Is Your Service Model Obsolete?

Customer_PillarsI was always a big proponent of the notion of delighting customers.  I was a sucker for stories such as that of the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton and Joshie the Giraffe (story link here).  That was before I read The Effortless Experience, by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick Delisi who make the compelling case based on extensive research that not only does delight not pay but it isn’t even what customers want!  Wow!  My world was shaken.  I had gotten in front of our company and emphatically implored everyone to aspire to delight our customers so this was not an easy pill for me to swallow.

You see, what the authors and the rest of the folks at CEB concluded based on surveying over 97K consumers is that most organizations overvalue delight while undervaluing meeting expectations1People don’t want to be delighted by providers, they just want to be able to accomplish a given task quickly and efficiently and get on with their lives!  The implications of this concept are profound.  It means that it is possible to better service stakeholders and improve efficiency at the same time.  No longer are these objectives in conflict with one another.

Millenials have become consumers in the age of Amazon and Google, organizations that have become disruptive forces not because they provide delightful customer service, but because they make it ridiculously easy to perform given tasks.  This demographic can often resent the need to get on the phone with service providers.  They expect service to be self-service, real-time and hassle-free.  Now, if you also serve a population such as the parents of college age students as we do it is natural to think that their service expectations would more closely follow age-old best practices of customer service.  What is interesting, again based on CEB research, is it isn’t until age 51 do customers report a preference for customer service via the phone channel over the web2.  The secular trends are clear, that consumers are preferring self-service over that of the phone channel at an accelerating pace.

This isn’t to suggest that the phone channel doesn’t matter anymore.  Quite to the contrary, the phone channel is becoming the channel for complex service interactions.  As more and more transactional interactions are moved to electronic channels, it has increased the level of sophistication required through the phone channel.  Today’s customer service reps are no longer in the fulfillment business, they need to be in the problem solving business.  Nowhere is this more true than in service interactions that are complex and infrequent.  For example, take paying for education.  I think we can all agree it can be complex and it isn’t something most of us do every day.  By becoming a more effortless organization in all the routine, transactional service interactions, you can better serve the more complex interactions where you can make a true difference.

If I have convinced you of the benefits of creating a more effortless service experience for your stakeholders, please read on.  If you are still not convinced, I will try not to take it personally.  It took me a while to come around and change my way of thinking.  For those like myself, that were preaching the gospel of customer delight, it doesn’t sit well at first.  For those that are convinced or for future reference should you take a while to come around, the following are 5 steps to becoming a more effortless organization:

  1. Help stakeholders resolve issues in their channel of preference.  Analysis by the CEB concluded nearly 60% of customers that end up as a phone call began in another channel such as the website.  Guide stakeholders to resolution versus giving them a vast menu of choices3.
  1. Head off the most likely next issue.  One of the pitfalls of focusing on the traditional contact center metric of Average Handle Time is that it can create a disincentive to proactively solve a customer’s next issue.  If a service representative can avoid a follow-up call by spending another 30 seconds to educate someone on likely future interactions it is time and money well spent.
  1. Realize that stakeholder effort is mostly perception.  Has a customer service representative ever told you that you can’t have something?  It usually doesn’t feel good and certainly doesn’t drive loyalty.  The best organizations coach representatives to answer questions without emphasizing the negative.  Ask someone who works at Walt Disney World what time the park closes, and I can guarantee you they will respond “The park is open until 10 PM” vs. “The park closes at 10 PM”.  The information conveyed is the same; the customer's perception of the two, however, can be quite different.
  1. Trust frontline representatives.  As self-service becomes more prevalent, the role of the representative has become more complex.  Strict scripts and checklists are often insufficient and result in the representative coming off as disingenuous.  Empower representatives to use their own judgment and discretion.
  1. Measure customer effort.  The authors of the book The Effortless Experience introduce a metric called the Customer Effort Score that measures a customer’s perception of effort.  Remember, it is the perception of effort and not the actual effort that matters most.  You may come up with an alternative metric that meets your organization’s needs but without a way to measure customer effort you will have no way of knowing whether you are actually succeeding in becoming more effortless.

Your organization may have additional or different steps.  This is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  The Effortless Experience is more of a philosophy than it is a quick-fix or institutional change initiative.  It is about making a commitment to be easy to do business with.  


1CEB, Effortless Experience, Arlington VA, 2003, Page 14

2CEB, Effortless Experience, Arlington VA, 2003, Page 45

3CEB, Effortless Experience, Arlington VA, 2003, Page 39

Craig Lockwood, President, TMS

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