Lowered Effort Is More Important Than Heightened Delight

Reading this HBR article by Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, Nicholas Toman (2010) was a super helpful reframing of a lot of narratives I’ve been wondering about …

The authors argue that to make your customer delighted is too abstract of a goal, and it’s better to simply measure the amount of effort they’re applying to exact an outcome. It’s totally pragmatic. I love it.

Two critical findings emerged that should affect every company’s customer service strategy. First, delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does. Second, acting deliberately on this insight can help improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and decrease customer churn.”

This line here is gold: “Telling frontline reps to exceed customers’ expectations is apt to yield confusion, wasted time and effort, and costly giveaways. Telling them to “make it easy” gives them a solid foundation for action.”

The authors suggest a Customer Effort Score (CES):

 “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” On a scale from 1 (very low effort) to 5 (very high effort). 

—Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, Nicholas Toman (2010)

Their hypothesis is that determining how a customer feels about “how easy is this?” is more valuable than how delighted they might be. And the more a focus on “delighting a customer” becomes a mandate, it’s too abstract for it to deliver an at-scale outcome. A better at-scale outcome is tied to the opposite end of the scale — to address the fundamental reason for disloyalty to happen: which is when the customer needs to work too hard to get the ROI that they expect. Along those lines, of five guidelines they provide this fifth and last guideline is so simple:

“Empower the front line to deliver a low-effort experience.”

—Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, Nicholas Toman (2010)

To better understand their logic, they offer a “two pie” zero sum game metaphor:

Another way to think about the sources of customer loyalty is to imagine two pies—one containing things that drive loyalty and the other containing things that drive disloyalty. The loyalty pie consists largely of slices such as product quality and brand; the slice for service is quite small. But service accounts for most of the disloyalty pie. We buy from a company because it delivers quality products, great value, or a compelling brand. We leave one, more often than not, because it fails to deliver on customer service.

—Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, Nicholas Toman (2010)

A metaphor that I prefer is the Donella Meadows systems thinking framing of a pool filled water with two ways to fill it up faster: 1/ increase the water coming out of the facet, and 2/ constrict the drain (we forget that the pool is always leaking water).

Takeaway? Instead of working hard to imagine that you can drive loyalty upwards, consider how easy it is to drive loyalty downwards, instead. Driving loyalty downwards can have a overall greater impact on your loyalty growth aspirations because loyalty depletes faster (downwards) than loyalty can be earned.

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