Customer experience – it’s not about being great, it’s about being effortless


“Stop trying to delight your customers” is not the mantra we expect to hear. Barb Mosher Zinck’s recent interviews led her towards a different goal: the effortless experience. The customer retention data is surprising.

man-difficult-climbWhen everyone talks about delivering great customer experiences, they talk about how to you need to go above and beyond customer expectations, you have to leave them in awe of your ability to “surprise” and “delight” them. This need to wow is what many think drives customer loyalty.

But the reality may just be totally different.

That’s the perspective that Matthew Dixon has in an HBR article, Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers (it’s also the premise of his book Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty).

Dixon’s book was released in 2013, and his studies are based on customer service. This is not a new conversation, or a new way of thinking that organizations need to get on board with. It’s also not a line of thinking that is only related to customer care.

The idea of making things effortless can be applied to all aspects of business, from customer acquisition all the way down to customer care and retention. The customer lifecycle is a long and complex thing.

The connection between customer service and loyalty

Dixon’s research aimed to find the relationship between customer service and loyalty. What he found was that highly satisfied customers weren’t necessarily loyal customers, but dissatisfied customers were very disloyal and when they are unhappy everyone tends to hear about it:


Image from the Effortless Experience

The answer, says Dixon, is not to delight but to reduce the amount of effort a customer must make to resolve their issue. In a customer care situation, whether it’s on the phone or through self-service options, some of the problems that affect the customer’s ability to quickly resolve problems include:

  • Repeat contacts
  • Channel switching
  • Transfers
  • Repeating information
  • Generic service
  • Policies and processes customers have to endure

Dixon’s research found that customers who faced low effort getting problems resolved were 94% more likely to repurchase and 88% more likely to increase spend. It also found that 81% were likely to provide negative word of mouth if the effort level was high. In other words, the more effort a customer puts in, the more disloyal they are.

Delivering an effortless service experience

There’s no one right way to deliver effortless customer care experiences, but Dixon offers four pillars to think about:

  1. Channel Stickiness: Many organizations believe that customers want a choice of channels to resolve their problems, but the truth is they don’t want to bounce around channels, they want fast resolution. Most customers prefer self-service options (i.e., the website), but it needs to be simple and easy to use.
  2. Next Issue Avoidance: Most customer issues are not resolved on the first contact, although that’s what most organizations believe. So the key is to understand what causes a customer to have to call back, and put in place processes/tactics that resolve these in the first contact.
  3. Experience Engineering: How customer feel when they are resolving their issues is more important than what they do. Customer effort decreases when service focuses on advocacy and the use of positive language to ward off negative feelings and actions.
  4. Frontline Control: Empower front-line workers like contact center agents. Think of them more like knowledge workers, and give them the tools to make the experience better.

Dixon says there is only one thing you need to ask customers after a service or support call: how easy the company made it for you to handle your issue. Based on this metric, you know if the effort was low or high. He says it’s a way to detect potential disloyalty and allows service functions to impact Net Promoter Score.

Back to the overall customer experience

In a conversation with Tom Martin, CEO of Glance Networks, we talked about customer acquisition and the idea of 30-day churn. During his time at Verizon, he said 30-day churn was the most critical portion of the business. If they could get a customer on board and stable for 30 days, there was a greater percentage chance of keeping the customer longer. He said there were key interactions points, that if handled right could maintain that upwards trajectory or increase it, and if not, decrease it. So they spent a lot of time thinking about interactions, and how they could improve the online journey through intuitive and humanized interactions.

Now at Glance Networks, Martin and his team have a different approach to solving the problems he worked on while at Verizon, and through a lot of research, they have found their own take on Dixon’s theories of effortless experience.

They looked at the key interactions that drive customer and business relationships. What they found through their research is that people like the self-service model but also recognize there are points in time when they want to talk to someone. And they want that human connection to be instantaneous, relevant and effortless. Martin says, if an organization can do that, it can dramatically change the loyalty factor. You only have to think about services like Amazon one-click to see what he means.

The path Glance Network has taken to effortless customer experience takes the notion of online customer support and turns it on its head a bit. It also changes the way organizations can acquire, onboard, and upsell. Martin calls it visual engagement, and it’s the topic of my next article.

My take

Effortless customer experience, regardless of what point in the customer lifecycle you are in, is important. This is why customer journey mapping is so critical to do, and at the same time so hard.

If you figure out what those key interaction points are – key touchpoints in the customer journey – and put in place things to make the interaction simple and easy, then you have a better chance of improving the customer’s experience and building loyalty. This could be a guided self-service portal, a great piece of content that answers a customer’s most pressing questions, or something that bridges the best of the online and offline world (hint to the visual engagement topic – stay tuned).

Image credit - Feature image - Middle aged business man with a difficult task © pathdoc - "Effortless experience" figure credit as noted under figure.

    Comments are closed.

    1. says:

      This is the first time I’ve seen this revelation articulated so clearly. It also emphasizes (hopefully with a sledgehammer) why your business policies and processes MUST, MUST, MUST be focused on the customer’s result. Gather all of your business groups and review with them their ‘matteredness’ so they understand WHY what they do matters to the customer.

      I agree, when doing business with your company is easy, I will return again and again. Yes make me feel welcome, yes, give me quality at a reasonable price. But most importantly, make my life easier and I’ll reward you with a lifetime of business. Well Done Matt Dixon for the research and Barb for reporting it. I’ll be using this in my training for sure!

    2. Miriam says:

      I am customer service for a corporation I am the first voice customers hear I value each call I give as much info as I can and personalize each call I put myself in their shoes
      Unhappy customers are always the challenge and listening is one of the keys I use daily
      I am a customer and
      customers are why we have a job each day is different and I value that fact.

    3. Eb says:

      Customers consider effort a bit like an investment, so if the return is not valuable of course they want to invest less, but if the return is valuable they will invest more to get more.

    4. says:

      Hey Barb
      Thanks for the interesting article! Satisfying customers is now about holding their hand and taking them on a journey. What will satisfy them is not the journey per se but the Customer Experience on that journey. The business-customer relationship today is not just restricted to simple buy and sell transactions but moved much beyond that to a journey where the business understands and interacts with the customer. In such a scenario, the experience that a customer has online with the business is often the make or break.
      Jenny Mark