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The notion of going above and beyond customer needs is so entrenched in organizations that managers rarely question it. But delighting your customers may be a waste of time and energy. In fact, most customers just want a simple, quick solution to their problem. Exceeding customer expectations has a negligible impact on customer loyalty. Instead of providing a series of bells and whistles in customer interactions, companies need to reduce the amount of effort customers make.
This is the conclusion we found in our five-year study, in which we analyzed customer data from 75,000+ respondents and conducted interviews with hundreds of companies around the world. We presented the findings in the 2010 HBR article "Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers". In it, we explained that what matters most to customer is the amount of effort they put in to interactions: 96% of customers who report putting in high effort in their service interactions are more disloyal, while only 9% of customers who expend low effort are more disloyal.
Because these findings contrast the conventional belief that companies must provide over-the-top service for customers, we've found that companies are often relieved to have hard proof that exceeding expectations — an often expensive and unsuccessful mission — shouldn't be their focus. Then they want to know what steps they should take to reduce the amount of effort their customers expend. In our work with companies to answer this question, we've seen where most organizations struggle: getting buy in from the rest of the organization and figuring out what to tackle first.
To provide practical advice for companies to address these challenges, we created an Idea in Practice that shares the experiences of two companies — American Express Consumer Travel Network and Texas-based energy company Reliant — as they implemented plans to reduce their customers' effort in service interactions.
Here is a preview of two of the crucial lessons:
To learn more about how your company can get started, read the Idea in Practice and let us know what works at your company. And, if you'd like to assess where your customers are expending the greatest effort during service interactions, you can download the customer effort audit here.
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