Customer Effort Over Customer Satisfaction

What ever happened to the concept of “delighting” the customer?  It worked pretty well until companies began to directly ask, via surveys, what consumers wanted. As courageous organizations began to create effective feedback loops, they found out that the consumer did not want to be “satisfied”.  The consumer wanted the organization to deliver outcomes and did not want to do much work to help achieve those outcomes.  This has led to the understanding that organizations should be focused on reducing customer effort.

Customer Effort Score (CES) drives loyalty, is tied to profitability, and better resonates with frontline customer service employees.  As such, Customer Effort Score is the best key performance indicator (KPI) for measuring excellent customer interactions.  It performs much better than Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) or Net Promoter Score (NPS).

What does “satisfying customers” even mean? The customer wants to be happy but just saying nice, flattering words is not enough. The article, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers”, states that delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does.   As consumers have become more demanding, their expectations have evolved.  Customer service organizations have responded on a continuum that began with measuring Customer Satisfaction,  then measuring a consumer’s likelihood of recommending a company to friends and family to ultimately measuring customer effort. In the book, The Effortless Experience, the author states that “low-effort companies outperform others by 31 percent when it comes to intent to repurchase and positive word of mouth”.  This demonstrates that the effortless experience has a much tighter correlation to loyalty, driving both satisfaction and a desire to recommend.  In the Oracle white paper, Managing Customer Effort, the author details a case study which states, “reducing customer effort improved customer loyalty from 69% to 87%”.  The writer goes on to state that it is important to reduce effort in both rep-assisted and self-service transactions that occur through email, chat and and mobile applications.

When asked for suggestions to increase satisfaction, customer service representatives often submit ideas that also increase costs.  Lower prices, discounts, and credits are normally the solutions that frontline employees give to drive satisfaction. There are also popular theories that customer satisfaction does not necessarily drive financial performance.   In his article, “Proof that it pays to be America’s Most-Hated Companies”, Eric Chemi states, “The problem, however, is that the relationship between customer satisfaction and customer spending behavior is very weak. How weak? Our research finds that changes in customers’ satisfaction levels explain less than 1% of the variation in changes in their share of category spending”.  The correlation to spending and effort, however are much more closely correlated.  In the Avaya Customer Effort Impact Study: The cost of inconvenience, the article states that there is a high likelihood that a customer will stop spending money with a company based on the level of effort required of them.  

Have you ever tried to explain the process of increasing Net Promoter Score (NPS) results to a frontline customer support representative?  “Service the customer in a manner that increases their loyalty to the company and not to you personally” or “service the customer in a way that will inspire them to tell family and friends about the good service of the company but not in a way that makes them only talk about you”.  These concepts are counterintuitive!  But ask a customer service rep how they can reduce the total effort required by a customer to complete a transaction and you will get substantial input.  They will provide you with feedback that they hear, daily, about lengthy transactions, processes that drive transfers, and interactions that take multiple contacts. The book, The Effortless Experience, discusses putting this feedback into a “change story” that outlines the need for change. Informing your team of the changes in the customer service world and why the old approach no longer supports those changes will help bring the customer effort initiative down to an individualized level.   

CSAT and NPS are constrained metrics.  Companies that can reduce Customer Effort Score are the companies that will be able to deliver excellent customer interactions.  CES has a tighter correlation to customer loyalty than NPS.   CES is also a better bottom line driver than Customer Satisfaction.  Finally, the concept better resonates with frontline employees than Net Promoter Score, making it much more effective to drive the change deep into your organization.  

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