The Importance of Reducing Customer Effort, and Maybe Even Choice

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The Importance of Reducing Customer Effort, and Maybe Even Choice

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  August 17, 2015

You don’t need to “wow” customers. What people really want is for you to save them time. At least that’s the message of a growing camp of customer service companies.

Chad Wright, CTO of contact center application and consulting company MicroAutomation (News - Alert), is one evangelist of this message. The No. 1 thing that you can give to customers to keep them coming back is time, according to Wright.

Reducing Customer Effort

That said, those individuals involved in the customer service initiatives at businesses should evaluate their processes to see how they can be improved to reduce customer effort. If there are 20 steps customers must take to complete a transaction with your company, he said, work on cutting it down to 10. MicroAutomation helps clients do that kind of thing.

Here Wright offers a specific example of where saving a customer time can help both that customer and the company. Consider a cable TV or DBS customer who is getting ready to watch the big game on his widescreen TV, and then the service goes out, Wright said. Some providers address this kind of problem by offering customers free programming. A better strategy, he suggested, is to simply offer to send a customer a text providing details on when he can expect service to resume. That prevents the company from giving away product as a customer retention strategy, and it saves the customer the time and hassle of waiting for an answer or not knowing what’s happening with his or her service, so he or she can do other things and, if needed, make other plans to watch the big game.

“We focus on one thing: reducing customer effort,” said Wright of MicroAutomation. “That is how you’re going to win the CX war we’re all in now [in which] everything is becoming commoditized.”

This thinking aligns with the survey findings detailed in the book “The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty” by Rick DeLisi, Matthew Dixon, and Nick Toman.

The authors note that companies strongly believe customer satisfaction leads to loyalty, by a margin of 83 percent to 12 percent, with 5 percent saying they are not sure. As a result, 89 percent of the companies the authors surveyed said they try to exceed customer expectations. Yet the authors said their analysis of more than 97,000 customer survey responses indicates that there is virtually no difference between the loyalty of customers whose expectations are exceeded and those whose expectations are simply met.

“There are two big takeaways here,” the authors point out. “First, companies tend to grossly underestimate the benefit of simply meeting customer expectations.”

The authors add that they believe “customers are in fact quite happy to simply get what was promised to them. If there happens to be a problem, just resolve it quickly and easily. No more, no less.”

Keep It Simple Stupid

The book “The Paradox of Choice” by psychologist Barry Schwartz is another source of commentary endorsing the idea that keeping things simple is the most direct path to happiness for most people. Yet, as Schwartz pointed out in his July 2005 TED talk, the official dogma is that if we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens we should maximize their freedom, and the way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice.

“This is so deeply embedded in the water supply that no one would think to question it,” Schwartz said.

While choice can be good, he said, it can also have negative effects such as creating paralysis. For example, Schwartz said, a look at voluntary retirement plans at employers indicated that for every 10 mutual funds offered the rate of participation decreased 2 percent. That’s because with 50 funds to choose from, choosing a plan is so overwhelming that most people put off the decision, often indefinitely, and employees lose money and suffer as a result.

However, even if a person can manage to select from a wide array of choices, they tend to be less satisfied with the choice than they would’ve been had they had fewer choices in the first place, Schwartz said, so there can be regret.

“Nobody in the world of marketing knows this,” Schwartz said. “The secret to happiness is low expectations.”

Settling isn’t always such a bad thing, he said, adding that expensive, complicated choices actually make us worse off.

(In the next issue of CUSTOMER magazine, we’ll look at the other side of this discussion – how dedicating more time and effort to exceeding customer expectations can pay off.)

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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