Prioritizing Training and Development is Crucial to Reducing Customer Effort
Lara Ponomareff, Customer Contact Practice Leader, CEB
Whether it’s teachers pushing us to succeed in the classroom or parents urging us on in other activities, we’ve all been conditioned to make our best effort. But there is one area of our lives where this conventional wisdom does not apply - our interactions with companies with which we do business. A service experience that requires a high degree of customer effort is often the catalyst that causes a consumer to switch to a competitor. In fact, recent research reveals that high-effort interactions make it four times more likely that a customer will take such an action.
According to best practice insight and technology specialist CEB, most businesses are aware of this dilemma, citing studies that reveal 70% of customer service leaders want to take action to reduce customer effort. However, far fewer are addressing the root causes behind it and taking the right steps to improve long-term customer loyalty.
“It’s become the norm for customers to already be aggravated when they call a company,” said Lara Ponomareff, Customer Contact Practice Leader for CEB. “The most significant influence on how they perceive the amount of effort that they need to make is the way they are treated by the agent with whom they interact. Our research shows that 65% of a customer’s perceived level of effort is driven by how the customer service rep made them feel during the service interaction. What the customer actually needed to do during the interaction only accounts for 35% of the effort that he felt compelled to make. We’ve also found that 24% of repeat calls are caused by an emotional disconnect between reps and customers.”
Ponomareff believes that these eye-opening statistics point to the need for organizations to make agent training and development a linchpin of their endeavors to drive customer loyalty. CEB’s Effortless Experience Solutions are designed to help businesses reduce customer effort across every aspect of their human resource cycle, from hiring front line agents with the right mindset to deliver a low-effort service solution to helping reps develop skills that proactively address customers’ past service experiences, improve current interactions, and minimize the factors that might drive unsatisfactory interactions.
As detailed in CEB’s book, The Effortless Experience, the solution focuses on such factors as helping agents develop active listening skills to improve overall communication, ask probing questions to surface additional information and use positive language to help establish ownership and advocacy
“For example, most customers have preconceptions about the company or its products”, she said. “By acknowledging these notions, reps can reduce the customer's perception of effort by up to 14%. Displaying this level of empathy can make a real difference. Agents are also trained to speak during what are usually pauses in the conversation, perhaps acknowledging past negative experiences with neutral statements, but always with an eye to moving on to resolve current issues.”
Ponomareff also affirms CEB’s premise that it’s important to establish an organizational climate that enables reps to use their own judgment and benefit from a peer support network. “Striving to create such positive climates can have an impact that benefits the entire company," she said. “While a hospitality company may have different climates in those staffing desks and contact centers in day or night shifts, such varied climates can help build a better corporate culture.”
She also downplays a cherished industry belief for the need to provide an omni-channel customer experience. “We’ve found that service continuity and consistency across touch points is less important than the need to provide uncertainty reduction—the need to establish customer confidence. Our goal is to actively identify the points in the customer journey with the highest effort and ensure that the level of effort is reduced.”
Although agent empathy is an important concern, it is not the most significant trait in hiring reps that can provide the effortless experience. “We have found that the personality profile of people we identify as Controllers (those who say they like to solve problems, who thrive on taking charge and resolving issues) score 10 points higher than Empathizers in their performance.”
“Many service organizations have a 25% to 30% churn rate,” she noted. "This means that over four years, they can experience a complete turnover in their staff. Better talent management now must take precedence to help companies provide the competitive advantage they need.” She believes that businesses must focus on the complex issues that take longer to resolve: who they hire, how they train their front line reps, what culture they’re in and how they perceive their career path.”
CEB’s impetus is to enable their clients to equip their teams with the resources to hire for, develop, and reinforce the service skills proven in behavioral economics to reduce customer effort. Their services can be offered in working with companies in Leadership Councils with heads of contact centers to provide ideas, insights and tools to drive strategies that help them chart the future or by providing complete talent management programs that include coaching and training including bite-size learning modules to establish and reinforce desired behaviors as well as empiric measurement of customer effort reduction.
CEB, in conjunctions with their partners, Allen Communications, recently won the Horizon Interactive Award for the Effortless Experience Capabilities Builder solution in the Training/eLearning tools category.