How to Reduce Customer Effort Before it Can Build Up

by Jeannie Walters

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How can organizations help customers avoid the effort in the first place?

There are 5 core methods to effectively reduce customer effort:

  1. Dive into root cause analysis
  2. Solicit open-ended feedback
  3. Put the customer at the center of your efforts
  4. Look beyond the touchpoint
  5. Walk through high-friction points often

We’ll look at each method in detail below, but first, let’s talk about why this is so critical to the well-being of your customers and your organization.

 

Why does reducing customer effort matter?

Your customers are working too hard. They are struggling to find things. They are calling your agents with questions about how to do things they WANT to do on their own. They are searching for answers and finding nothing but dead ends.

Why worry about customer effort? Everything takes a little effort.

Think about the last time you were REALLY frustrated by being a customer. It probably involved many steps.

  1. First, you bought INTO something. You made a purchase because you not only paid for it, but you believed in it. The product or service was going to help you, make your life a little more convenient, secure, fun, healthy…you had defined a specific “return” on this investment for yourself.
  2. At some point, there’s a problem. The doohicky didn’t work as planned. Or it broke after one use. Or setting up the service wasn’t quite as “easy peasy” as the advertisements promised.
  3. You tried to solve it. You reviewed the manual. Maybe you looked for answers on the brand’s knowledge base. Several frustrating minutes or hours later, you reached out directly to the brand via a call to the contact center or a chat on the site.

For the sake of this example, let’s say this is where your problem gets solved. Was this a win for the brand? For the customer? Let’s investigate.

 

Let’s define what customer effort REALLY is… and what it’s not

The example above might be seen as a “win” for the brand. First call resolution! No escalation! Service recovery done well!

You, the customer, might express relief and appreciation. The transactional survey results reflect how the agent did a great job solving the problem.

Everyone moves on and the next time a customer repeats that exact set of steps, the agent is able to help. But the next customer, and the one after that, will have to put in just as much effort to get to an answer they couldn’t find on their own.

Let’s stop defining customer effort as what happens when something is already broken.

Customer effort is not just about the one task. It’s about the whole journey… and we need to define it as such. Yet, brands don’t improve the process when effort is seen.

Let's stop defining customer effort as what happens when something is already broken. Customer effort is not just about the one task. It's about the whole journey... and we need to define it as such. Click To Tweet

 

Customer Effort versus The Blame Game

Throw in third party integrations like separate billing apps or shipping partners and it’s a blame game. Customers lose when brands point fingers are partners.

Customer effort isn’t about the effort to solve the problem. It’s about solving a problem in the first place. But that’s hard to do if there aren’t methods to track the root causes of the effort.

Recently, I searched for a solution to change my account with a subscription service. I used my mobile app to try to update. No options there, so I tried on the desktop version. No options there, either, even though the branded instructions said where the link should be.

I used the chat to ask about it. I waited more than 3 days for an answer via email.

I had purchased via the mobile app originally, and the only payment option was Paypal. I had to go there to change the account.

I’ve thought about this process a lot since then.

As a customer, I had been given one option in the original channel to make a payment.

Then I had interacted exclusively via the mobile app with the brand.

Then I tried to find answers. They weren’t there.

They knew what the issue was. They “solved” this issue easily. They might think this wasn’t a lot of effort.

But my five-minute task turned into several days simply because they didn’t proactively look at the entire customer journey.

 

Can Customer Effort Score (CES) help?

Some brands began to care about customer effort thanks to tracking Customer Effort Score, or CES. Customer Effort Score is a helpful metric to track. The basic formula asks the customer to score the amount of effort for a specific interaction. And it can help… but only when used correctly.

Typically, the customer is asked to respond to the statement the brand “made it easy for me to solve my issue” with a numbered scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. This can be great for capturing where customers feel they are putting in too much effort. Often CES is for specific points in the journey. Customer Effort Score is more challenging for an overall understanding of the customer journey.

Related: How to Use Imperfect Data to Deliver a Perfect Customer Experience

Knowing there is too much customer effort and doing something about it are two different things. How can we do something about it? With our 5 key methods.

 

How can leaders use CES to help customers avoid the effort in the first place?

1. Dive into root cause analysis.

Study what happened before the point of customer effort. Look for patterns in what customers report. Track what customers ask of agents and in chats. In my recent example, I would bet good money that several customers have to contact customer service for this specific issue. Know the root cause and it’s a lot easier to fix.

Customer experience teams are often asked to do most of this heavy lifting. This is where cross-functional teams and executive support are vital. CX teams can’t do all the measuring, improving, root cause analysis and future experience design on their own. Root cause analysis is best completed with multiple views into the customer journey.

For example, an issue of many complaints into the contact center is not just about the contact center. It may not just be about the product, either. Your customer’s journey transcends your departmental boundaries. Get that viewpoint to assess what’s really going on.

CX teams can't do all the measuring, improving, root cause analysis and future experience design on their own. Root cause analysis is best completed with multiple views into the customer journey. Click To Tweet

 

2. Solicit open-ended feedback.

Customers will tell you how to create more effortless solutions. This shows up as suggestions in surveys or in angry emails that ask WHY in all caps. Listen to those suggestions and identify the points of frustration and effort.

When customers complain about specific areas of too much effort, ask directly for what would make it better for them. Customers might be expressing frustration over how many times they’ve had to contact customer service, but have ideas for workarounds or communications to help avoid that for future customers.

 

3. Put the customer in the center of YOUR efforts.

It can be challenging to solve issues when internal teams are vying for power or withholding information or access to each other. Cross-functional teams and a customer-centric viewpoint are required to reduce customer effort. Stop creating customer journeys based on org charts.

Related: Improve Your Voice of the Customer Program: Focus on These 3 Things

If you describe your customer journey by department, like “first they are in our marketing queue and then a sales person gets assigned,” then it’s difficult to really see the customer’s journey. Your customers shouldn’t be asked to educate themselves to move from one section of your org chart to the next.

Cross-functional teams and a customer-centric viewpoint are required to reduce customer effort. Stop creating customer journeys based on org charts. Click To Tweet

 

4. Look beyond the touchpoint.

Reducing effort at one point in the journey isn’t the end goal. The goal is to reduce friction and effort throughout the customer journey.

Customer effort score may be obvious at a specific touchpoint. Look before, after and around that touchpoint to really identify how to reduce customer effort. Proactive communication and follow-up help can address specific areas of effort. The entire journey is then less likely to cause as much frustration.

 

5. Walk through high-friction points often.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Buy something from the site. Use mobile, then call. Find what works and what doesn’t.

Leaders often assume processes and systems are working as they should because they haven’t heard differently. Customers might be gritting their teeth and getting through uncomfortable journeys simply because there’s no way to provide feedback. Leaders need to regularly and consistently check in with the actual experience.

Related: Bad Feedback is the Best Feedback. Are You Listening For It?

Customers are customers because they have bought from you and they’ve bought INTO your brand. Don’t let them down by making them do all the work!

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators™ by 360Connext, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, a Forbes Coaches Council Member, a C-Suite Network Advisor, a LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com instructor, and a TEDx speaker. Learn more here.

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