Here is an article written by Matthew Dixon, Lara Ponomareff, and Anastasia Milgramm for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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The notion of going above and beyond customer needs is so entrenched in organizations that managers rarely question it. But delighting your customers may be a waste of time and energy. In fact, most customers just want a simple, quick solution to their problem. Exceeding customer expectations has a negligible impact on customer loyalty. Instead of providing a series of bells and whistles in customer interactions, companies need to reduce the amount of effort customers make.
This is the conclusion we found in our five-year study, in which we analyzed customer data from 75,000+ respondents and conducted interviews with hundreds of companies around the world. We presented the findings in the 2010 HBR article “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.” In it, we explained that what matters most to customer is the amount of effort they put in to interactions: 96% of customers who report putting in high effort in their service interactions are more disloyal, while only 9% of customers who expend low effort are more disloyal.
Because these findings contrast the conventional belief that companies must provide over-the-top service for customers, we’ve found that companies are often relieved to have hard proof that exceeding expectations — an often expensive and unsuccessful mission — shouldn’t be their focus. Then they want to know what steps they should take to reduce the amount of effort their customers expend. In our work with companies to answer this question, we’ve seen where most organizations struggle: getting buy in from the rest of the organization and figuring out what to tackle first.
To provide practical advice for companies to address these challenges, we created an Idea in Practice that shares the experiences of two companies — American Express Consumer Travel Network and Texas-based energy company Reliant — as they implemented plans to reduce their customers’ effort in service interactions.
Here is a preview of two of the crucial lessons:
Reducing customer effort doesn’t require a 180-degree turn, but a shift in focus. Many of the companies we work with wonder if they have to start from scratch to achieve effort reduction. We’ve found most companies already have some of the right elements in place, just as Reliant did. Instead of starting fresh, they can reframe initiatives with the goal of effort reduction in mind, tweaking existing processes rather than overhauling them.
Focus on the front line. Frontline employees are crucial for good customer interactions. The most successful companies, such as American Express, focus on ensuring that frontline workers have the skills, permission, and the desire to reduce customer effort.
To learn more about how your company can get started, read the Idea in Practice and let us know what works at your company. And, if you’d like to assess where your customers are expending the greatest effort during service interactions, you can download the customer effort audit by clicking here.
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Matthew Dixon is Managing Director of the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales and Service Practice. Lara Ponomareff is Research Director of the CEB’s Customer Contact Council. Anastasia Milgramm is a Senior Research Analyst with the Customer Contact Council.