Summer Reading

Image of a book cover

The authors suggest a Customer Effort calculation that they believe is a better predictor of customer loyalty than satisfaction measures.

Summer is here, and along with vacations, pools, cookouts, and summer reading, the steady stream of project and operational work continues. In many areas, this is a time of extra activity – upgrades, equipment refreshes, and the like – in others, it is business as usual (or I could say, we are busy as usual). For Enterprise Applications, Services, and Infrastructure, we are tracking well on our LITS-wide objectives: network stability, ERP upgrades, and business intelligence expansions. We have also completed most of our area-specific goals for the year and made significant improvements to the way we work operationally in several areas.

As we plan for next fiscal year, — yes, we are already doing that — I’ve been reading or re-reading books and articles on customer experience. Of course, this isn’t a new topic. We’ve talked about one front door, improving the customer experience, and similar customer-focused initiatives in the past. And I think our areas that directly face customers have continued to improve. What I’ve been thinking about is a way to describe or illustrate a customer-centric mindset so that even, and perhaps especially, folks in those areas that are mostly invisible to customers (unless something goes awry, of course!) will readily “get” it.

One article I’ve been rereading is “STOP trying to delight your customers” (Harvard Business Review. Jul/Aug 2010, by Dixon, Freeman, and Toman). The title is provocative because conventional wisdom suggests that the key to customer loyalty is satisfaction with service, so companies ought to try to “delight” customers by exceeding their service expectations. A high satisfaction score indicates that the customer was more than satisfied, maybe even delighted, by the experience. The authors argued instead that customer loyalty is more about solving customer problems quickly and easily. They introduced a Customer Effort Score and argued that it is a better predictor of customer loyalty than satisfaction measures. Their research led to the publication of the book, The Effortless Experience (2013).

In my own experiences as a customer, tracking effort rather than satisfaction is definitely more predictive of my own loyalty to a company or service. I could describe my experiences with Apple — as many of you know I used to be a long time Apple loyalist — but that would take a dissertation. (I would be interested to learn from my Apple-loyalist friends if the transition to Apple music made their lives easier or more difficult.) So let me talk about my experiences with Starbucks instead.

I never have been a regular Starbucks customer, so the fact that they lost me as a customer would probably be just fine with them. Starbucks is like a club, with secret signs, rituals, and language that one has to learn from repeated, daily attempts to “get in line” with their system. People who make it through the initiation are more than comfortable with the routine, after a time, and there’s even a personal touch if you keep going back to the same coffee house (delightful!). Having everyone in the long line know exactly what to say when they get to the register speeds up the service for all — it really is very efficient once everyone has been brainwashed.

But for an irregular customer like me it was a lot of effort. I just wanted a large cappuccino, after all. It was supposed to be a treat, an unusual and pleasant event. Yet I had to navigate Tall – Grande – Venti (huh? — that doesn’t even make linguistic sense), regular or non-fat or skim, double or single, and so on; worst of all, I had to say these in the right order or the counter clerk (they’re called something fancier and more mysterious than that at Starbucks, but I can’t remember) would “correct” me, shouting the proper enunciation and word order for all to hear (I think this is a form of commercial hazing, right?).

I don’t think I ever ordered a cup of coffee correctly — not once. Well, that was OK, occasionally, but one day the counter clerk showed just a tiny bit of irritation and then, poof, I was done with Starbucks. The genii had escaped from the bottle and it was not going back in — especially when there are perfectly good alternative coffee houses for irregulars like me.

Image of a book cover

Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business.

As we design new services or seek to improve existing ones, we should not only keep the customer experience — especially the customer effort required — in mind — we should start with it. Doing so is in line with “outside-in” thinking — from the customer perspective in — rather than “inside-out” (like putting on a shirt, inside out is “bad” — get it?). Forrester Research published a book based on years of research back in 2012 called Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business. It is loaded with use cases and examples. But let me use one from our own backyard to illustrate.

The Service Catalog is an organized listing of our IT services and really forms the backbone for how we work. We have Service Owners and Assignment Groups that are ultimately tied back to the Catalog, and our work (service requests or incidents) is in alignment with it. We also publish our Catalog for customers, both in ServiceNow as well as on our IT website, letting customers know, here’s what we do, here’s what we offer. Ian Clayton, the author of the massive Universal Service Management Body of Knowledge, places the Service Catalog on the inside-out side of his Outside-In Inside-Out Continuum. Why?

Well, think about it. A customer has a problem they need to solve. When they come to our list of services, they have to exert the effort to understand how our services (grande!) can solve their problem (large!). Sometimes there may be a close match and all is well. But, as you should be able to imagine, more often than not, it is just too much effort to figure out how we could help them from that list. The knowledge base would certainly help them, as would a good service request catalog — those are steps in the right direction. But we might think of something far better if we start from the outside and work our way in.

There’s a profound innovation opportunity in this area that I hope we can explore next year, as part of our goals. Each of us can draw on our experiences — probably daily in many cases — where we notice that too much customer effort is required by our services, processes, and procedures. I would welcome your ideas — meanwhile, enjoy your summer reading.

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One Comment

  1. Larry Knotts
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Great article and very rational eye opener. It really distilled a customer strategy that makes sense in terms of “customer effort” and resultant effects. Great read!

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