The annual Gartner Customer Experience & Technologies Summit 2019 refreshed our minds about the perception of effort. “Don’t throw away the analogue baby with the digital bathwater” sums it up pretty well in this era of digital disruption and the human transformation of digital hearts.
Gartner does a great job in translating research into valuable foresight and business impact on a topic that we run into a lot these days: effortless customer experience and how it pays off in practice. We want to take you through the highlights and trends we heard and what behavior companies demonstrate that actually works.
What is customer experience all about? Gartner describes it as follows: “The customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, systems, channels or products.” Customer experience is not an objective itself, it’s a strategy to achieve sustainable growth as an organization through meaningful connections.
As customer demands are continuously changing, customer experience requires an organizational outside-in approach. Customers expect to be seen, heard and appreciated. Without personalized, effortless and contextualized customer service and support, it’s impossible to provide a distinctive customer experience. The most important aspect? Understanding your (future) customers. “Stop thinking about your customers. Start thinking LIKE your customers”.
The perception of effort… Listening to the analysts and advisors, we’re finally beginning to move away from the rather inside-out metrics like NPS and moving into what it’s really about: Customer Effort Score. As a consumer trying to get a query resolved we’ve all had the joys of experiencing the frictive effects of speaking to a customer care representative.
Understanding the finesse on how effortless customer journeys between the online and offline channels impact customer experience is why smart brands excel in customer loyalty and others fail. It’s the seamless transition between channels that removes friction and defines well designed interaction journeys. Engineer the wanted experience and design the interaction journeys with these key principles will proof to be the foundation of improved customer loyalty.
Disloyalty is easily caused when for example customers have to contact a brand again (repeat contact) or they’re forced to call because a chat agent doesn’t have the same mandate or system access and it is just too much of a hassle to get an answer. We’ve all been there, postponing having to connect with our bank or telco because of this. It all ties back to the perceived customer effort. Customer effort predicts a person’s future loyalty behavior more than anything else you can measure. As you can see from the graph below where a negative word of mouth is caused in 81% of the cases when it was perceived as a hassle.
Creating a low(er) effort experience might be easier than you think. It doesn’t mean having to purchase omnichannel tooling to start with. It starts with the (tool agnostic) basics to cover. Organizations have spent almost a decade integrating channels to provide users with seamless access, but that omnichannel approach has left 85% of organizations with fragmented customer engagement channels, leading to an inconsistent customer experience.
Multichannel and Omnichannel experiences
First things first, the definition of Multichannel and Omnichannel:
- Multichannel: Ability to contact the service organization by a combination of traditional channels like phone, email, web chat and self-serve options like the company website and social media.
- Omnichannel: Integration of data streams and queues across all channels to ensure a seamless service experience and a unified view of the customer.
So offer a good in channel experience before focusing on an omnichannel approach where it’s seamless across your channels. As 48% of customers today still have to repeat themselves when serving through multiple channels. This increased the perception of effort by 60%. Having to switch to another channel adds another 30%. The perception of effort is also defined by the transparency of communication a brand offers in their service. As transparency like sharing a process indication or give access to specific information will reduce uncertainty and therefore help in service being perceived as low effort. This is not fixed by tooling alone.
Let’s zoom in:
- Don’t focus on ‘delighting’ your customers. Fix your basics first. Having your service up to a delighting level will increase your cost to serve by 20% but doesn’t always mean a positive ROI. Because exceeding the expectations doesn’t automatically increase loyalty.
- Improve your employee engagement. Focus on keeping your employees as empowered and enabled as possible. We’ve all had the experience of having to fight ‘against’ a call center agent in order to get your issue resolved where the agent doesn’t have the mandate to actually help. Basically you’re fighting a scripted human that’s chained down with procedures and protocols. Taking a position of active support on behalf of the customer reduces the effort by 77%. Using positive language will reduce it by another 73%. You see, it’s not all fixed through tooling, your employees are key.
- Design the self-serve journeys to stick. As customers are ready to use automated serve when it’s good. 7 out of 10 will actually give it a try. 6 out of these 7 (!) will end up with assisted care talking to an agent. Including the frustrations collected along the way. That’s the wrong way of offering an omnichannel experience.
- Use automation, machine learning and analytics to combine data to predict and prevent customer interactions. Do not make self-serve feel like the customer is doing unpaid labor. Make sure it’s designed around saving their time and money as they are ready to use it but they’re not willing to be your machine instead. If a customer does need to reach out then use these insights to be relevant and offer next issue avoidance. By simply sharing upcoming issues to stay ahead gives the customer the feeling that they are cared for and that it’s a low effort experience. It is exactly this perception of effort that will pay off in practice.
Effortless customer care all comes down to how it FEELS in the end. A perfect example is when you’re flying, you’re at the airport and your flight is cancelled. You’re at the desk of your airliner and the agent tells you the next flight out is tomorrow. You will tell how you need to be home tonight and the agent tells you that he was able to get on the last available seat on tonight’s flight: it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not you will feel good regardless.
So to conclude, reducing uncertainty is the most important first step to provide low-effort customer interactions in a multichannel environment. This can be accomplished by creating interactions that are more transparent and proactive. Transparency and proactivity can largely be accomplished with minimal technology investment.
The Service-Profit Chain
Gartner relates Customer Experience to an old friend: The Service-Profit Chain. This approach (first described, HBR 1984) states that the service quality experienced by the customer is determined by the quality of the internal organization: the extent to which the organization is customer-focused and the employee is enabled to serve customers properly.
Nowadays, while designing and reacting to customer interactions with our customers, we no longer exclusively focus on employees since the customer can also be served by systems, channels and (smart) products. In the end, if the customer is well served, this will lead to satisfaction, loyalty, engagement and thus sustainable growth and cost reduction.
Some final Gartner predictions for 2022
- 70% of customer interactions will involve machine learning, chat bots or mobile messaging.
- The proportion of phone-based communication will drop to just over 10%.
- 20% of all customer service interactions will be completely handled by AI.
- A human agent will still be involved in more than 40% of all interactions.
We see technology as the enabler of better human connections and it is this human connection that’s at the core of your digital future. Human connections between you and your customer and also within your internal teams. Having a clear focus, making well-informed strategic choices, steering on value creation and giving direction can be challenging. Especially if you want to control your costs at the same time. Being aligned and having a strong, joined approach prevents “silo” initiatives and ensures the most efficient use of your resources without having to go through this process of change every single time.
We are curious on your vision. Are you as enthusiastic as we are about this subject? Or do you want to talk about leveling up your service? We would love to get in touch!