The Effortless Experience - A Must Read for Contact Center Managers

A fellow Nor Cal Contact Center Association steering committee member recently recommended the book "The Effortless Experience" by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick DeLisi.  I loved it. If you work in a call center, or provide service to customers, this is a must read.

The book comes from the Harvard Business Review article, "Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers"

The evolution in measuring service?

Throughout my call center career I have seen many changes in how to measure the quality of service interactions. In the beginning, we simply asked customers, "How satisfied are you with the service we provided?". 

Even with that, there were many different ways to present the question. Should we use a balanced or an unbalanced scale? Open-ended question? A Likert scale? A semantic differential scale?

The most common form in my career has been a Likert scale: "How satisfied are you with the service we provided today?" with response options of Very Unsatisfied, Unsatisfied, Neutral, Satisfied or Very Satisfied. 

A common method of calculating a Customer Satisfaction score (CSAT) is to calculate the percentage of total respondents that gave us "Very Satisfied". That number, a "top-box" score, is often what is used to determine CSAT.

Then came the Net Promoter System (NPS), based on the book "Ultimate Question" by Fred Reichheld. NPS asks, "On a scale of zero to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to your friends and family?"

NPS, if managed appropriately, does a great job identifying service deficiencies. And businesses can use that information to guide process improvement work. But is NPS the holy grail of measuring service quality? Is there evidence that satisfied customers will be loyal to our business? And what about the promoters, those that gave a score of 9 or 10, are they more loyal and will they actually promote our business? There is research that shows Promoters (those that answered the NPS question with a 9 or 10) are more loyal. For a few-hundred dollars, the Temkin Group will send you their 2013 research findings

I'm not suggesting companies abandon NPS. I believe it is an extremely valuable methodology for getting customer feedback. And if done correctly, it can provide great insight into improvement opportunities.

What about customer effort?

I first became aware of the concept of measuring customer effort when I led a call center group for a large health insurance provider. We invested in training that would help our agents "take the member out the middle".

One way of ascertaining customer effort is to conduct a survey and ask, "How much effort did you personally have to put forth to resolve your issue?".

I also believe that NPS and customer effort scoring can co-exist. Maybe it's now time for customer service leaders to also start to measure customer effort. In the original HBR article, the authors show that a Customer Effort Score was a better predictor of customer loyalty than NPS or CSAT.

Just like any customer feedback process, nothing matters unless you have a process for capturing the feedback and you put forth the effort to monitor what you're hearing to understand where the trends are. Also, it is so important to follow up with customers that provide feedback.


The Effortless Experience

This book is an easy read for call center leaders, as it centers around a very familiar environment. Throughout the book there were a number of eye-openers for me.

A strategy of delighting customers doesn't pay. Companies vastly underestimate the value of meeting expectations. Once a company consistently meet a customer's expectations, "you have already done most economically thing you can do"... you're not going to skyrocket in loyalty. Most companies overestimate the loyalty returns of exceeding expectations.

How much does it cost to exceed customer expectations? Experienced call center leaders are good at determining the cost of exceeding, versus meeting, expectations. Will you have to hire more staff to drive down your average speed to answer or improve the time it takes to resolve an issue? Will you have to allow for more fee reversals or discretionary credits? What do we get for that extra investment? This book does a good job making the case that the investment may not be worth it.

Satisfaction is not a predictor of loyalty. Satisfaction and loyalty aren't well correlated. 

Customer service is four times more likely to drive disloyalty than loyalty.  

There is a big difference between explicit resolution and implicit resolution. What if your agent asked, "Have we resolved your issue today?" and your customer responded with, "I don't know... is there anything else I should be asking you?" 

Maybe we should start focusing on next issue avoidance rather than just first contact resolution. For so many years, contact center leaders were hyper-focused on First Contact Resolution (FCR). I don't know about you, but for as much as we have focused on that metric, you'd think we, as an industry, would have clearly defined it and found one perfect way to measure it. But is FCR what we should be striving for? Or should we go earlier in the timeline and try to avoid the issue altogether? My gut tells me the answer is both.

I thought of this recently when I was staying at hotel. As soon as I walked in the room I noticed a very loud humming noise. It didn't take much investigation to discover the source was the bathroom fan that wouldn't turn off. I called the front desk to report it and the woman at the other end of the line abruptly told me that the fans do not turn off. Was I satisfied? No. Did she answer my question (which some companies would consider this issues resolved on the first call)? Yes. But, why did I have to make the call in the first place? The hotel could have put up a sign that explained that (and why) the fan can't be turned off.

That would take a skill that the book called, "forward resolution". Like playing chess, understanding a few moves ahead. 

For many years in my career I watched call center leaders focus on soft skills. Not to downplay the impact of a friendly team member but this book sets out to prove that soft skills have little impact on effort reduction.

I totally agree. In my opinion, Customer Service and Call Center leaders should be process experts, not just nice experts. "Managing the customer's experience isn't just being nice." 

I'm curious to hear from other call center leaders about this book or the concepts therein.

Thank you, Justin B. for the great book recommendation.


Article also posted on LinkedIn -