May 13, 2016

How are you scoring on your Customer Effort?

By Annette Franz

customer effortDuring our month focussed on research, I’m happy to welcome back guest blogger, Annette Franz, to talk about customer effort.

I’ve posted previously on Customer Effort Score (CES), so it’s interesting to hear Annette’s experience and practical applications…

There’s been a lot of debate about Customer Effort Score (a metric developed by the Corporate Executive Board’s Customer Contact Council), especially relative to Net Promoter Score, about whether it’s an effective metric to use to measure the customer experience.

For those of you who don’t know, Customer Effort Score (CES) is, in short, derived from one question that you’ll add to your post-transactional survey(s) to assess the degree of effort that the customer had to exert in order to get an issue resolved, a request fulfilled, a product purchased/returned, or a question answered. (Many were first exposed to the concept behind CES in this HBR article, Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.)

The metric

The survey question goes roughly like this:

How much effort did you personally have to put forth to [insert interaction here, e.g., get this issue resolved]?

  • Far less than I expected
  • Slightly less than I expected
  • About what I expected
  • Slightly more than I expected
  • Far more than I expected

Is this metric applicable to every situation or to every industry? Is it the right metric for everyone? No, of course not. I believe it has some limitations, not the least of which is, if the product isn’t working as expected, a call to support is already more effort than you expected to exert when you purchased the product! If the metric is right for you, you will need to ask some other follow-up questions (including an open-end for further, descriptive details) in order to make the findings actionable.

Also, keep in mind that certain products, certain interactions, and certain channels for those interactions require more effort on the part of the customer than others. But do they have to? Now that’s the real question!

I do like that the response choices are related to the customers’ expectations because expectations can and will vary by the type of interaction, type of products, etc. And setting expectations is key to what follows (the experience).

Regardless, is this ultimately just about the score? No! But of course, you knew that! It’s about the experience! Let me give you a couple of my own examples of customer effort, as well as share with you some tips to help minimize customer effort and improve the customer experience.

Example #1: Product Exchange

I love to shop online. There, I admitted it. “Hello, my name is Annette, and I’m an online shopaholic!” Recently, I was looking online for a very specific type of blouse. I found it and ordered it in the size I usually wear. When it arrived, I tried it on only to find out that the blouse is “oversized” and should have been ordered two sizes smaller! First tip: Provide accurate product information, including sizing, with the product! Expectation not set – effort begins.

I decided to exchange the blouse rather than return it. (Hopefully two sizes smaller is small enough!) I happened to be going to the mall the next day, so I thought I’d just do the exchange in their physical store. Well, lo and behold, this is an “online exclusive” item. Had I made a trip to the mall just for this, I would have been highly annoyed. So, my next tip: Provide thorough information about the product so that customers can “do the right thing” and not put forth unnecessary effort for something that should be really easy.

They shipped the new blouse to me via FedEx SmartPost. The shipment confirmation email included a link to track the package. Of course, I’ve checked it daily now (for three days), and #fail on FedEx’s part here; the tracking information still shows that the item hasn’t shipped. Tip: If you provide conveniences for your customer to “do it yourself,” then make sure they work and aren’t a source of additional effort! You are responsible for ensuring that your partners’ systems support your customer experience.

Example #2: Product Return

Here’s another example of a product return, with a slightly different twist. I ordered some really cute shoes from a site I had never ordered from before. The shoes arrived, but I didn’t really care for the fit and needed to return them. The packing slip included very clear instructions on how to return/exchange an item, including implications for said return, which in this day and age of online shopping are quite ridiculous. #1 If you return the shoes, you will only receive a store credit. #2 If you return the shoes, you will be charged a $5.95 restocking fee. (Really?)

Here’s where the effort comes in. First, remember those clearly-defined return instructions. Well, they state that I simply need to use their return label for the exchange. I tore (figuratively) the boxes and stuffing apart to find a shipping label, but there wasn’t one. I have emailed them twice to ask how I should proceed or if they can provide me with another one. It has been six days, and I have not received a response yet. So my next step is to call them. Tip: Make sure a simple process remains simple. Have your quality control check to ensure that everything that should be in the box before it is sealed and shipped to the customer is there.

The second bit of effort here is the exchange. Honestly, I simply want to return the shoes and done. But since I’m only offered a store credit for a return (minus the BS restocking fee), I might as well find an exchange immediately. Problem is, there’s not really anything else I’m interested in. So now I need to spend time combing their entire site to find an appropriate exchange. More effort than I really wanted to expend at the moment. Will I buy from them again after that? Probably not. Tip: Revisit your policies. If they are too restrictive, that’s a problem. Such policies create effort that kills loyalty. Don’t let your policies get in the way of the customer experience.

Ironically, their packing slip says, “Effortless Exchanges & Returns.” Just because you say it doesn’t make it so.

Mind you, I’m an experienced online shopper. Remember… online shopaholic. My local UPS and FedEx drivers, as well as my mailman, all know my taste in clothes, shoes, home furnishings, etc.! So when it comes to online purchases and returns, I do have a certain set of expectations about the amount of effort I ought to put forth to complete the transactions. This is one of the reasons Amazon tops my list of fave online shopping sites. Effortless. Accurate. Swift. Yes!

I’ll save my last example for my next post. It’s a doozy. I’ll just preface it by saying it’s an airline example. Enough said for now!

How to make it easy for your customers

To wrap it up, some tips to minimize customer effort and to maximize the customer experience. Remember, not only does minimizing the effort make for a great customer experience, it also has an impact on your bottom line. It means less effort for you, as well!

Accuracy: provide accurate information about your products, services, policies, etc. Make sure all messaging is accurate, and confirm that everything that should be in the box, is.

Thoroughness: if you provide all of the necessary forms and information needed for a customer to complete a transaction or interaction, then no additional effort is needed to chase down forms, etc.

Consider Expectations: when you’re designing and defining your policies, consider the customer’s viewpoint and what their expectations may be about that interaction; if you need to, set appropriate expectations.

Self-Service: if you are trying to make an action/interaction self-service, ensure that it is truly self-service. Again, provide clear, thorough, and accurate information so that customers can complete everything on their own.

Communication: I can’t stress enough how key communication is to reducing customer effort. Not just any communication, but clear, accurate, personalized, and timely communication.

Consistency: if you offer multiple channels for customers to shop or interact with you, be sure the experience is consistent across channels. Share information internally so that the customer doesn’t have to start from scratch when moving from web to phone, for example.

Responsiveness: it goes without saying that if you respond in a timely manner, the customer doesn’t need to follow-up with you or chase you down. Effort averted.
Partnerships: ensure that your partners process facilitate the customer experience, not hinder it.

Who cares about your Customer Effort Score? Again, it’s not really the score you need to focus on; but if you’re using that question, heed the qualitative data around the reasons for the score. Otherwise, take a look at your processes, your communications, your messaging, your systems, etc. Anything that impacts the customer experience… and tell me: have you designed them from the customer viewpoint? Or were they designed to make things easier, or to make more money, for the company?

To understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasin.” North American Indian Proverb

Thanks, Annette & I hope research leaders found that useful. Any tips from your experience with CES?