Making Life Difficult

In 2010 the H.B.R. published the article Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.

The big idea was that focusing on reducing “customer effort” is a far better way to improve customer loyalty than worrying about customer satisfaction “C.S.A.T.” or net promoter score “N.P.S.”.

Now this was heresy and it provoked a mass of intellectual debate and dissenting pens were put to paper (unhappy fingers to keys)

And a lot more….

Go with me for a minute

Rather than debating the pro’s and con’s I’d like you to take a small mental leap and imagine this was a good idea.  What would you have to do to make your customer’s lives easier?

1. Measure how hard it is for customers to do business with you

As the adage goes, what gets measured gets managed:

  • Set up a survey (preferably of all customers, not just the ones who had a good experience).
  • Phone customers who have called repeatedly and ask them why, get the feedback.
  • Collate the information so you can act on it.
2. Make it important

It is hard to change behaviour, so your staff need to know this matters:

  • Publish your numbers and hold yourself accountable for performance.
  • “Socialize” the idea (a dreadful word but you get the point).
  • Create a motto, you might think it cheesy, you might be right, but that is more dependant on how good your motto is than the need for one.
  • Communicate progress.
3. Make automation work

Some customers love the internet, some even like I.V.R’s. but nobody is going to praise your self-service efforts if they are clunky and difficult to use:

  • Make sure your FAQ’s are FAQ’s.  Customers are going to ask you, so you might as well be upfront with the answers.
  • Stop being flash, your customers want answers not videos.
  • In your I.V.R. make option 1 the thing most customers want, and option 2 the second most common thing that customers want.
  • If a customer drops out of the internet or I.V.R. ask them “why?”
  • Try using your own internet and I.V.R. and write a list of everything that could be easier
  • If you are still short of ideas buy yourself a copy of The Big Red Fez and Don’t Make Me Think (and read them)
4.  Focus on “issues” not calls

Customers don’t have calls, they have issues, focus on the issue not just the call

  • Call listen and ask yourself did this resolve the customers issue?
  • Think “so what”.  So what is the customer going to do next about their issue?
  • Pareto out the “what the customer is going to do next” and develop plans to avoid them having to do it.
5. Empower your staff

It might be a cliché but it is true: processes make good servants but poor masters.

  • Remove policies that prevent staff from dealing with calls there and then, (Q.A. check-lists or average handle time targets.)
  • Use Q.A. and call listening to explicitly show where they could have acted differently.
  • Reduce silos.  If your staff must hand off a call then mix your teams so they hand the call to somebody sitting next to them who can show them what to do next time, not to a separate back office.
6.  Don’t forget the emotion

It is not just about the outcome, how customers feel about an interaction counts as well

  • Work out what the top 10 “No” scenarios are and coach staff in how to deal with them
  • Set up “learning teams” where staff can compare calls and how they handled them
  • Bring real customers into the work place so staff can discuss issues with them

A little less conversation

Enough of my flight of fancy, but just think, if you lived in a world where all the above were true:

  • Your customers would be happy
  • Your budget would look healthy
  • Your boss would be ecstatic

The real question isn’t “should we measure customer effort” it is “why would you make life hard for your customers?

Instead of an intellectual debate, perhaps you should just crack on.

In the immortal words of Elvis Presley…

Read another opinion

Image by cote


  1. Hi James,
    Your post reminded me of two things:
    1. One thing you should add is …take some of your own money and try and spend it with yourself to see how easy, hard or otherwise it is across all platforms and channels. Nothing like a bit of immersion.
    2.There is an old punk song that I really like called: The Answer by Bad Religion (check it out
    The lyrics go like this:
    Long ago in a dusty village,
    Full of hunger, pain and strife,
    A man came forth with a vision of truth,
    And the way to a better life,
    He was convinced he had the answer,
    And he compelled people to follow along,
    But the hunger never vanished,
    And the man was banished,
    And the village dried up and died,

    ….the point is there is never just one answer and we are fools if we believe someone who tells us otherwise.

    That’s my two things 😉