Once again, Matt Dixon, Chief Product and Research Officer at Tethr (and co-author of our book The Effortless Experience) and Ted McKenna, SVP of Product at Tethr, have unveiled some fascinating research from their aggregated findings on customer insights in their AI engine. Some helpful background on Tethr: they work with clients to analyze recorded conversational data and deliver insights on the quality of conversations customer service reps are having with customers. What also sets them apart from other vendors in this space is their partnership with the Effortless Experience team: the Tethr engine was trained several years ago to listen for customer effort while it processes customer service calls.


I had the opportunity to listen in to Tethr’s webinar a few weeks ago entitled Top Customer Effort Drivers To Avoid in 2021. The topic for the webinar was born out of the benchmarking work Tethr has done recently from aggregating information on effort drivers observed in customer interactions. Here are my key takeaways from the webinar:

Changing Agent Behavior is Still THE Key to the Kingdom

Our clients know our research on this subject: a customer’s perception of effort is driven primarily by how a customer FEELS about an interaction rather than what they have to do. Tethr’s research outlined that this still rings true.


“The most possible positive thing you could do to move things from difficult to moderate is to work on agents and how they handle these situations; it is the number one driver of scores going up.”

Tethr’s graphic below depicts the different elements of an interaction which impact customer service outcomes (difficult, moderate, easy). For difficult interactions (left side), you can see the red drivers which most impact the final score are the customer’s emotion and the agent’s behavior, whereas other pieces such as contact handling (transfers, escalations) are orange: indicating less contribution to the overall “difficulty” of the conversation. As you move to the “moderate” column, you’ll notice that customer emotion is still heightened (not surprising – due to the wide availability of self-service options, most customers are contacting customer service only after they’ve tried to solve something on their own and couldn’t, so they’re already in a bad frame of mind). But you can see the agent behavior has moved from red to green – it is the ONLY thing that significantly changed to move an interaction from a place of pain to a “do no harm” situation. And that’s enough to prevent customer churn!

Hold Time: More Friend than Foe?


So what exactly are the agent behaviors that make enough of a difference to move an interaction from “difficult” to “moderate?” Let’s start with the detractors that aren’t surprising: an agent using “powerless to help” language could make even the most friendly customer’s blood pressure immediately rise. Other factors appeared perplexing but ultimately make sense when you put on your customer hat – for instance it’s significantly better for an agent to put a customer on hold than to be silent. (I could hear the customer mantra of “are you still there?” echoing in my head as they outlined this tidbit of information). It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean every customer should now be put on hold – this is lesser of two evils (silence being the other), but the best practice is neither…it’s engaging the customer to dig up more info.

All Acknowledgement is Not Created Equal


I was, frankly, concerned to see Acknowledgement on their list of top effort drivers. A bit of background – when we talk about acknowledgement, we are specifically teaching about acknowledging baggage, and we define baggage as “a customer’s past experiences, perceptions, or facts that occurred before the interaction; although not necessarily related to the resolution of the customer’s current issue, these influence the customer’s expectation of service and, therefore, the perception of the interaction.” And 92% of customers HAVE baggage. We say that by acknowledging a customer’s baggage, it allows both of you to move forward positively in the conversation. So this was a headscratcher, but Tethr immediately pointed out that there are plenty of instances where Acknowledging Baggage helps in low effort interactions – but it seems that this is a skill that when not done correctly, is worse than not doing it at all.


What Precedes Acknowledgement MATTERS

Tethr analyzed the patterns in agent usage of acknowledgement, and codified specific preceding situations that turn acknowledgement on its head and create a high effort situation:

  • Acknowledgement following a customer saying “I can’t understand you.” That’s an opportunity for an agent to adjust their communication, flex their communication style, and confirm what the customer needs. You can likely see how these are better next steps than the agent buffering with a trite “I apologize that you’re not following me.”
  • Acknowledgement following a customer expressing frustration – this seems surprising but what Tethr is hearing is agents who are using empty phrases, going through a script to apologize – and customers can hear disingenuousness. It’s likely more sympathy than empathy– and there is a greater amount of daylight between these two than most agents realize.
  • Acknowledgement following Advocacy – this seems counterintuitive but Tethr pointed out that – again – acknowledgement isn’t the right tool following a moment where an agent says they’re ready to help, they’re championing the customer’s cause. At that moment, acknowledging baggage feels like a step back when the customer thought they were both looking at the path toward resolution.
  • Acknowledgement following…acknowledgement. The over-apologizer/over-empathizer. This totally makes sense, and as customers in these situations we’re all silently screaming “GET ON WITH IT.”

Finding better paths to Acknowledge Baggage

At the end of the day, we should be enabling reps to acknowledge your customers’ baggage in an effective way. We can help. If you’d like to learn more about our Effortless Experience™ Capabilities Builder program, please contact us and download our brief tutorial on Acknowledging Baggage today.

Amy Smith

Amy Smith is a Client Director at Challenger’s Effortless Experience™ team. In her role, Amy implements several tailored product offerings designed to help companies grow in their journeys to becoming low-effort service organizations.