Effort and Responsiveness in Customer Service Impacts Customer Loyalty

Shopkeeper helping his customer in market

Customer expectations of interactions with brands and businesses have intensified and show no sign of slowing down. Increasingly time-poor consumers often expect an organisation to know what they are contacting them about, and how to resolve any issues on demand.

As such the speed of response and resolution is overly scrutinised and critiqued. To highlight this point, Hubspot research identified that 80% of customers expect companies to respond to their social media posts within 24 hours, and 50% claim they would cease business with a company that fails to respond to a negative social media post.

In some ways these expectations are no different in the B2B world. Business owners, senior managers, and key decision makers do not want to be contacting suppliers to resolve issues.  This is partly due to the fact they don’t want, or expect, them to arise in the first place. However, if and when they do, they want them solved with as little effort on their behalf as possible.

Remaining focused on running and growing their own business is what’s important, so as suppliers our ultimate goal should be providing a resolution as quickly as possible.

Hand in hand with speed of resolution and responsiveness is the customer’s evaluation of the quality of service they receive, which in turn impacts customer loyalty. Researchers from CEB, (now part of Gartner) first discussed the idea that we should stop always trying to delight our customers in 2010.  They claimed what customers really want is a low-effort experience, and reducing the amount of effort customers have to exert to get their issues resolved is a far higher driver of customer loyalty than delight. From this research a new customer metric Customer Effort Score (CES) was born.

Fast forward to today.  Many organisations are still using the traditional CSAT and NPS surveys as a way of measuring customers satisfaction. Each have their merits and there are fans and critics of both, but unless there is an actionable plan from the outputs, the scores become nothing more than a number. Whilst a positive response can be a great morale boost for your customer service teams, they do nothing to really help develop strategies to improve customer service offering overall, and to retain customers.

Effort matters

Customer frustration can be exacerbated from a perceived unnecessary increase in effort.  This could come from channel switching, and needing to repeat the explanation of an issue, or being forced down an inflexible ‘one size fits all’ service model which doesn’t suit their needs. Indeed recent research by Gartner found that 96% of customers who experience a high-effort service interaction become more disloyal compared to just 9% who have a low-effort experience.

Matt Dixon, author of the ‘Effortless Experience’ summarised the trend well when he wrote ‘Loyalty is driven by how well a company delivers on its basic promises and solves day-to-day problems, not on how spectacular its service experience might be. Most customers don’t want to be “wowed”; they want an effortless experience. And they are far more likely to punish you for bad service than to reward you for good service’.

As well as affecting loyalty, customers with high effort experiences are also more likely to have cost a business more to serve. This is not just due to the repeat conversations which are taking place, and the resulting churn, but also the potential for negative written or word of mouth reviews, as well as reduced levels of future purchases.

Balance is key

As customer service leaders we should all be focused on increasing customer loyalty.  The cost of acquiring a new customer can be up to five times that of retaining a customer, so to capitalise we should all be striving to make a customer’s experience as effortless as possible. It is important to offer the customer channel choice but this should not be done at the expense of increased effort. Introducing new technologies such as AI, chatbots and complex IVRs may only serve to increase the effort a customer must apply to get the answer they are looking for – if these are poorly deployed.

Measuring CES provides companies with actionable insight into how difficult their customers are finding it to get help. Taking time to understand the pain points in getting to a resolution, and delivering a service which ensures their needs are responded to quickly and with low effort on their behalf, should be the goal of any customer service leader.

Quite often a high-quality help centre that is regularly reviewed and updated can be the best solution since agents can operate on both Live Chat and phone channels to answer queries directly and easily.  With this in mind, we have looked at how we can reduce customer effort and have created a tailored onboarding process as a result which offers a range of support tools to suit the customer’s business and resource levels. These range from video and PDF guides, to full system walk-throughs with a dedicated member of the customer service team.

By tailoring the initial onboarding in line with customer complexity, to ensure minimal effort on their part to get up and running, the path is set for minimal effort and optimum loyalty in the longer term.

About the Author

Stewart Kitson Head of Customer Service SmartDebit Stewart Kitson is Head of Customer Service at SmartDebit. Stewart  is an award-winning, highly successful and trusted Head of Customer Services professional, with over 15 years experience, who builds long-lasting, productive business relationships internally and externally. As head of Customer Service and training, Stewart has successfully developed SmartDebit’s strategic vision and translated this into operational deployment and delivery.

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