It’s All About Effort - the Path to Customer Retention

Written by 
Wesley Faulkenberry

If your team is looking for quick and inexpensive ways to improve retention and loyalty (who isn’t?), make customer effort -- and how to reduce it -- a major focus.

Stellar customer service is not the most effective path to retention. 

Surprising, right? In fact, interactions with support teams are 400% percent more likely to cause churn than prevent it. The data is clear, people talk much more frequently about a negative customer service experience than a positive one. Here is another interesting fact:

Satisfaction scores are not a reliable predictor of customer loyalty.

According to CEB researchers in The Effortless Experience, somewhere between 60-80% of customers who churn actually claimed to be satisfied on the last survey they answered. Huh?

What makes both of the facts above true? It comes down to the concept of customer effort.

Customer effort is the exertion (perceived or actual) that customers spend to resolve issues or get their questions answered. 

Observing the amount of effort required from a customer is a better indicator of loyalty than the quality of customer support or even their satisfaction levels. For most companies, “above and beyond” customer service only has a marginal impact on customer loyalty

By factoring in the effort expended by your customers and how to reduce it, you will avoid churn.

Are talented support and service teams still needed? 

Should we still care about our customers’ levels of satisfaction?

Absolutely! But like all resources, they need to be utilized correctly in today’s environment. And as you probably know, the environment has changed and continues to do so.

Goodbye email, hello self-service!

The way customers like to solve problems and get answers have changed.

Gone are the days that most customers would pick up the phone to get support. Think about how you now:

  • Order food
  • Get a ride
  • Print a ticket
  • Transfer money

We accomplish all of these things (and so much more) without ever needing to speak to another human. Our processes and preferences have shifted with technology. While in the SaaS world, self-service can refer to multiple things - like signing up for a product or completing a purchase. In this article, we will define self-service as a means of users finding answers on their own and ultimately being able to support their journey in an all-digital way.

You have likely experienced this type of self-service with some SaaS products you have used. You probably didn’t have a scheduled onboarding with a rep and didn’t dial a number to ask a question. Instead, you (hopefully) onboarded and got questions answered with a guided online experience or an easily searchable knowledge base.

One major reason for this paradigm shift is because of the effort now associated with these tasks. 

For most people, interacting with another person (which often includes public-speaking, social norms, and possibly even small talk!) requires more effort than a self-service experience. Is self-service for everyone and every problem? Certainly not. 

Difficult or complex issues will still require a personalized approach. Some users still prefer to pick up the phone or write an email too. The ability for customers to have several options is important for retention.

For example, Amazon’s self-service is structured in a way that customers select or describe their issue and are then given several support options like calling, interacting with a chatbot, or sending an email - with one being recommended. When I looked into the support options for the computer part I recently ordered from Amazon, here were the options I was given:

Note their word choice is making a recommendation, but still giving me the option to switch.

If I didn’t want to engage with the bot, I still had the option to call or quickly search their knowledge base for an answer.

Amazon recognizes that users like to have choices (not too many!) and be recommended to a channel that is likely to solve their issue with their first interaction.

Not solving a customer’s issue on the first contact has a severe impact on their perceived level of effort, not to mention incurring the additional cost of using a fully-loaded support team to resolve simple issues. One of the best ways to prevent a follow-up from your users is to proactively answer their likely next question - also known as Next Issue Avoidance. Something that Amazon’s chatbot does here:

Note the additional information provided after taking an action - possibly preventing additional effort on my part.

The trend is clear, leading companies are making it easy for customers to help themselves by providing ways for them to communicate their issues and be directed to the most efficient resolution - usually immediately and in-application.  

The result? 

Less churn, lower support costs, the ability to scale processes (cheaper and easier than expanding your support team), and higher overall customer satisfaction. You know, the good stuff. 

This is what Simpo is designed to help with. We accomplish these results with a variety of handy tools and what we call the “Push-Pull” methodology.

Self-Service and You

Now that we have established the change in users’ support preferences, the negative impact of customer effort on retention, and that self-service is an effective method of reducing customer effort, we get to the important question.

How can you start to leverage self-service options for your customers?

Depending on the stage of your company, you may seek to build or purchase self-service tools. While developing something “in-house” would give you greater control over the features, it can be very costly in terms of engineering time - leading many to third-party tools. 

There are a variety of solutions available today that can assist with customer self-service, but the best ones use a combination of “push” and “pull” approaches to either place answers in front of users or give them the means to find them. 

The difference between “push” and “pull” tools is simply how the user is prompted to engage with the tool. Does a notification appear to provide information about a new feature (push) or are the suggested search results tailored to the user to help them find a relevant answer (pull)? 

Here is a shortlist of some of the features you should be looking for when building/buying a self-service solution:

“Push” Tools

A Simpo Announcement appears upon visiting a certain page to “push” information.

In-app Messaging

A primary tool when pushing information or help to users, in-app messaging (sometimes called announcements or notifications) is flexible and can be used for a variety of purposes. Some common uses are welcoming users to a product, drawing their attention to the recommended first steps, or announcing a new feature. Even more effective when targeted to the user -- more on that below.

Targeting (Triggers and Segmenting) 

Providing a wealth of information to your customers is useful, but it can actually be detrimental if the information is not relevant. To prevent obscuring relevant answers for your users, separate them into groups, and provide only content that would be useful. 

Similarly, some help content may only be helpful before or after a user takes a certain action or visits a part of your product. Create triggers on these actions to ensure users are getting help when they need it most. 

Surveys and Net Promoter Score (NPS)

A critical aspect of how to measure customer sentiment and perceived effort, but also a useful way to learn how to improve on your self-service experience. While there are many providers of survey tools via email, they suffer from low response rates and inaccurate scoring. Improve both of these areas by making your surveys in-application and set to appear at the right time with triggers. 

Pull” Tools

Help Documents

This is one of the first things needed when creating a self-service experience. Without any guides or content for users to learn from, they have no choice but to reach via phone or email. Get a lot of the same questions from your customers? Start recording the answers! 

In-app Searching 

While many products today have some form of a search capability or chatbot, very few of them have their help content easily searchable and viewable from their product. Instead, users are often directed to off-site support to find answers - losing a significant amount of users along the way. 

What happens to all of those users that don’t make the jump? They either don’t get the help they need (increasing risk of churn) or they reach out to support (higher support cost). Prevent this by having answers searchable within your experience.

Already have a robust knowledge base? Integrate it to make it searchable in-app! 

In-app Guides

In-app guides, sometimes called Walkthroughs, are an automated approach to helping users through a process or platform and are often a critical part of the onboarding experience. Most guides feature tooltips that deliver information, step-by-step. Users learn more from being shown around a product, rather than reading an article. Free up your services teams by giving users the option to take a guided tour at their own pace. 

Finally, a system for tracking how users are engaging with your self-service experience is a vital part of discovering if they are getting the answers they need (and if you are achieving first-contact resolution)! Do half of the users that visit a particular help document end up contacting support after? There is likely a way to improve that resource. 

Read about how Simpo covers all of these features and more while requiring no developer resources here.

Wrapping it up 

While some customers may appreciate the extra effort spent by customer-facing teams to create an “above and beyond” service experience, the vast majority are simply looking for a fast and easy solution to their problems. With our advances in technology, users prefer (and often expect) robust in-app support. 

If your team is looking for quick and inexpensive ways to improve retention and loyalty (who isn’t?), make customer effort -- and how to reduce it -- a major focus. One of the best ways to do this at scale today is by providing powerful self-service tools in your product.

Want to see how Simpo can help you create an effective, low-effort experience for your customers? Request a demo today.

Looking for more information on how to promote retention? Check out our retention series! Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with the latest information.