What Companies Can Do to Reduce Customer Effort

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When a consumer today calls a company for support, the typical response is to have an automated voice attendant answer the phone, throw five layers of menu options at him, ask for his name, telephone number, and the product he is calling about, and then forward him to an agent after it is determined that none of the automated call options could help. Then when the human agent comes on the line, she asks him for the same information all over again. Should the call end up getting escalated to yet another agent, the process is likely to start all over again.

All of that is extra effort the customer had to exert long before he ever got anywhere close to resolving his issue. And that extra effort is one of the chief reasons for customer dissatisfaction today.

“Customer effort is a huge contributor to customer satisfaction,” says Anand Subramaniam, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at eGain, a provider of knowledge management and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for service agents. “In fact, according to CEB’s research of tens of thousands of consumers, low effort meant a 94 percent chance of another purchase from the same business, whereas high effort would result in an 81 percent likelihood of negative word-of-mouth.”

Many other consumer surveys over the years have confirmed this link between customer effort and customer loyalty and repeat business.

“Regardless of the methodologies and the technologies that you use, the goal is to resolve customer issues in a single call, and to be able to say that your agent was polite and knowledgeable and displayed empathy,” says Brian LaRoche, product marketing manager at CallMiner, a provider of contact center analytics.

Calls, he adds, “should be frictionless,” meaning that the customer was able to get in and out of the call quickly and get what he wanted.

Yet while companies have been trying to improve in these areas, industry surveys continue to show that they have achieved only limited progress at best.

“There could be many reasons for this,” Subramaniam says. “Consumers and customer service agents alike tell us that finding the right answers and resolving customer problems are the biggest hurdles to reducing effort.”

Forrester Research has identified another key: “Each year we ask customers what is the most important thing a brand can do for them, and the overwhelming majority is always saying, ‘Provide great customer service,’” says Ian Jacobs, principal analyst serving application development and delivery professionals at Forrester. “When we ask these customers more about the service they’re receiving, three quarters of them say that valuing their time is important, and that it even outweighs access to information. Customers want to get in and out of a call. The longer the call takes, the more effort it requires of them. This is why when you talk about customer effort, the first thing you should ask yourself is whether you are valuing the customer’s time.

“In other words, is the customer getting what he or she wanted?” Jacobs continues. “Are you meeting that need fast enough? Is there anything in your exchange with the customer that generated disagreement or disappointment? Are you personable, and did you have the information that the customer needed?”

Getting at that information is not always an easy task, and in many cases, the customer’s sense of time and the effort he must expend could depend on the type of business the company is in.

“For example, if I’m a customer and I want to know if you have a certain refrigerator in stock, I want to know the answer in five seconds or less,” Jacobs explains. “But if you’re a finance company and I’m paying you to review my portfolio with me, I want at least one half hour of your time.”

Regardless of what type or length of service customers expect, though, the idea is that they should at least get somewhere on that first telephone call.

“First contact resolution [FCR] definitely has a big impact on customer effort regardless of where that first contact happens—website, contact center, retail store, branch/field office, etc.,” Subramaniam says.

And that has some pretty far-reaching impacts for the company, according to Subramaniam, who pointed to a leading U.K.-based mobile operator that reported a 37 percent increase in FCR once it started using eGain’s knowledge and artificial intelligence with its 10,000 contact center agents and hundreds of associates in 550 retail stores. When FCR increased, the carrier also saw a 20 percent increase in Net Promoter Score.


About 80 percent of companies have implemented some form of measurements for customer effort, according to several research reports, but that doesn’t mean that it is an easy process, or that they are measuring the right things.

“There are many ways to measure customer effort,” according to Subramaniam. “One is through direct customer surveys, where a business asks the customer to rate how easy or difficult their service interaction was. The other approach is to infer the degree of effort that a customer needed to exert by analyzing customer behavior or processes with the service function.”

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