A few weeks ago, I had a frustrating experience with my phone company.

To get an incorrect charge adjusted, I had to log in with my account number (off an old bill I didn’t know how to find), locate the chat button, enter more details about my account, and then wait until an agent was available to look into it.

I was satisfied with the customer service agent’s response. But the fact that I had to go through so much hassle to get a resolution means I’m already looking for another phone provider. The overall process was a pain, even though the agent was patient and helpful.

This story is probably familiar to you as a customer. But think about it from the support perspective, too. Have you ever noticed customers who were “satisfied” with your support cancelling their account days later?

It’s a phenomenon that might leave you scratching your head. After all, if you were able to solve a customer’s problem, why did they decide to leave?

The effortless experience

It turns out, we might be measuring the wrong thing when it comes to keeping our customers around. Just because a customer is “satisfied” doesn’t mean they’ll keep doing business with you or refer your business to their family and friends. That is to say, customer satisfaction is not a very good predictor of future customer loyalty.

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) is usually measured transactionally. For each interaction, customers are asked “How was my reply?” and given a range of choices from very bad to very good. We calculate CSAT by looking at the percentage of customers who respond positively. If 8 out of 10 customers were satisfied with the interaction, the CSAT score would be 80 percent.

Loyalty refers to the measurable actions of happy customers: an intention to keep doing business with you, upgrading or purchasing again, and referring your business to their family and friends.

In 2010, Matthew Dixon and the team at CEB wanted to understand why customers who seemed to be satisfied with the level of service kept churning. They found that delighting customers in the support conversation doesn’t make up for a negative customer experience — any effort that customers spend dealing with inevitable issues reduces their loyalty. Customers don’t want to contact you at all, and if they do, they want a smooth, effortless experience.

When you think about your own experience as a customer, it makes absolute sense. You’d much rather have an effortless experience on your end than have to contact support. Take, for example, my last conversation with my phone company. The agent was great, but my perception of the phone company dramatically worsened.

CEB recognized through their research that this “hassle” was the main cause of customer defection. A high level of effort correlates to churn much more than CSAT scores. Matthew Dixon developed a new customer support metric called the Customer Effort Score to help customer support teams find and reduce the hassle they were putting customers through.

Measuring CES

Measuring customer effort is easy. Switch out your post-support customer satisfaction score with the Customer Effort Score survey. Customers will tell you how much effort they’ve had to put in to resolve their issue.

Nicereply survey

Customers respond to the statement “[Organization] made it easy for me to handle my issue” on a seven point scale. Their response can range from very difficult (1) to very easy (7). We also suggest including a simple follow-up question to let customers explain the main reason for their score. This will help you determine what you can improve when you dig into the high effort scores.

Interpreting a Customer Effort Score

Once you’ve started receiving responses, you’ll want to understand what customers are saying. For CES, you’ll look at two things: the overall average of scores received, and the distribution.

Keeping one eye on the average trendline will let you know if you’re moving in the right direction: reducing customer effort. The CEB found that increasing responses from 1 (very difficult) to 5 (relatively easy) created a 22 percent increase in loyalty. That means a customer is 22 percent more likely to spend more with you or recommend your service to family and friends. If you improved 100 customers scores from a 1 to a 5, you could expect to see around 20 more word-of-mouth referrals than before. That’s a lot more business!

Looking into the distribution will help you identify where you need to focus your attention.

Nicereply survey

For example, take a look at the chart above. You’ve got many customers who felt it was very easy to do business with you. But 10 percent of customers also said it was almost impossible to handle their issue. While the overall score is pretty solid, that big stack of frustrated customers should cause concern.

Eliminating high-effort customer experiences

When a customer responds “very difficult” to the CES survey, we need to dig into the why behind the score. Reading their follow-up comment is the easiest clue, but you could also export cases with low scores and analyze the common themes between them. Are they all about a certain topic? Or do many difficult experiences happen on the weekend?

Jump on into that delicious data to see what customers perceive as high-effort experiences. Then, make an action plan to reduce the effort required to resolve the most common frustrating experiences.

Here are a few common high-effort experiences and the steps you can take to eliminate the friction:

Your Help center is difficult to navigate

  • Add a search extension like Algolia to your knowledge base to improve searching.

  • Make your Help content available in-app.

  • Add in keywords to articles to make them more discoverable.

Customers don’t know how to contact you

  • Redesign your Contact Us page to be more helpful.

  • Update your home page to feature a link to support more prominently.

  • Avoid channel switching (i.e., moving customers between different forms of contacting you, like telling tweeters to call a phone number).

It takes too many replies to get a resolution

  • Spend time training agents on how to recognize and resolve complex problems quickly.

  • Focus on “forward solving” the next problem customers are likely to run into, instead of quickly moving to the next ticket.

  • Create an automation that forwards tickets with more than four replies to a more senior agent to be resolved.

Unresolved bugs or product issues

  • Identify the top offending problem, pull the data, and work with your UX or product designer on fixing the issueAn effortless experience requires all hands on deck.

Eliminating friction for your customers isn’t just a support job; every team in the organization has a role to play.

It can be more difficult for departments that aren’t customer facing to feel the full effect that frustration has on a customer’s experience. Many departments aren’t “dogfooding” your own product, and they won’t interact with it every day. If they also aren’t talking to customers all the time, it’s easy to assume that support problems are created by the user … not by the product.

But assumptions prevent actual issues from being resolved. Instead of assuming that customers know how to use your product, try using FullStory sessions. You can actually see where customers get stuck. Designers and engineers watching customers struggle firsthand with a seemingly simple task will build superpowered empathy for a customer’s experience.

Misleading marketing, confusing designs, or incomplete selling can all add friction to the customer journey. Support needs to work with everyone to built an effortless experience.

The ultimate support Jedi mind trick

As much as we try to eliminate friction in the product, some customers will inevitably run into situations requiring effort to resolve. We’ve got good news, though! When a customer contacts support about a difficult issue, support professionals can reduce the perceived effort.

Perceived effort is how difficult a customer feels the experience is. While the outcome might be entirely the same, great support pros can make a difficult experience feel effortless.

We do this through experience engineering. Dixon defines experience engineering as the following:

An approach to actively guide a customer through an interaction that is designed to anticipate the emotional response and preemptively offer solutions that create a mutually beneficial solution.
That might sound complicated, but it’s essentially a Jedi mind trick. Instead of letting customers choose their own adventure, great customer support agents guide the customer to a resolution. After all, don’t we know what works best? In practice, here’s what that might look like:

Customer Carl: I really need to upload this picture to your site, but I’m getting an error message.

Support Agent Hannah: Ah yes, I can see that the image isn’t the right format. I’ve converted it to a jpg and attached it to this email so you can go ahead and get it uploaded now.

Notice that Hannah didn’t leave the customer to figure out what their next steps were (changing formats? How do I do that?). Instead, she took control, chose a different format, and helped the customer through the experience.

Eliminating uncertainty reduces the perceived effort on the part of the customer. Hannah also reduced the actual effort here, too — she completed as much of the process as she could for Carl.

Experience engineering is unique from the traditional soft skills most customer service people are trained in. Soft skills like listening, being polite and professional or smiling while on the phone are important. But in difficult situations, using engineering skills will help guide customers to a better resolution. Take a look at the differences between soft skills and experience engineering in this chart from CEB:

Traditional Soft Skills

“Code of behavior created to consistently handle customer issues in a friendly, personable, and professional manner that reflects positively on the representative and the company.”

  1. “...consistently handle...”

    Applied unequivocally across all customer interactions (with fairly rigid protocol and company execution).

  2. “...friendly, personable and professional...”

    Focusing on an interpersonal exchange (being nice to the customer so they are more inclined to like the rep and company).

  3. “...reflects positively...”

    Creating a favorable impression (with an expectation that a customer who likes the rep will like the company).

Experience Engineering

“A strategy to actively guide a customer through an interaction designed to anticipate the emotional response and preemptively offer solutions that create a mutually beneficial resolution outcome.”

  1. “...actively guide...”

    Involves taking control over the conversation through a deliberate set of actions.

  2. “...anticipate the emotional response...”

    Staying a step ahead of the customer and recognizing potentially negative situations before they develop.

  3. “...preemptively offer...”

    Moving the conversation forward in a positive direction.

  4. “...mutually beneficial...”

    Matching the customer's situation and need to a solution that is both pleasing to the customer and serves the company’s interests.

Is it time to move past CSAT?

If many of these strategies are resonating with you, it might be time to switch up your CSAT surveys with CES, even if just for a few months.

Click here to set up Help Scout with Nicereply CES surveys.

Switch the focus from delighting customers (who, much of the time, would rather not talk to you anyway) to making it easy to do business with you. You might be surprised at how many more customers want to stick around!

Viktor Magic

Viktor Magic

Viktor loves being a happy customer. As the CEO of Nicereply he helps businesses become more customer centric by measuring their customer satisfaction, customer effort and net promoter score. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.