Reducing customer effort is better than delighting the customer

In the service industry, delighting the customer is a cardinal rule, rarely subverted, never questioned. Businesses cleverly incentivise particular behaviours in their customer service representatives, such as going the extra mile in resolving a customer’s problems, or performing extraordinary service recovery when a customer is irate. But does this strategy really work?

The authors of the book, The Effortless Experience, argue that the strategy of delighting the customer is overrated. It costs a lot to implement, and returns very little to the business. Customers do not care about being delighted. All they care about is getting their issues resolved as quickly as possible. For this to happen, organisations are beginning to invest more thought into reducing the customer effort. In the process, these low-effort organisations create a novel set of best practices that can be easily replicated by any service unit.

Low-effort organisations understand that most of their customers prefer self-service rather than live service, if it gets them back on track with the least amount of time and effort. When a self-service option is convoluted and leads nowhere, however, it forces the customer to switch to another channel. Understandably, most customers, already annoyed, would then resort to calling up the company- the dreaded live service option. The tactic here is to ensure the stickiness of self-service channels by making the contents relevant, the language simple and the flow seamless.

In an era where first contact resolution is the holy grail of most contact centres, low-effort organisations focus their energies instead on next issue avoidance by not just anticipating their customers’ potential problems, but actively preventing it from occurring. Thus, first contact resolution is not the ultimate goal, but a starting point for a more holistic, event-based service delivery.

To ensure that customers encounter effortless experience in the first instance, low-effort organisations rebuild service processes by leveraging hitherto unrelated disciplines like human psychology and behavioural economics. Before embarking on the self-service route, government agencies like the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore suffered from long and flustered queues in their passport creation and renewal centres. Waits of up to four hours or more were commonplace. Now, largely because of fine-tuned self-service options, customers rarely spend more than 30 minutes at the passport collection centre. The success of the online self-service channels was not coincidental. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore cleverly appealed to the human desire for reward by offering rebates to customers who use its online portal.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the low-effort organisation recognises that its customer service representatives must become attuned to the new focus on reducing customer effort rather than going the extra mile for customers. Rather than just rewarding and agent’s speed and efficiency, the business must begin to incentivise the effortless experience outcome of service delivery.