Posted on 31st July, 2017

Opinion: Make the effort

James Walker on, finding your balance

Consumers are the lifeblood of businesses and yet, in an increasingly self-service world, businesses are making it hard for consumers to engage, especially when it comes to resolving issues. It may be debated that the customer always had to make a huge effort to engage in solving issues, but the current experience is clear; the balance of effort is more than ever with the customer.

Unintentionally or not, businesses apply sticking plasters to their customers’ issues to cover over broken processes. They rely on the consumer to work out how to solve the problem, or to give up and carry on. This is the classic point where a business promises a response but does not deliver to the consumer’s expectation. This is usually experienced as a mixture of not setting customer expectations correctly and not effectively informing the consumer of progress.

With the availability of huge amounts of data, reviews and opinions on all matters online, consumers no longer measure their suppliers against mainstream or traditional competing brands but with the best in class, and their expectations are set by the best in class for all types of service, not just the market in which the supplying brand operates. When expectations are not met, the result consumers are increasingly likely to turn to social media or email the CEO if they feel they are not being listened to.

This is the cost of applying sticking plasters! Businesses need to appreciate the effort consumers need to put into resolution and understand the impact. The greater the effort the less loyalty to a business. Work done by Harvard Business School and Henley Business School supports the inverse relationship at play here, the greater the customer effort the lower customer satisfaction with outcomes.

Here at Resolver, we see this based on customer satisfaction with resolution. Where a consumer closes a case with a company directly customer satisfaction is higher than when it has been escalated and resolved by an Ombudsman. This is not the fact the Ombudsman has delivered a poor service or delivered outcomes that dissatisfies consumers but it is a reflection of the time and effort the consumer has expended on getting to an outcome.

If brands want to involve the Ombudsman and deliver better customer satisfaction, then they should consider escalating cases to Ombudsmen in advance of the normal eight weeks. Eight weeks is a long period of time for a consumer to wait and wonder on the outcome. Our work with the Traffic Penalty Tribunal has shown that consumers may not like an outcome but they will accept it if they feel the process has been fair and reasonable and followed transparently and that they have been kept informed and understand the reasoning.

What does customer effort look like? Customer effort is what it says, it is the amount of effort a consumer has to put into resolving issues. This effort combines together the following.

  • Time: the time that it takes to manage and resolve the issue, both actual engagement and elapsed. How does keeping a customer with an issue on hold for 90 minutes affect them? Consider the fact in 8 weeks, in theory, you could have switched energy providers 4 times or your bank 8 times. Does 8 weeks to escalate an issue feel a reasonable length of time?
  • Emotion: the emotional effort (basically, frustration) that has had to go into handling the case. The greater the frustration the greater the dissatisfaction. The negative effort will lead to a negative feeling towards the organisation.
  • Cognitive: the amount of thinking effort the customer has had to make to resolve the problem. This is exacerbated by the sticking plaster effect; just how much mental effort has it taken the consumer to resolve an issue that they firmly believe is yours to fix in the first place. How have they had to think around the issue and patch together broken processes to resolve the problem?
  • Physical: the time spent actually going to different places to try and fix things. Where have they had to go and how were they received when they arrived at that location when they are trying to resolve an issue.

All of these combine to create customer effort that consumers need to place into resolution. Research by IPSOS Mori shows that 65% of consumers feel they have to put a lot of effort into getting their issue resolved and 50% of consumers feel the brand made little effort to resolve their issue.

Even if organisations have a complaint handling processes and are working with customers to fix problems, there is still not enough emphasis being placed on understanding the effort being (mostly unknowingly) asked of the customer and the impact this has on their satisfaction with the outcome.