Customer Effort: is it worth it?


We’ve previously discussed the plethora of single measures of Customer Experience, but one that has recently been receiving revived coverage has been that of Customer Effort. We therefore thought it was worth reviewing this customer experience management measure to help guide both our customers and other visitors to our website.

What is Customer Effort?

Customer Effort, as a single approach of measuring customer loyalty, first came to prominence in the Harvard Business Review in October 2010 in an article called “Stop trying to delight your customers”. It questioned the theory that delighting your customers would lead to customer loyalty, and based upon a study of contact centre and self-service interactions, put forward the view that reducing customer effort in dealing with organisations would increase their loyalty.

The HBR article identified the three service interactions that have the most impact upon customer effort and therefore leading to resentment as being:

  • having to contact the company repeatedly (or be transferred) to get an issue resolved
  • having to repeat information
  • having to switch from one service channel to another (for example needing to call having tried unsuccessfully to solve a problem through the website).

B2B is different

I can see that within the environment of contact centres and self service in which the research was conducted that these would be seen as key interactions, and would drive customers’ overall view of the organisation. However, I would suggest that this is an oversimplification of the multiple touchpoints that customers have with organisations, particularly in multi layered ongoing relationships. The above may be true for low value simple relationships but within say a business to business environment many relationships would tend to be far more complex, and would have taken place over a longer period than an interaction with a contact centre.

Having said that, the overall concept of Customer Effort as being a key indicator may have some validity as it is not significantly different to other measures already in place within organisations.

Value for money / worth what paid for. This is the single measure of customer experience at the heart of the Customer Value Management approach. The approach is essentially built on the fact that customers’ future spending patterns do follow their views on was it “worth what you paid for it”, and in particular when compared to the competition. When you consider the words “what you paid”, ‘paid’ encapsulates not only the financial aspect but also the effort that is required in doing business with that supplier.

Net promoter score, where the key question revolves around recommendation.  Although the level of customer effort would have an impact on someone’s view on whether they would recommend a supplier, it is difficult to believe that there are not more important issues impacting this. Again this would be particularly true in the complex business to business relationship.

Ease of doing business. Many companies that we have spoken to over the years do have a question around the ease of doing business with them. This would certainly on the surface appear to be very closely related to “effort”, so is this just a story of “what goes around comes around” when you consider measuring customer loyalty and single measures for customer experience.

What customer behaviours do we want?

When considering if any of the above single measures of customer experience management are a good indicator of customer loyalty many companies struggle to define what customer loyalty actually looks like for their business. What are the desired customer behaviours that companies are looking for customers to portray? Is it about frequency of visit, profitability, lifetime value, levels of recommendations, buying a portfolio of goods and services, requiring low levels of after sales service and therefore reducing the cost of serving them…?

Finally, I think overriding the whole issue of what is the most appropriate single measure of customer experience is the challenge of ensuring the feedback is actionable and that the service supplier takes actions to improve its customer service. Clearly if the single measure is linked to a direct benefit to the organisation it can only help focus the organisation on the benefits of acting upon the feedback, and therefore increase the probability of acting up it, and ultimately improving the customers’ experience – hopefully leading to increased customer loyalty (however you want to define that!).

Take the next step

To discuss how to improve your customers’ experiences of your organisation, get in touch.

by Mathew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman. Return to article.

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