We all want to make our customers happy. That’s the job, isn’t it? And a happy customer is a loyal customer, right? 

Here’s the thing, though: Happiness is contextual. If you’re on your honeymoon, it might mean being waited on hand-and-foot by servers who always remember your name and your favorite drink. But if you’re trying to check out in a grocery store line? It probably means getting through the experience as quickly and painlessly as possible. 

For most organizations, the vast majority of ideal customer interactions look a lot more like the latter than the former. That’s the problem with the mandate we all still hear at every customer experience (CX) conference and webinar series about the need to “delight customers.” It romanticizes our role, often at the expense of the customer. 

That brings us to the final topic in our mini-series on contact center must-haves: Why creating an effortless experience — not ceaselessly trying to “wow” your customers — is the key to driving loyalty and customer lifetime value (CLV).

The best service is quick service

How many brands have you chosen to support almost exclusively because of an over-the-top positive customer service experience you had? Two or three? What about brands you’ve shunned because of terrible service? Probably a whole bunch. 

The reality is that customers are much less likely to reward stupendous, over-the-top service than to punish poor service. Study after study bears this out — from a sweeping 2010 report and analysis by Harvard Business Review, to research published in Matthew Dixon and Nick Toman’s 2013 book The Effortless Experience, to a more recent study from Gartner. Above-and-beyond service makes customers only marginally more loyal than simply meeting their needs, whereas reducing customer effort can give loyalty a significant boost.

More often than not, the very fact that they’re reaching out means you’re starting off on the wrong foot, as customers who reach out to contact centers are almost four times less loyal than average. Most don’t want to “be delighted”; they just want to resolve their issue as quickly and easily as possible.

At first blush, all this might sound somewhat at-odds with what we discussed last week about connecting with customers, but in reality, it’s a natural extension of the same logic. Building trust isn’t about putting on some elaborate English butler routine; it’s about listening to customers’ immediate needs and respecting their time. More often than not that means aiming to deliver an effortless experience, rather than bending over backwards trying to “delight.” 

As the Gartner study shows, making it easier for customers to resolve issues is the much surer path to customer loyalty and business value. Customers who describe customer service interactions with a company as requiring “high effort” yield far poorer business outcomes in terms of future spend and brand ambassadorship.

High-effort vs. low-effort CX

Effortless CX does not mean training agents to rush through calls or stop listening attentively to customers. It does mean learning to better respect customers’ time — often by cutting back on pleasantries and performative attempts to delight. 

For example, maybe training reps to begin every call with “Hello, how are you doing today?” isn’t always the best answer. The idea is to establish a connection, but more often than not, these attempts at scripted empathy are just as likely to come off as patronizing and robotic as they are genuine. In short, anything that wastes the customer’s time and subtracts from effortless-ness is undercutting the customer’s trust in your brand.

It’s also critical to minimize the number of hoops they have to jump through to resolve any given issue — what Dixons (a UK-based tech and home appliances retailer) describes as making customers “swim through peanut butter.” Here are a few examples they offer: 

  • Making a customer call multiple times to get their problem fixed
  • Confusing or broken self-service options
  • Forcing customers to switch communication channels to get help
  • Transferring customers from one department to the next
  • Making customers repeat information, such as account numbers

As we discussed in the first entry of this mini-series, which outlined the channelless experience, part of getting to effortless nirvana is approaching your channel and platform strategy from the customer’s perspective. Failing to seamlessly integrate self-service and live agents will result in chokepoints that generate confusion, frustration and anything but the effortless experience for the customer.

5 pillars for an effortless experience

This week’s live stream guest, CX rockstar Tracey Finlay, laid out five key principles for contact centers to minimize customer effort and maximize CLV:

  1. Channel stickiness – Provide an easy process to resolve issues without switching channels. If you offer an IVR or website self-service option, make sure that it works correctly and the customer doesn’t have to initiate another interaction to resolve the issue. By building the proper integrations and taking a channelless approach, you can abstract away the complexity of your channel processes and meet the customer where they are. 
  2. Keep it simple – Respect your customers’ time and boundaries. And when explaining solutions to customers, whether via the web or phone, keep the wording as simple as possible. 
  3. Experience engineering – Train agents to use language that makes the interaction easier. Use advocacy, and take a position of active support that makes the customer feel that the service rep is on their side. Use positive language, and use terms that prevent negative reactions. These are strategies rooted in basic psychology that make the customer feel important.
  4. Preempt future issues – Train customer service reps to foresee future issues and prevent them before they happen. For example, when I called my coffee machine company to request a part replacement, they preemptively sent two parts because they had a high rate of failure when customers tried to install that part the first time and usually called back requesting another part.
  5. Prioritize the right KPIs — Industry standard KPIs like CSAT and NPS all have their place, but they’re not targeted specifically toward helping customers minimize required effort. Some, like first call resolution (FCR), can actually unintentionally incentivize counterproductive behaviors such as refusing to let customers off the phone or asking unnecessary questions that waste the customer’s time. So carefully reevaluate your existing metrics and consider implementing a KPI around the effort required for customers to resolve their issues, even if it’s not on the first call.

The 3 key takeaways

Once you’ve built a channelless strategy that focuses on customer needs and oriented your contact center to actually connect with and listen to customers, the final step is to align your processes, KPIs and agent training to the north star of effortless experience. As much as we CX professionals love to talk about delighting customers, most of the time all they really want is for us to get out of their way and make things effortless. In summary: 

  1. Delighting customers in the service channel doesn’t pay.
  2. Bespoke customer service often drives disloyalty, not loyalty.
  3. The key to mitigating disloyalty and improving CLV is reducing customer effort.

For more insights on this topic, watch the full LinkedIn live stream episode, “The Effortless Experience: The Reason Why We Don’t Swim Through Peanut Butter.”

And for discussion of similar topics, tune in for the “Customer Experience in the Cloud” live stream series with Valur Svansson, every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. CT on the Lifesize LinkedIn page. To watch past episodes on-demand, visit our YouTube channel.