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Making Your Customers Work Too Hard To Get Support May Be Driving Them Away From Your Products

This is a special guest post from Dan Rourke, Vice President at Cadence Design Systems and a former CCC member.  Dan has over 24 years of leadership experience in the software industry, and as a CCC member became interested in the concept of customer effort and the Customer Effort Score. He recently wrote this post for his blog High Integrity Support.

Typically customer support teams spend large amounts of concentrated time and effort to improve customer satisfaction. There are many avenues to accomplishing this goal and many of them are quite effective. But, in terms of innovative approaches to the company / customer interface, there hasn’t been too much progress in the last five years or so. The exception is the customer effort work from the Customer Contact Council. Interestingly, they weren’t even aiming for a new approach. Rather they were gathering and analyzing data on traditional satisfaction measures and stumbled on an important correlation. The customer’s perception of the effort that they had to put in to resolving a service issue, compared to what effort they expected to put in, had a big impact. The impact was also deeper and broader than you might think. It did not just affect their satisfaction with support, but also their overall product /company satisfaction and loyalty.  At the end of this post, I’ve included pointers to the Harvard Business Review articles that share the research methodology, results, and case studies of implementation. As with any innovative approach, there are detractors who question the research and conclusions. You should review the material and draw your own conclusions.

As for me, I found the research provides a fundamental missing insight into a key aspect of the customer experience. Most satisfaction improvement initiatives rightly focus on the customer. But they generally do so through a somewhat distorted, dirty lens as to what really matters to individual customers. The initiatives end up trying to improve all aspects of the customer’s experience from the “prettiness” of the web site, to the effectiveness of the search engine, to the politeness of the phone reps. But without understanding the underlying customer needs and specifically exactly which stated needs actually drive loyalty (versus being nice to have), it is easy to optimize items that really matter in only minor ways.

In addition, given our very busy, complicated, over-scheduled business and personal lives, I believe that the ease of getting support has accelerated in importance over the last few years. When customers are under a deadline and busy with their own tasks, having to invest a major chunk of time and energy just to get an answer or solve a product problem is elevated from a nuisance to a fundamental dissatisfier.

At Cadence, we took the research to heart and are using Customer Effort scores in our support transactional surveys. We have also done other analysis work to identify root causes of customer effort and then change processes as a result. We used a technique similar to Intuit’s “Follow me home” approach – in our case focused on watching customers interact with the support mechanisms. We set up remote desktop sessions with a few volunteer customers and posed real technical support problems for them to resolve. We then just watched exactly what they did to try to resolve the issue and how much time and effort each step took. Did they go straight to our support web site? Did they browse or Search? What keywords did they use? How many steps did it take? All of this was fodder for our own follow-on work to determine how we could reduce the effort that was required of the customer.

It certainly wasn’t always what we had thought they were doing. There were, at times, areas where they were taking many extra steps and putting in extra time that we had not even considered. The insights here and from the survey results led to a list of process improvements focused on reducing the effort required by customers. We are seeing explicit positive customer write-in comments on the support transactions that they felt took much less effort than they expected. We  have found the customer effort approach and mindset to be a valuable improvement tool that gives a different perspective, an intensely customer focused perspective, into areas for improvement.

Original Customer Effort article with the concepts:

http://hbr.org/web/ideas-in-practice/stop-delighting-the-customer-the-idea-in-practice

Follow up HBR discussion:

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/01/stop_trying_to_delight_your_cu.html

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