Some surprising studies, stories, and documentaries have come out about customer service, and they could change the way you run your business. Experts from the Corporate Executive Board Company, which specializes in developing tools for business leaders, believe that the secret to effective customer service is really customer effort.

Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman co-wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review with the provocative title “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.

Studying the relationship between Customer Service and Customer Loyalty, they found that loyalty is more affected by how well companies deliver on their most basic promises. Going from poor to adequate customer service has a huge impact on loyalty. But going from adequate to amazing doesn’t have nearly as much impact. Using customer satisfaction scores to judge the customer service experience, there was little relationship between satisfaction and customer loyalty.

Why the discrepancy? The authors suggest that those who measure customer service are looking at the wrong thing. Instead of measuring customer satisfaction for each interaction, businesses should take a broader view. Instead of measuring whether a customer was satisfied by the results of a specific phone call, for instance, look at how easy it is for the customer to solve problems in general. The authors came up with what they call Customer Effort Score, which they think is a better measure to help businesses determine how their customer service impacts customer loyalty.

The authors found 5 strategies businesses could use to reduce the effort customers have to put out to resolve their problems.

1. Don’t Just Resolve the Current Issue – Head Off the Next One. When you know that one problem is likely to lead to another, it’s better to go ahead and solve all of them at once, rather than a piecemeal approach requiring multiple interactions.

2. Arm Reps to Address the Emotional Side of Customer Interactions. With proper training, employees can ensure that customers get the appropriate level of detail to solve their problems.

3. Use Feedback from Disgruntled or Struggling Customers to Reduce Customer Effort. You’ll learn more from your mistakes than from only getting suggestions from customers who were already satisfied.

4. Empower the Front Line to Deliver a Low-Effort Experience. The goal of any small business is to keep the customers it has and to get new ones. If the way to do that is to focus customer service on reducing overall customer effort, then that’s what employees should be evaluated on.

5. Make Self-Service Easier. 57% of customers contacting the business about a problem had already visited the website looking for a self-service fix, only to turn to a customer service line when they could not get an answer on their own. The problem is that not enough companies have made these self-service channels easy to use. You should certainly have people available when customers want them, but also provide them a way to do it themselves if they want. You need both.

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