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To Delight or Not to Delight? That is the question…

In reading the most recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, I naturally gravitated toward two articles that on the surface seemed to contradict one another. The first, entitled “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” essentially said that companies are trying too hard to provide a superlative customer service experience. Their advice – simply fix the customers’ problems. The second article, “Zappos’s CEO on Going to Extremes for Customers,” talked about how Zappos has succeeded by – you guessed it – providing a superlative customer service experience.

So, which is it – should we have customer delight as a strategic corporate objective? Over the next couple of blogs, I will review each article and will provide some recommendations on how to approach this concept. Let’s start, though, with a review of the article "Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.”

In this article, Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman of the Corporate Executive Board argue that firms spent too much time trying to figure out how to go above and beyond expectation, when simply addressing the basic need will do. The result, they advise, is wasted time/effort (i.e., the mis-utilization of support resources) and lost revenue/profit (via refunds or free products/services offered to build “delight”).

The alternative? Dixon, Freeman and Toman’s research suggests that making the customer service interaction easy – and helping customers solve their problems – is the best path toward building customer loyalty. Removing the barriers/pain associated with customer support is key to making the process easy for customers. The authors propose a new metric – the Customer Effort Score – that is, according to their research, a stronger predictor of stated behavioral intentions (that is, likelihood to continue doing business with the company, increase spend, and spread positive word of mouth) than either the traditional customer satisfaction question or NPS.

What steps, though, should firms take to ensure an easy-to-navigate process that addresses the customer service needs? Dixon et al propose five tactics:

1)      Proactive analysis of the customer’s issue – This relates to understanding not only how to fix the current problem, but also how to predict what other issues may emerge as a result of the fix and addressing that before the customer hangs up (or logs off the website).
 

2)      Understanding the customer’s personality type – By picking up on queues provided by the customer’s communication style, the rep can react in a way that will not only resonate better with the customer, but also will minimize the number of repeat calls by the customer.
 

3)      Ensure your self-service channel is working – The authors report that 57% of customers who call for customer support first visited the firm’s website. This “channel-jumping” behavior – which results in more effort on the part of the customer – is a result of the customer either not being able to determine the best method of support for their situation or getting overwhelmed and going back to the more familiar method of phone-based support.
 

4)      Follow-up with customers who are irritated with the level of effort they expended to learn where to improve – Customers, as we know, are a wealth of information, and following up to learn what did not go well can be quite illuminating. To be customer-centric, though, remember that the primary objective of a follow-up initiative should be to address the customer’s need first and to learn where to improve second.
 

5)      Empower associates – What gets rewarded gets done; if a support center is incentivized to minimize average handle time, then you can be sure that the calls will be short – even if that means the customer’s question is not answered. Making it “okay” to help the customer can result in longer average handle times, but fewer repeat calls – which should net out to less time spent on customer issues in total.

There is little to argue with in this article – the premise makes sense, and the tactics are straightforward. However, should we completely give up on the notion of customer delight? Before we answer that, I will review the second article that talks about Zappos, a firm that has become synonymous with being customer-focused. I will review that article in part two and will conclude in part three with my assessment of where companies should be focused based on our experiences with clients across a number of industries. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts – are we working too hard (and giving up too much vis-à-vis revenue/profit) by attempting to build customer delight?

Mark A. Ratekin
Sr. Vice President, Consulting Services & Resource Management

 

Source: Dixon, Matthew; Freeman, Karen; and Toman, Nicholas. “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.” Harvard Business Review, Volume 88 (July-August 2010).116.

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