Every day I have a front row seat to see the impact our research has across the globe…whether it’s the increased usage of Customer Effort Score (CES), mission statements that reference “ease” or annual reports advertising a company goal of “making it simple.”  It’s not just service providers, but vendors as well- the term “Effortless” has become a calling card for so many. 

But the success of Effortless Experience as a concept comes with a drawback, which is a misunderstanding of effort.  Sure, at the highest level most of us know the difference between an easy experience and a difficult one (“It was so easy when I called them” vs “I will never do business with them again”), but there’s a great deal of daylight between recognition and application.  And in my daily conversations with companies large and small, it’s clear there’s a growing misunderstanding around the application.  I’ve written about this topic before, but I’m seeing something concerning, especially in these times, and that is too much reliance on technology. 

Unless you’re one of the lucky few, your budget has been decimated in the last 12 months.  Yet, 57% of contact center leaders have accelerated their digital investments (Forrester) and 78% of leaders have invested in new technology due to the pandemic (Salesforce).  Recently I spoke to someone who shared she suddenly got budget for a technology that was taken off the roadmap two years ago! 

At face value, this is exciting!  Who doesn’t want the latest AI, a new CRM, or a more powerful app?  But have you ever stopped to think about how much of your budget, time, and resources you’ve invested in technology over the last three to five years?  Now, think about how much more money you’re going to spend on technology this year, and then ask yourself,Does investing more money in technology solve the actual problem?”

I suggest asking yourself this for a few reasons, including recent survey findings like these:

  • 61% of customers found their service rep to be not knowledgeable or at best somewhat knowledgeable (NBC) 
  • 71% of consumers say businesses that show empathy during the pandemic have earned their loyalty (Salesforce)
  • 70% of contact center leaders agree that reps are now dealing with more emotionally driven customers (Forrester)

Companies invest over and over in various technologies, and in the case of customer service, it comes at the expense of investing in their frontline staff.  Furthermore, it appears the plan is to continue to do so, despite what customers are saying.

Customers are telling heads of contact centers they want reps who are empathetic, knowledgeable, and willing to listen and advocate for them.  No technology is going to solve for this, but low effort skills will.  Specifically, two of the nine low effort skills can help customer service stand out, today – conveying advocacy and active listening.  These foundational skills are often taught during onboarding but don’t stick because they’re taught at too high of an altitude.

Advocacy is a term that’s thrown around a lot, but we find that reps are rarely taught what it truly means to BE an advocate.  When we teach reps how to convey advocacy we teach five components:  how to be transparent, how to serve as a champion for your customer, how to begin acting like a consultant, how to provide value, and of course, empathy.  It’s a prescriptive approach that ensures your customers feel confident knowing that reps will own their issue and advocate on their behalf – from start to finish.

Active listening.  It turns out it doesn’t stick because it’s taught in a sort of “Captain Obvious” way – “listening is important – go do it.”  For example, when we walk the floor and observe, ten seconds into a customer conversation, a Rep is often pulling up their systems and tuning out because they heard a key word and are immediately riddled with solution bias.  When we teach Active Listening, we teach four components: Attentiveness, patience (let people vent, don’t jump to conclusions when buzz/key words are used), how to be objective (even when customer is yelling) and we revisit empathy.  Again, a prescriptive approach that ensures reps are listening to your customers, and more importantly your customers feel heard.

I want to be clear…technology investments can be fantastic.  They play a critical role in driving an Effortless Experience™.  Nevertheless, a moment ago I asked you to think about the money you’ve spent on technology over the last few years, and how much more you’re going to spend this year.  What happens when that tech breaks or is confusing for customers?  They call.  And they’re even angrier than they were before because not only did the tech not work but now they’ve got a rep who isn’t ready to handle their complex issue.  Now, in addition to the cost of the tech, you’ve got the cost of poor service (reps offering credits or refunds to boost their CSAT, channel switching, escalations).  Imagine if you had allocated any part of that budget toward your people instead.

As a Fortune 500 CIO once told me, “a fool with a tool is still a fool.”  Today’s environment is when reps with low effort skills can create lifelong customer loyalty, no matter the technology.  When did we become ok with not investing in our staff?

Scott Rothman

Scott Rothman

Scott Rothman is a Director with Challenger’s Service practice. In his role, Scott is responsible for sharing and presenting the Effortless Experience™ research and helping companies execute on their low-effort strategies. He has facilitated and presented on these topics at numerous speaking engagements, including keynotes and industry conferences. Scott holds a BS in Commerce from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia and an MBA from The Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University.