The desire to “delight your customers” is a noble one. But the effort involved may be better used elsewhere. Rick DeLisi, senior director of advisory services for CEB’s sales and services practice and co-author of The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty,recently spoke with Associate Editor Jenel Stelton-Holtmeier about how distributors could better focus their efforts to provide a better customer service experience for all customers online and off.
MDM: What sparked the idea for this book?
Rick DeLisi: Back in 2008, we did a study on behalf of our customer service practice on shifting the loyalty curve. That’s where we made the first discovery about this direct link between customer loyalty and a low-effort service experience. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the work that we would be doing in the succeeding years all ended up following that theme – exploring various facets and elements of low-effort, high-loyalty service.
MDM: What is The Effortless Experience about?
DeLisi: It’s about customer loyalty, it’s about the misperception that so many companies have had based on the conventional wisdom when some customer has some sort of a problem or an issue.
The conventional wisdom has always been: We need to somehow find a way to make that customer more loyal as a result, to create some kind of dazzling experience – a strategy of delight. To create an above-and-beyond experience for that customer to make them more loyal.
While that sounds like an admirable goal, the strategy of delight simply does not work and there’s actually a completely different strategy that works way better.
MDM: What kind of strategy works better?
DeLisi: What we’ve discovered is that when a customer has some sort of a problem or an issue that needs to be solved, they’re not looking for some dazzling, delightful experience. What they’re looking for is for the problem to go away in the fastest, easiest way possible.
Instead of trying to find some way to make this customer more loyal, what we’ve learned is companies really need to think about trying to prevent that customer who was a problem or an issue from becoming disloyal. Instead of playing offense and creating greater loyalty, the much more strategic impact comes when companies play defense and try to prevent a customer from becoming disloyal. And the way to prevent disloyalty is to create the easiest possible resolution to their problem; literally to create an effortless experience.
MDM: Chapter 3 is titled “The Worst Question a Service Rep Can Ask.” What is that question and why is it so terrible?
DeLisi: “Have I fully resolved your issue today?”
Now that sounds like a perfectly fine question, and we’ve all been asked it many times. And many companies are proud of the fact that they ask it. But it turns out that question is actually secret code. Do you know why they ask that?
MDM: They want you off the phone.
DeLisi: You’re exactly right because that question is actually code for “Do I have permission to hang up on you right now?” Every call is being timed. Every agent is being held accountable to some degree for what we call AHT – average handle time.
They’re also being held accountable for a concept called “first contact resolution.” Every company says it wants to resolve a high percentage of its customer issues on the first contact. You called, and we resolved your issue in one call. The way we know is we ask you “Have I fully resolved your issue today?” If you say yes, then I both get to hang up on you and keep the call as short as possible and score this in the category of first contact resolution.
I’m asking you that question because I really, really want you to say yes. But what we’ve learned is that while that feels great to companies, the vast majority of customers realize only after they’ve said yes to that question – and it might be a minute later or it might be five days later – there is something else related to that issue that they either didn’t know to ask about or didn’t think to ask about in the moment. And that requires them to call the company back.
While first contact resolution seems like a worthy goal, a much worthier goal is NIA, next issue avoidance. Instead of asking a customer “Have I fully resolved your issue?”, what we ought to be saying is: “Based on our experience with other customers like you, there’s one other thing I’d like to talk to you about right now that you might not even be thinking about. But I can resolve that thing for you as well right now.”
That proactive service about something that the customer didn’t even know to ask about certainly feels like low effort to the customer, but it’s also super-efficient for the company. Even though it might turn that phone call into a slightly longer call, which seems inefficient, if it prevents the customer from having to make another phone call, it was very efficient overall.
Being able to be proactive or anticipating a customer’s next issue where that makes sense is a great way to up-serve your customers, to offer them one little extra service beyond what they were expecting, which not only feels great and feels like low effort, but is highly time efficient because there is much less
likelihood about them having to call you back about that same issue.
MDM: How do you identify the next issue?
DeLisi: The single most obvious technique is to track callbacks. Most companies have a way of knowing how recently you called. We advise companies to set some time period – our suggestion is five days, but there’s some argument to be made about the exact time period – and to track the number of customers who call more than once within that period. From that, begin to understand what prompted that second call, or even worse, that third or fourth call, with the assumption that they were probably related to that first call. And that there was probably something that could have been done in that first call that would have negated the requirement for that second or third follow-up phone call in a short period of time.
Another really simple thing they can do, which we love, is to involve their front-line agents. We think it makes sense for the front-line agent to ask a customer in the middle of discussing the issue with them: Is this the first time you’ve had to call about this issue? If the answer is no, this is the second or third time, that agent ought to be thinking to themselves, what could the last agent have done differently that would have prevented this call?
Much like the whole effort thing, once you make front-line agents aware of this as a priority, they’ll begin to detect right away some things that we as a collective service team could be doing differently to prevent the necessity of many unnecessary callbacks. Every company (we’ve worked with) has told us that simply allowing their agents to get involved in helping understand the solutions is very productive, but it also focuses each individual rep on not being the cause of unnecessary callbacks themselves.
MDM: How can you get the initial sales reps responsible for the account to work closely enough with the customer service agents who could be responding after the sale is completed to prevent the next problem?
DeLisi: Once you start analyzing high-effort experiences and unnecessary callbacks, in any company clear trends will emerge. And once it’s understood what’s happening upstream, as in the sales process, that’s creating the necessity for these unnecessary calls or these repeat calls, it’s not that hard to work with salespeople to advise them that something they’re doing, which is probably inadvertent or something that seems right at the moment, is unfortunately causing unnecessary customer effort – something we know is a driver of disloyalty. Simply identifying the trends, which can be very different from one company to another, once we understand clearly what we’re doing wrong, it’s not that hard to fix it.
And once a salesperson understands that customer effort is directly related to loyalty, undoubtedly they would want to fix that thing.
MDM: How hard is it to make a customer disloyal?
DeLisi: It depends on the industry, and particularly in the B-to-B world, sometimes the switching costs or the effort to switch are so much greater than buying a different brand of milk or changing your cellphone carrier.
But disloyalty goes beyond simply no longer being a customer. You may still be a customer, but if you’re a greatly dissatisfied customer, there are so many things you can do. Your negativity can impact other people in a greater way.
You can be negative about a supplier company with all the people within your company, which makes the likelihood of repurchase less. You can be more vocal and visible in social media, which has a far more wide-reaching impact on customers and potential customers.
Negative word-of-mouth is so much more powerful as an opinion shaper and as a behavior changer than positive word of mouth. It’s great when customers are raving fans or advocates, but preventing customers from becoming negative or even hostile is way more strategically valuable. Both the frequency of people that negative commentary touches and the impact it has on them is much greater than positive impact.
Feeling that I’m trapped as a customer of this company that I hate is a pretty good way to encourage people to share negative word-of-mouth. In some ways it’s worse than a customer that’s no longer your customer. It’s the person who is still your customer who is looking for every opportunity to say something negative about you; that’s really harmful.
So anything a company can do to prevent people from becoming negative should be considered.
MDM: Is there anything else distributors should be keeping in mind related to the customer experience?
DeLisi: Year after year, we see B-to-B companies say they benchmark themselves against only other B-to-B companies or they’ve made an assumption that their customers are their customers without recognizing that those same individual people are also the customers of dozens or hundreds of other companies. And they fail to recognize the impact that has on customer expectations.
We are seeing much more of a blurring around the understanding of what great customer service looks like across B-to-B and B-to-C companies with the recognition that you’re not really dealing with “the customer,” you’re dealing with a person who carries a lifetime of experience with all other companies into that interaction they’re having with your company.
If that experience doesn’t rise to the level of their expectations, that could have a harmful outcome even though it may seem OK in the moment to your company. If you don’t recognize the impact of that customer’s expectation in this much more “me-centric” empowered world, then there’s a possibility that the same service that would have been perfectly fine five years ago would be very suboptimal today.
You need to rethink what success looks like and what customers expect because it is very different.
Learn more about The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty at http://www.executiveboard.com/exbd/sales-service/effortless-experience.