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Customer effort: Work it, so your agents and customers don’t have to

iTunes grew from a simple idea: if you make it easy for people to buy and access content they like, they will pay for it. The point being, people value an effortless experience.

This principle goes beyond acquiring new customers, it also applies to customer loyalty: if your clients feel like they are putting in more than they are getting out from an experience, they will likely start looking for a new partner.

Back in 2010, the Harvard Business Review’s piece on “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” made the case for driving customer acquisition and retention by empowering your agents to serve up quick resolutions. This practice is essential for your bottom line. There's a reason why Bain & Company's "Prescription for cutting costs" is loyal relationships: according to their research, "a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit."

How do you measure customer effort?

Effort is a function of time and energy. These can be independent signals of how much effort was applied or together they can also point to a customer’s level of exertion. The harder they are working, the higher the chance they will churn.

Effortless customer experiences require elbow grease to get right. Typically, you’ll start by collecting customer feedback via a survey sent out after a support interaction. Make it short and sweet, simply asking them how easy it was for them to resolve their issue (with a short space for any optional comments). This customer feedback is used to calculate your Customer Effort Score (CES). From there, you’ll need to delve further to really understand what levers to keep pulling and which gears to turn back.

When analyzing how well your support team is doing to reduce effort, you should be looking at the following:

  • How many different places did your customers and your agents have to go to look for an answer?
  • Was the issue resolved when they finally reached out? Or did they need to reach back out about a similar or related issue soon after?
  • How long did it take for customers and for agents to go through each leg of the journey to resolution?
  • Were there processes or obstacles that got in the way of reaching resolution?
  • What were some resources, workflows, or skills that helped get to a quicker resolution?
  • Are your CSAT and NPS scores competitive for your industry?
  • Are your agents confident that they have the resources they need to provide solutions?
  • How are you currently tracking and implementing improvements based on customer and agent feedback?

Here are specific metrics that will give you a data-drive baseline for how you are doing: ticket handle time, first reply time, requester wait time, # of touches between your customers and your agents, how many times an average customer contacts your team, Net Promoter Score (NPS), and CSAT. These are all good ways to keep a pulse on whether you are providing a recommendable experience.

Building this picture of where you are now and setting a target CES goal after will allow you to effectively identify whether any changes you make intentionally or unintentionally have an impact on customer effort. Tracking your performance along the way will help you draw a clearer link between the a customer's experience with your team and revenue gains. This will make it easier to make a case for investing in your team later on.

Keep in mind that there may be some noise in the data. For example, your customers may be getting quick answers, but they may not be getting quick resolutions. They may be writing in to ask for many pieces of information that could have been given to them at once had the agent taken the time to understand what they were trying to accomplish and anticipate what they might need.

They are also outdated “solutions” that need to be reevaluated or stripped away. Scripts meant to increase satisfaction and reduce handle time often get in an agent’s way. Instead of listening and offering straightforward solutions, agents are often asked to go through a series of stale lines; callers end up feeling more lectured than helped.

If you have the means, you may want to try to examine a few randomly selected tickets, calls, or chats a month get some qualitative data which may help you cut through the noise. You may even want to roll out a formal Quality Assurance team so you can keep close tabs on customer effort and experience.

No matter how well you are doing, there is always room to grow. Below are 10 tips for reducing customer effort that you can start implementing today:

Ten tips for reducing customer effort

    1. Support your support team: Collect feedback about tools/process improvements that could help agents get customers help—and then act on them. Creating an effortless experience for your agents facilitates their ability to do the same for your customers.

    2. Make it easy to find the answers by focusing on self-service. Are you surfacing relevant information along the customer journey that anticipates customers’ needs? Or are your agents will spending time working on password reset and invoice requests?

    3. Make relevant resources more accessible for agents so they can quickly offer solutions. For example, the Knowledge Capture app allows agents to search for Help Center articles in a ticket view so they can swiftly share to answer questions.

    4. Develop solution-oriented and proactive support training and incentives. If you want customers to advocate on your behalf, you should encourage your agents to advocate for customers. Orientation, ongoing training opportunities and your culture should empower and reward agents who push for improvements.

    5. Continue training. Regularly review examples of interactions as a team and see if you can collectively spot opportunities to lower customer effort.

    6. Keep tabs on what people are saying. When people talk about their experiences with your support team, are they emphasizing how simple it was to get an answer or are they simply saying they were satisfied?

    7. Innovate to decrease effort. Try changing how your team or Help Center is structured and see if it makes a difference. Try new features - keep pushing the bar and see where it takes you.

    8. Implement an omnichannel strategy so your customers can reach you when they need to. Are your agents prepared to take a call, chat, or email when your emails reach out? How about switch when the customer asks to continue the conversation elsewhere?

    9. Track what you are doing like you mean it. Then use the data to modify or eliminate processes when they get in the way of providing closure.

    10. Have fun! How you are doing something matters as much as what you are doing. If you and your team are not enjoying what they are doing, you can bet that it’ll show. We all know that when we are having a good time, we feel more motivated, creative, and willing to work to get people what they need.

The beauty of monitoring and improving your CES is that by decreasing your customer and your agents’ effort will lower yours: with every customer retained who promotes your company, you will need to spend less on winning over the next prospect that comes along. By speaking to your ability to drive solutions, the gospel of satisfied customers will be doing effective and powerful promotional marketing and sales for you.

Exceptional customer service should feel as effortless as possible. Equipping each party with what they need to enjoy wonderfully smooth experiences will increase your customer loyalty and build your business.

Faith Hanna is a former Technical Support Engineering Lead who now works on Customer Stories at Zendesk. She is passionate about exposing and celebrating the remarkable strategies, people, and thought leadership behind support experiences that feel beautifully human. She is a strong proponent of meta-heavy journaling in the morning, staying inquisitive, and dessert.