Delivering exceptional customer service requires more than just getting the job done. You must also make the service experience itself easy and effective for the customer. Recent research suggests that minimizing a customer’s effort during the service experience has the greatest impact on customer loyalty. A 2010 Harvard Business Journal report entitled “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” outlines the Customer Contact Council’s use of a customer effort score as a means to gauge how easy it is for customers to complete their desired request. Their research suggests that CES has the highest correlation to customer loyalty.

In the world of customer care we often focus on the outcome itself without much regard for the customer’s effort to achieve this outcome. For example, containment is a metric that is commonly used in voice self-service systems. Containment measures the percentage of customers who hang up on an interactive voice response without transferring to an agent. Another outcome- based metric is first call resolution, which has become popular over the last decade. However, just because you helped a customer in one contact does not mean that the experience was easy and effective for them. Consider the experience described on page 26. As you can see, the customer does complete the desired goal in one contact, but spends 20 difficult minutes accomplishing what should be a simple task.

Most contact centers would consider this resolved on the first contact, but was it really a quality service experience? As consumers, this type of example may be all too familiar. As customer care professionals, you know that these types of service issues happen every day, but fixing them is a significant challenge.

Comprehensive, end-to-end analytics are crucial in measuring the customer’s level of effort, but these metrics are difficult to implement. Surveys such as CES can also provide insight into your customer’s perceived effort. However, beyond analytics and surveys, there are steps you can take to- day to make things easier and more effective for your customers. A good place to start is within the IVR. The IVR is the front door to most voice contacts and can set the tone for the rest of the experience. Sometimes the IVR can even be the fastest, easiest way for customers to accomplish their goal. However, most IVR systems today significantly add to the customer burden. A recent study by NYU Associate Professor Liel Leibovitz indicates that IVR systems score lowest on an ease-of-use scale when compared to other service options and score considerably lower than an agent. The reason for this is that most IVR systems just don’t work that well.

IVR usability problems primarily stem from technology limitations and design issues. Although it continues to improve, speech recognition is still a major limiting factor for IVR systems. As much as the technology has advanced in recent years, speech recognition still cannot understand anywhere near as well as your average call center agent. Therefore, systems that utilize speech recognition just can’t measure up to talking directly with an agent. However, there are some encouraging things happening in the industry that may change this. Advancements in natural language understanding technology as well as agent-assisted technology can improve the customer experience today – in some cases in dramatic fashion.

Natural language understanding has been around for years, but it finally is starting to work well enough to provide real commercial value. Just like the name implies, NLU enables customers to speak more naturally as opposed to forcing them to speak single words or short phrases. However NLU systems have an inherent challenge. Recognizing wider open-ended responses presents both an accuracy and development problem. That’s where agent-assisted technologies can help. These systems selectively use live agents to boost and supplement speech recognition performance. With the added accuracy and understanding capabilities, these systems have superior performance compared to traditional speech recognition systems.

The net effect for customers is that agent- assisted systems can be as easy to use as talking directly with a customer service representative. The benefit for businesses is that they can automate more interactions while minimizing the customer effort – driving both cost savings and increased loyalty.

In summary, companies should focus more attention on reducing the customer’s effort during the service experience. This will increase both loyalty and repeat purchases. Improving the IVR is a good place to start and can have an immediate impact on CES while providing cost savings through increased automation.