Build Better Service: Four Pillars of Low-Effort Customer Experience

Sarah Chambers Sarah Chambers · 6 min read

Building a low-effort customer experience is something that every company should work towards, even if they aren’t measuring customer effort score.

96% of customers who have a high effort experience will become disloyal. (CEB, 2010)

If that statistic didn’t immediately make you wonder how much effort you’re putting your customers through, I hope you’re okay with your customers walking out the door.

As a customer, we’ve all experienced customer service calls that feel impossibly difficult. Maybe you couldn’t find a way to contact the company. Maybe they made you jump through hoops to get what you needed. High effort experiences are these interactions that make you work really hard to get answers. And they are one of the fastest ways a company can lose customers.

Many organization use Customer Effort Score to measure how much easy it is for customers to get help. CES is a simple survey designed to capture a customer’s perception of effort after an interaction. The easier you make it, the higher the number.

The principles behind CES are helpful for every organization. 

The CEB broke down the important parts of designing a low effort experience into four pillars:

  • Minimizing channel switching
  • Next Issue Avoidance
  • Experience Engineering
  • Frontline Control

In this article, we break down the four pillars so that any company – even those not measuring customer effort score – can build a better low-effort customer experience.

low-effort customer experience

Minimize Channel Switching

Most customer support teams think of channel switching as passing customers back and forth between contact methods. The classic example is of a customer writing in via email, when the answer is they must call a different department. The customer has to repeat themselves to each new agent they talk to. It’s a frustrating experience that most of us can relate to as customers ourselves.

Minimizing this kind of channel switching is actually quite simple. Try to help customers where they want to be helped, empower agents to provide answers, rather than transfer calls and set clear expectation for customers on where they should go to get help.

Most customer support teams will think they are already doing a great job minimizing channel switching for customers contacting them. But channel switching is more common than you think.

The reality is that most of the customers contacting you have already switched channels. Many of customers start their search for help on your website. Only when they can’t find what they are looking for, do they pick up the phone and contact your team.

The biggest driver of channel switching is actually a poor self service experience. On average, 58% of your inbound volume comes from customers who’ve already searched your website.

Channel switching dramatically impacts customer loyalty

Matt Dixon explains in Effortless Experience that  “customers who attempt to self-serve but are forced to pick up the phone are 10 percent more disloyal than customers who were able to resolve their issue in their channel of first choice”.

Not only are those customers who are forced to pick up the phone more expensive to help, they’re less loyal too! It’s a lose-lose situation.

In addition to training agents to avoid shuffling customers between contact channels, companies also need to invest in effective self service methods to reduce the efforts caused by channel switching.

Next Issue Avoidance

When I worked at Starbucks, we were trained to hand out a spoon when a customer bought a yoghurt. Why? Because when we didn’t, the customer would complete their purchase, go to their table, sit down, take out their book, open their yoghurt, and then… realize they didn’t have all the tools necessary. They’d have to get back in line to wait for a spoon.

In next issue avoidance, agents don’t just resolve the question the customer asked. They think ahead to make sure that the customer won’t encounter another issue as soon as they get off the phone. It’s like playing a game of chess, and always thinking two steps ahead. “What can I do to make sure this customer doesn’t need to call back?”

Next issue avoidance is so important because customers don’t know what they’ll encounter next. We are the experts with our product – we know the next question customers will have when they get off the phone. If we only answer the question the customer asks, we’ll be leaving them without all the tools they need to be successful. In fact, customers report that only 40 percent of their issues are resolved in the first contact. Needing to call back is a high-effort experience.

What situations are in your support workflow that could be made easier by offering a spoon before the customer asks for it?

Experience Engineering

When they tell us we can’t have something we want, it sucks. Even though we’ve grown up, our inner 2 year old throws a little tantrum every time we hear the word “no”.

Customers experience the same strong emotion to being told no. They get angry, they might be rude, they’ll ask to speak to a supervisor. If they don’t get what they want, they’ll leave. Most agents understand that telling a customer no is something to be avoided.

But what happens when the answer must be “no”? For example, if a customer wants to order a dress that just isn’t in stock right now, there’s no way to “just say yes”. Lyig will only make the situation worse.

In that case, skilled agents turn to experience engineering to soften the blow of being told no.

The Effortless Experience team defines experience engineering as “managing a conversation using carefully selected language to improve how the customer interprets what they’re being told.” It uses three skills to improve how the customer feels about the experience – even though the outcome is the same.

Three Skills of Improvement

Customer Advocacy: communicating to the customer that you’re on the same page.

“I totally understand how you’re feeling here. Let’s see what we can do together to get this resolved.”

Positive Language: focus on what you can do for the customer, not what you can’t do.

Customer: “Can I have a Coke?”

Server: “We have Pepsi, is that okay?”

Anchoring: providing other alternatives to position the ideal outcome as better.

“I can either put you on standby for a home appointment at any time tomorrow, or I can book you a two hour home appointment slot next week.”

Learn more about training agents on experience engineering skills.

The way a customer feels about an experience is even more important than the actual experience. In fact, the customer’s perspective counts for two-thirds of the overall “effort”. That’s why experience engineering is the third pillar of providing an effortless experience.  

The Control Quotient

The fourth pillar has everything to do with control – how agents get it, and how organizations boost it.

Top performing agents (measured in terms of common customer service metrics like customer satisfaction, Net Promoter Score, first contact resolution, Customer Effort Score, etc.) all have very similar characteristics. You might think these agents all have a high IQ (intelligence quotient) or EQ (emotional quotient) but they actually are similar in an entirely unique way. These unique qualities are the Control Quotient, or CQ.

Agents with a high CQ are:

  • Resilient
  • Able to handle high-pressure situations without becoming burned out
  • Takes responsibility for own actions
  • Responds well to constructive criticism by managers
  • Able to concentrate on tasks over extended periods of time

Why is the control quotient so important?

 As Dixon accurately points out, “[agents] must be able to engage— fully— in often challenging personal situations with people who may be having an emotional reaction to a problem or issue.” But they don’t have to be able to handle a tough situation once. They need to bounce from stressful call to stressful call – and never let it affect their ability. It’s a job requirement shared by other professionals in highly stressful, emotional situations. Unsurprisingly, nurses and paramedics also have high CQs.

It might be tempting to go out and start recruiting agents who show signs of high CQ. However, enviroment highly influence CQ. Hiring someone with naturally high CQ, but putting them in a restrictive environment, won’t do any good. Instead, organizations need to focus on promoting the qualities of top performing agents by providing the right environment.

Environments that foster high CQs have three important factors:

  • Trust in rep judgment
  • Rep understanding and alignment with company goals
  • A strong rep peer support network

In other words, “in order to get control, you need to give up control”. Empowering frontline agents through trust and guidelines (not scripts) will allow agents with high CQ to flourish.

Using the Four Pillars

Identifying your team’s weakest pillars can have an immediate impact on your low-effort customer experience.

A well rounded customer experience relies on all four pillars being solid. If even one of the pillars doesn’t hold up, it can affect customer experience.

Focus your attention equally on:

  • Minimizing channel switching – including from self service
  • Improving Next Issue Avoidance techniques
  • Training Experience Engineering Skills
  • Boosting the Control Quotient

How do your four pillars measure up?

How did you like this blog?


Sarah Chambers Sarah Chambers

Sarah Chambers is a Customer Support Consultant and Content Creator from Vancouver, Canada. When she’s not arguing about customer service, she’s usually outdoors rock climbing or snowboarding. Follow her on Twitter @sarahleeyoga to keep up with her adventures.

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