Reducing Customer Effort In 10 Easy Steps

Brian Cantor

With its special report series, CCW Digital offers you access to a complimentary library of in-depth briefings on the hottest customer contact topics.  The biweekly reports feature analysis from our expert CCW Digital team, commentary from industry-leading executives, research findings, specific action plans/steps to success and more.

The below piece is adapted from our recent Special Report on the Frictionless Experience:


For today’s customers, the “frictionless experience” is not an unrealistic pipe dream.  It is a high-ranking demand.  It is a cornerstone of a great customer experience.

Businesses, accordingly, cannot approach the “frictionless experience” as an unattainable ideal.  Their customer experience strategy must be predicated on the notion of reducing customer effort.  They must constantly identify – and remedy – the factors preventing customers from quickly, easily and accurately achieving resolutions where and when they want them.

It is absolutely imperative that organizations implement a robust game plan for overcoming key challenges and eliminating needless “effort.”

This game plan for reducing customer effort will require effort from the business.  It does not, however, have to be an emotionally or financially draining endeavor.  There are some clear, simple steps all businesses can take in their quest to decrease customer effort and increase customer delight.

Know your customers: Different customers have different preferences, demands and expectations when interacting with businesses.  They also possess different definitions of “effort.”  The first step in elevating the customer experience is to identify who customers are, what they want, and how they hope to achieve it.

Million Dollar Questions: How do customers feel about “fast” interactions?  How do they feel about self-service?

Define the KPIs: Numbers drive outcomes.  In order to reduce effort, the organization needs to establish a set of key performance indicators.  These KPIs will help the organization determine the overall burden it is imposing on customers – and which specific elements of the experience are contributing favorably or unfavorably to that effort level.

Possible KPIs: Self-service abandon/utilization rate, First contact resolution, Call back rate, Number of transfers

Map the customer journey: High effort levels are rarely random phenomena; they are often created by certain elements of the customer journey.  By properly mapping and analyzing the journey, the organization will gain a vivid window into how customers interact over time as well as the factors that aid or thwart those interactions.

Focus Questions: Which issues tend to recur (and were these considered “resolved”)? What prompts customers to switch channels?  How many times do they repeat information (and why)?  Should they have required a live agent?

Prioritize next call prevention: First contact resolution is a top priority for businesses and customers, but it is not necessarily the end goal.  The real objective – the one that will truly breed customer delight – is next call prevention.  Organizations should establish next call prevention as a goal.  Upon doing so, they can build anticipatory care into the experience.  This may slightly extend a given interaction, but it will reduce customer effort – and save time – down the road.

"We try not to focus on speed, we try to focus on effort," said Jon Smith of MailChamp in a CCW Digital Event.  "If we educate and empower you a little bit and also do that in an efficient way -- because you're asking this question, but we know you're going to have these other questions, then we try to give those answers back and focus on effort.

"What is the customer really trying to accomplish, and if we can give them a little bit more than we do, to hopefully prevent them from having to come back and ask the next question later today or tomorrow."

3Ps of Next Call Prevention: Personalization – what customer information can be used to anticipate – and prevent – future issues | Predictive – which customers are more likely to call back, which issues are more likely to recur, and how can these be prevented | Proactive – which issues can be solved (whether publicly or behind the scenes) before the customer notices

Create Integration: In their quest to develop frictionless experiences, organizations must prioritize system integration on the front and back ends.  The customer should be able to seamlessly move between agents and channels without ever needing to repeat or restate information.  For this to happen, the organization must ensure all systems “talk to each other” so that agents and self-service platforms can instantly access requisite information.

Focus on User & Agent Experience: UX questions: How readily can the customer access the preferred contact channel?  What is the process for switching to a new channel? | AX Questions: To what extent can the agent see what is happening across the full spectrum of touch points?  What information does the agent receive when a customer moves to a new channel?

Create Collaboration: It is not merely systems that must “talk to each other.”  Employees must be able to seamlessly communicate with others inside and outside their departments.  Constant collaboration ensures consistency of messaging; it also empowers employees to receive guidance when stumped – and provide customers with the desired information as soon as possible.

Scenario: According to a customer, one of your colleagues promised to offer a refund 95 days after a purchase.  Company policy says not to offer refunds after the 45 day mark.  How long would it take you to determine whether the colleague actually promised the refund (and, if they did, why they did it)?

Leverage Interaction Analytics: Customer service interactions may have a simple goal in mind (a resolution), but they are not black-and-white.  Customer service interactions are not perfect simply because they yielded a resolution on the first contact; the pathway to that resolution must be customer-centric and low-effort.  Real-time analytics solutions help an organization understand customer sentiment throughout the call; the organization can, in turn, identify why “unsuccessful” interactions are breaking down.  They can also make “successful” interactions even more efficient and effective.

"For my team, we're tuning into their digital behaviors,” said Michelle Brigman of Citi in an interview with CCW Digital. “As we're listening to what they're doing in real time, we're able to quickly detect whether or not they're successful and how hard they're having to work during that digital interaction.

We're tuning into digital journey - did they start an experience, did they stop, were they able to complete it, and how long was it taking them?  Any of these things can indicate a pain point for our customers, and those indicators will trigger us to investigate, diagnose and fix quickly.”

Key questions: How long did it take to reach a resolution?  Which factors required the longest amount of time, and to what extent are people, processes or technology to blame?  What caused customer sentiment to drop?  How many times did the agent require the customer to provide information – and why was that information necessary?

Ask Why, Not Where: To the extent that the organization is surveying – or at least analyzing – channel preference, it needs to focus on why rather than where.  Why do customers choose certain channels or pathways for resolving certain issues?  Their answer may say a lot about what is reducing customer effort.

Phoning it in: Customers continue to identify live agent voice conversations as their top customer service preference.  Is that because they love talking on the phone in 2017 or because they cannot quickly and easily solve their problems in self-service or digital channels?

Train Effort Reduction: Contact center trainers often condition agents on “best practices” and “worst practices.”  Effort drivers – such as requesting that the customer re-authenticate or re-state information – need to be built into the “worst practices” list.  Agents, ultimately, should feel as averse to asking a customer to repeat information as they do to cursing at the customer.

Reverse Incentive: Thought leaders encourage contact centers to reward good behavior.  They should also penalize bad behavior, particularly that related to effort.  If an agent asked a customer to do or say something that was (or should have been) unnecessary, the agent should be “docked” in the performance management or incentive program.

Empower Effort Reduction: People are important to the customer experience, but they are not the only driver.  Processes and technology also matter, and when it comes to the customer journey, they must also help reduce effort.  Processes should be streamlined to minimize required questioning and transferring and maximize speedy resolutions.  Technology should ensure agents can quickly get required information about the customer and issue.

Needs checklist: Think about the interactions that take place in your various contact channels.  What information is generally needed to resolve those matters?  Is there a way to get this information to agents or self-service channels without asking customers directly (let alone asking them more than once)?