of a chapter in Customer Experience Strategy – Design & Implementation, one of four books written in collaboration with my artist / cognitive psychologist brother Peter. The others are Net Promoter – Implement the System, Customer-Centric Cost Reduction, and a book of Peter’s illustrations, with learning points: “So Happy Here” – The Absurdist but Essential Guide to Better Business. All make great gifts for your friends, colleagues and teams.
And as always, feel free to comment on this article below. Next time: NPS and the Net Promoter System.