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The Effortless Experience - Book Review

1 November 2016

Dr. Moria Levy

"The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty," co-authored by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick Delisi and published in 2013, undoubtedly departs from anything we have encountered. This book delves into the service concept at call centers and is grounded in a substantial series of studies conducted within these call centers.

 

Naturally, this book holds relevance not only for knowledge management managers in service centers but also for knowledge managers in general and anyone involved in service management. Its significance extends to everyone, whether engaged in providing services within organizations or seeking to develop life skills for effective communication with others.

 

The book encompasses a wide range of topics, including:

  • Introduction

  • Starting point

  • Service Strategy

  • Service Management

  • Channels for self-use

  • All-in-one solution

  • Call experience

  • Enabling culture

  • Measurement

  • Change management

 

I have gained valuable insights from this book and wholeheartedly recommend it.

 

Introduction

Starting point

Many organizations embrace the idea of captivating customers to deliver excellent service. However, the approach advocated in this book differs from the norm. It may be an appropriate approach to managing service in specific circumstances and for a select group of customers. What customers genuinely seek in service is relief. They contact customer service when they encounter a problem or malfunction, hoping to return to their pre-issue state. They are not searching for excitement or fireworks; their priority is to revert to the way things were before the need arose. For them, relief holds greater importance than a spark of excitement.

 

While online tales of extraordinary service experiences may exist, they are rare and do not accurately represent everyday reality. Moreover, research analysis demonstrates that statistically, these exceptional experiences do not significantly enhance customer loyalty.

 

The study reveals that after interacting with customer service, the likelihood of a customer abandoning a company or product is four times higher than before the interaction. Admittedly, the starting point may not be favorable, as customers typically reach out to customer service when encountering issues (very few people call to commend a product or company). Nevertheless, this statistic remains remarkably noteworthy. It underscores that customers make purchases due to a good product and leave primarily due to poor service. Service satisfaction alone does not nurture loyalty.

 

Additionally, it's important to note that good service is not synonymous with polite speech. Politeness may serve as an initial step, but more is needed. When customers encounter poor service coupled with excessively polite explanations for why they can't be assisted or inadequate support, over-politeness can backfire and greatly frustrate the customer.

 

The foundational premise upon which a concept of good service should be constructed is the preservation of customer loyalty. It's about retention rather than promotion and relief rather than excitement.

 

Service Strategy

Based on studies conducted in call centers, the most impactful way to cultivate customer loyalty is by reducing customers' effort when seeking solutions to their problems. This approach has a fourfold greater influence on loyalty than generating customer excitement.

 

The following factors influence customer effort during interactions with a representative:

  • Number of calls/communications (including web searches and subsequent calls) - 2.52

  • Quality of service provided by the representative - 0.52

  • Repeated interactions - 0.46

  • Perception of customer effort - 0.23

  • Switching between representatives - 0.20

 

Service Objective:

The primary goal of our service is to uphold customer loyalty by minimizing the effort required from customers to resolve their issues.

 

Proposed Strategy:

  1. Enhance self-service channels to reduce channel switching, as many customers initially turn to these channels to solve their problems.

  2. During interactions with the call center, proactively suggest additional actions or provide information that can help prevent recurring issues.

  3. Provide agents with the necessary tools to effectively manage the emotional aspects of customer interactions and improve their perception of the conversation.

  4. Foster an environment that empowers representatives to handle complex problems skillfully.

 

Service Management

Channels for self-use

Contrary to the prevailing belief that customers prefer making phone calls or contacting service representatives, research indicates that this perception belongs to the past. Nowadays, an increasing number of customers across all age groups, including adults and older people, prefer to independently find solutions for most issues, especially those that are simple enough.

 

So, why do individuals who visit websites still resort to contacting service centers? There are several reasons:

  •  They primarily visited the website to find a phone service number.

  • They struggled to locate the necessary information on the website because it was unavailable or hard to find.

  • They found it challenging to comprehend the information provided on the website.

  • The website explicitly instructed them to contact customer service for the described problem.

 

Action Items:

  1. Analyze the current situation to identify gaps for individuals who first call or visit the website.

  2. Expand the website's content to address the issues that prompt communication.

  3. Simplify the access route to reduce the effort required; most customers prefer task-oriented menus.

  4. Adapt the language to align with that of customers (rather than employees); the book offers a list of recommendations.

  5. Provide answers to frequently asked questions alongside the service's phone number.

 

In Summary:

The goal is not to entice customers to use the self-service channel; it is already available. The objective is to assist them in finding solutions there, eliminating the need for a phone call or a visit to a service center.

 

All-in-one solution

As discussed previously, the primary challenge in customer retention within a service context arises when resolving an issue requires multiple interactions. These interactions may involve transitioning from one channel to another, as explored in the previous chapter, or they may necessitate numerous phone calls to customer service until the customer's problem is resolved.

 

Here are the recommended steps to tackle this issue:

  1. Establish a clear objective of minimizing recurring or follow-up calls, defining them broadly as any calls received within seven days related to a previous call.

  2. Instruct representatives to actively listen to the customer's problem, addressing the initial question or issue they raise and providing a comprehensive solution.

  3. Enhance the agent's toolkit for responses by drawing insights from experienced representatives, analyzing call logs, and reviewing related calls from the same customer. This analysis helps identify recurring issues. Simple solutions can be provided immediately, while more complex problems, such as those related to account understanding, can be addressed by sending a detailed letter to the customer after the conversation.

  4. Encourage representatives to inquire at the end of each conversation if there is anything else they can assist with. Ensure they remain attentive and ready to listen and address any additional customer problems.

 

Call experience

Engaging in the conversational experience is built upon two fundamental assumptions:

  1. The service representative genuinely commits to resolving the issue.

  2. Not every problem can be resolved precisely as the customer desires.

 

Based on these foundational principles, several tools are proposed to enhance the conversational experience to the fullest extent:

  • Utilize optimistic language: Instead of stating, "No technician is available until next Monday," it is advisable to say, "The next technician will be available on Monday. We apologize for any inconvenience caused." Similarly, instead of saying, "There is only a specific two-hour window for the technician's visit," it is recommended to offer, "Next week, we can schedule a technician at your preferred hours. However, if you need assistance sooner, there are two available time slots this week that you might consider." Avoid explaining why the customer's exact request cannot be met.

  • Encourage representatives to employ precise and confident language during the conversation.

  • Try to solve the problem more comprehensively, beyond the customer's initial request. Propose alternative solutions that may be equally beneficial, even if they differ from what the customer initially requested. Present these alternatives' advantages while acknowledging any disadvantages or deviations from the original request. This approach, known as experience engineering, offers an alternative to the conventional methods of simply being nice, understanding, and empathetic.

  • Adapt the conversation style to the nature of the caller. While this may seem challenging, especially when guidelines prohibit retaining visible customer information from the call to call, it is grounded in the following principles:

    1. Recognizing four basic caller types – the intuitive, the friendly, the analytical thinker, and the control-oriented individual.

    2. Identifying the caller's type during the conversation through attentive listening and recognizing certain words or behaviors.

    3. Analyzing the caller's needs: if the market is straightforward, a specific approach may not be necessary.

    4. Implementing distinct guidelines for communicating and interacting with each caller type (details available in the book). As a bonus, this approach can enhance the representatives' sense of purpose in their work, contributing to increased team loyalty.

 

Enabling culture

Over time, calls to call centers have grown increasingly complex owing to two primary functional factors:

  1. Products featuring numerous intricate options and interfaces.

  2. Simple problems are being addressed through alternative channels.

 

Furthermore, there are emotional factors at play:

  1. Heightened customer expectations regarding service.

  2. Comparisons are made with competitors and every company providing a service.

 

To effectively manage these intricate conversations, whether due to their content or interactions with potentially impatient and intolerant customers, extensive research was conducted to identify the qualities essential for representatives to respond aptly to complex conversations. Surprisingly, it was discovered that more than intellectual or emotional intelligence, a representative's "control quotient" plays a significant role. This quotient influences:

  1.  The ability to swiftly recover, especially after challenging conversations, allowing for efficient handling of the next caller.

  2. The capacity to handle stressful situations without experiencing burnout.

  3. A willingness to take personal responsibility for one's actions.

  4. A positive response to constructive criticism from managers.

  5. The ability to focus on tasks when required, even over extended periods.

 

Perhaps even more surprising is that these qualities can be found in most individuals, including representatives, and primarily originate from an enabling organizational environment.

 

To encourage employees to demonstrate a sense of control, it is recommended to:

  • Trust in the judgment of the representative.

  • Ensure there is an understanding of and alignment with the organization's goals.

  • Foster a support network among the agents themselves.

 

Implementing these recommendations may appear straightforward but involves a departure from conventional work methods:

  •  Abandon dictating scripts to representatives and empower them to take control of problem-solving.

  • Shift away from rigid checklists, offering representatives guidance and flexibility in their responses.

  • Remove the pressure of time constraints; instead of measuring call duration, allow representatives to take the necessary time. Optimize productivity through offline periods between calls.

  • Enable service representatives to translate the organization's goals into their terms, fostering a personal connection to these objectives.

  • Facilitate communication and skill development through coaching.

 

In summary, providing employees with direction while granting them control is the key.

 

Measurement

One of the tools that can significantly enhance the organizational situation is the straightforward measurement of customer effort when engaging in problem-solving interactions. This metric does not replace broader indicators related to customer loyalty or overall satisfaction with the company. Instead, it provides a focused assessment of service quality and its impact on repeat purchases or increased spending related to the purchase. Additionally, it has an inversely proportional effect on the likelihood of customers using negative language when referring to the organization.

 

The question posed to customers is singular and uncomplicated: they are asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 7, how easy the process of resolving their issue has been.

 

Crafting this question is of paramount importance, and, as the authors confirm, it underwent multiple iterations before reaching its current form, which aims to capture the minimal effort required for understanding and responding to the inquiry.

 

In essence, it's all about making it "Effortless," "Straightforward," and "Highly Recommended."

 

Change management

Like any method advocating for a conceptual shift, the authors of this book emphasize that it's not a subject that can be adequately addressed by simply appending it to a list of positive ideas. It represents a substantial change that management must embrace and guide as an organizational journey involving all employees.

 

Here are several change management recommendations (relevant not only in this context but for any change management endeavor):

  • Communicate the current situation and explain why it is unsustainable.

  • Craft a comprehensive and compelling narrative that outlines the new solution, in this case, reducing customer effort.

  • Implement a robust coaching process to introduce this change. It involves developing soft skills, and more than regular training is required.

  • Engage employees in the new path by illustrating it and analyzing real-life scenarios.

  • Begin with a pilot phase to test the approach.

  • Progress through small, manageable changes rather than attempting a comprehensive overhaul all at once. Keep it simple.

  • Foster a positive atmosphere among service representatives. They must comprehend and embrace the idea that the change benefits both the customer and makes their job more accessible and satisfying.

 

As discerned from the underlying message, this concept applies to any service provider. While the studies and examples may be rooted in the realm of call centers, they hold universal truths regarding an advanced service concept. It's tempting to view customers seeking the "flame," but the foremost priority is to ensure our customers don't abandon us. The path to achieving this lies in minimizing the effort they need to expend.

 

There's work to be done, but it's certainly achievable.

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