Research has shown that delighting customers through your support channel rarely earns their loyalty. All customers really care about is getting their problem solved so that they can get back to what they were originally trying to do.
This flies in the face of the traditional view that more delight will earn more customer loyalty. What's more, any customer service interaction is almost four times more likely to drive disloyalty rather than loyalty.
This points to a need for a change in approach. Rather than trying to earn more customer loyalty with a strategy of delight, the focus of customer support should be to mitigate disloyalty as much as possible.
Taking the main drivers of disloyalty into account, the key to disloyalty mitigation boils down to one thing - reduce customer effort.
Based on the research of CEB and some of our own experience, we have identified eleven principles for excellent customer support that relate to six high customer effort experience.
High Effort Experience: More than One Contact to Resolve
The biggest driver of disloyalty by far is when it takes a customer more than one contact to resolve an issue. This is understandable because any time that customers have to spend sorting out something that has gone wrong with your product or service is a waste of time to them.
It’s imperative that we take all necessary steps to reduce the number of contacts to resolve every issue, with the ultimate goal of resolving it in the first reply. Here’s how we try to do that.
Principle 1 - Be A Detective
Customers don’t always have the time to write crystal clear support tickets or to ask their questions in the ideal way that will let us understand what they’re talking about in an instant. But that’s no excuse for providing poor support.
In this scenario, the natural inclination is to just push back and ask the customer for more information. And often, this is the only way forwards.
Before pushing back, however, if we take the time to do a little extra investigation, we might be able to deduce what the customer is referring to and solve the issue first time around.
Principle 2 - Think One Step Ahead
Sometimes a customer will approach us with a very specific issue. As fast as possible, we’ll try and solve this issue so that the customer can move forward.
Shortly afterwards, the customer will reply to the thread again with a new issue that’s cropped up. This issue is one step down the path of what she is ultimately trying to achieve. This appears to be two separate issues on the face of it, but to the customer it’s part of the same issue, which is preventing them from reaching their goal.
To deal with this, we always try to think one step ahead. What problem is the customer likely to run into next? What un-asked questions is the customer likely to have? If they couldn’t installed their plugin and we install it via FTP, let’s tell them how to activate their license (next issue down the path) while we’re at it and inform them why the plugin failed to upload in the first place (un-asked question).
High Effort Experience: Generic, Robotic Service
The next biggest driver of disloyalty is “generic service” - when customers feel like the rep is treating them like a number, making no attempt to personalize the experience whatsoever.
This type of service leads to customers feeling alienated and that their problems haven’t been fully comprehended.
Principle 3 - Be Personal
Canned responses are often used in customer support to save time. But this type of response is usually glaringly obvious to customers. They can see straight away that this is what they say to everyone.
We avoid using canned responses as much as possible. There might be sections of a response that make sense to be canned, for example, a set of instructions that doesn’t change. But all other aspects should be personalized to the person that we’re speaking to.
Another example of generic, robotic service is when you haven't had your issue resolved but still receive an upbeat, generic sign off from the customer support rep, for example, “Thanks for using our service. Have a great day!”. This can be incredibly frustrating for a customer.
That's because this type of reply is completely out of alignment with the context of the conversation. We try to avoid this as much as possible by being sensitive to the tone of the customer and the outcome of the situation. If the customer has to compromise or their problem couldn’t be fully solved, then an upbeat, happy sign off is inappropriate. A more solemn, and potentially conciliatory tone is required.
Principle 4 - Write Low Effort Replies From Developer Feedback
In some cases, issues need to be escalated to the developers, for example, if there is a bug in the software. Developers don’t have the time and aren’t trained to write a well thought out reply that is sensitive to the customer’s situation. Their reply is likely to be very terse and if the customer sees it, they might interpret it as being somewhat rude (even though it isn’t meant to be!)
In the case that we have to relay information provided by developers back to customers, especially when the news is not so great, we take the time to write the information in a way that is sensitive to the customer’s predicament and is as helpful as possible.
High Effort Experience: Asking For The Same Thing Repeatedly And Lack of Comprehension
Having to repeat information also makes an appearance in the top drivers of customer disloyalty. This alienates customers on a similar level to generic, robotic service.
It really is frustrating when either you feel like the nobody is making the effort to understand you and you have to repeat the same thing over again.
Principle 5 - Take Responsibility and Ownership
One of the ways that we deal with this problem is by encouraging our Support Heroes to take responsibility and own the customer’s issue as much as possible.
If one person from our support team has been working on a difficult issue with a customer for some time, it’s important for that person to see the issue through until the end. Even if another team member picks it up for a time, the original team member should be involved to make sure that the solution that is offered meets the customer’s needs based on everything that was raised.
Principle 6 - Ask For Clarification Effortlessly
We again come back to the scenario where a customer hasn’t been totally clear in what they have asked.
If we have done some digging and still can’t figure out what they’re referring to, then we need to go back and ask them to clarify. But how we do this is important. We could just say, “I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Please could you clarify your problem?”, which is not terrible, but it’s not that helpful for the customer.
In order to make the customer’s life as easy as possible, whenever we need a customer to clarify a problem, we try to be specific about what information we need. Do we need a screenshot of the issue that the customer is referring to? Do we need the url for the page where it’s occurring? Do we need to know steps that were taken before the issue occurred? Maybe we need all three things. If we do, we tell the customer in specific terms what we need.
This will make it much more likely that the customer feels we are making an effort to understand them. It will also minimize back and forth, thereby, reducing the customer’s effort.
High Effort Experience: Perceived Additional Effort To Resolve
One of the most interesting drivers of disloyalty that CEB found in their research was the customer’s perceived effort to resolve an issue. It was found that one-third of the perceived customer effort is down to what the customer actually exerted and two-thirds is down to the customer’s subjective impression of how the rep made them feel during the interaction.
Principle 7 - Advocate For The Customer
One of the ways we try to reduce the perceived effort of the interaction is by demonstrating clear alignment to the customer and getting their issue resolved.
We can do this by showing empathy for the customer’s situation, demonstrating that we fully understand the problem, being clear about the steps that we have taken or are going to take to get resolve and so on.
It’s all about showing the customer that we are on their side and fighting their corner.
Principle 8 - Reframe No
There’s no easy way to say no to something but there are ways to say it that will reduce perceived customer effort. It’s all about switching from negative to positive language.
For example, “Well, you can’t do that because...”, becomes, “I see the issue - it looks like we need to...”, and, “We can’t help you with that because it’s out of scope of what we can do”, becomes, “This is the sort of thing that would be best handled by a developer. Here’s how you can find one…”.
This language adjustment has been shown to reduce perceived effort by 73%!
Principle 9 - Anchor Expectations
Anchoring is a cognitive bias that describes the tendency for an individual to rely too heavily on an initial piece of information offered (known as the "anchor") when making decisions.
Sometimes, an outcome for a customer will be less than ideal. Let’s say they have identified a bug in some software that we’re supporting and we say that the developers can fix it for the customer’s site, but it will take at least three days due to the development backlog. Three days is a long time to wait if this bug is holding off an important marketing campaign for the customers website. But there’s no way around this and it’s going to be perceived as high effort by the customer.
Now, what we can do in this scenario is to anchor this customer’s expectations to an even less desirable outcome. Let’s say that the next release is in two weeks. We can inform the customer that the developers will release a fix for this in the next release, which is two weeks away. However, since we know it’s a priority for the customer’s marketing campaign, the developers will fix it just for their site. This might take three days due to their backlog.
By anchoring the customer’s expectations to two weeks for the fix to be released, the three day wait for the developers to fix it on their site will seem like a much more palatable outcome.
High Effort Experience: Inflexibility In Company Policy
One of the most frustrating experiences for customers is to be met with a wall of company policy that doesn’t take into account any extenuating circumstances.
In order to achieve truly low customer effort experiences, there needs to be a certain degree of flexibility built into the process.
Principle 10 - Make It Right On The Spot
Every now and then, unfortunate things happen. A set of circumstances occur that, for whatever reason, are unusual and lead to a customer wanting something that isn’t necessarily covered by your company policy.
The usual approach in this case is to apologise and explain how nothing more can be done because it would be outside company policy. But this blanket approach doesn’t take into account exceptional circumstances and in some cases can be extremely frustrating for the customer.
We empower our Support Heroes to look out for cases like these and make a judgement call that allows for some flexibility in policy. For example, if a customer is asking for a refund just a little outside of the refund window, and they seem to have genuinely forgotten about the date, then just give the refund. Or if a customer has had a terrible experience for a combination of small issues that have added up, then credit their account with a free upgrade.
These are small gestures but they can go a long way when alleviating a difficult situation when a customer is clearly distressed.
High Effort Experience: Being Ignored
Having the feeling of being ignored, that you don’t matter and that your concerns aren’t being handled is one of the most frustrating, high effort experiences you can have as a customer.
It turns out, though, there is a relatively simple way of reducing the chances of our customers feeling like this...
Principle 11 - Be in Constant Communication
This is pretty straight forward, but it’s an easy one to miss. In some cases it will take some time before we can go back to a customer with a solution, especially if the issue has been escalated to a developer. The point here is that if the customer has been waiting for some time without having heard anything, we should make an effort to update them, even if it’s a “no update” kind of update. The mere fact that the customer isn’t left in the dark about what’s going on will make a difference to their experience.