The keys to delivering excellent customer service and building customer loyalty are often a topic of hot debate. Case in point: two dramatically different keynotes from Tony Hsieh and Matt Dixon at this year’s Call Center Week in Vegas.

In the red corner, Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO and author of Delivering Happiness, talked about dumping money into customer service rather than marketing campaigns, actually wanting customers to call their 800 number, and logging record-setting 10+ hour calls with customers. And in the blue corner, Matt Dixon and his team of customer service data junkies showed reams of evidence proving that delighting customers simply “doesn’t pay”.

All a bit confusing for a room full of contact center decision-makers looking for tangible solutions to improve customer experience while at the same time keeping costs under control.

So what can we take away?

Tony HsiehZappos: Delivering Wow Through Service

Tony Hsieh has literally written the book on delivering world-class customer service, and Zappos has been called “fanatical” for the way it will do anything to please customers. The stories are the stuff of customer service legend:

  • Sending flowers to a customer who bought six pairs of shoes due to a medical condition
  • Buying shoes for a customer at a rival store (and delivering them in person for free)
  • Paying tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike during the busy Thanksgiving holiday

Tony’s talk at Call Center Week was certainly inspiring, and there’s no debating the fact that we all love being wow’d with great service, especially when we’re used to being frequently underwhelmed…if not infuriated.

But at the end of the day, does “wow” translate into customer loyalty? And are we defining “wow” based on what our customers actually want, or through the lens of what we assume they want?

Matt DixonEnter Matt Dixon, the customer service killjoy.

Just when Tony had everyone inspired to go back and double the size of their contact center, Matt walked in and dropped a bomb.

According to CEB’s research of 125,000+ customers, 5,000+ customer service reps, and over 100 companies, exceeding customer expectations doesn’t actually translate into brand loyalty, as most business leaders believe. And the stats just kept coming:

  • “Delight” only happens 16% of the time, and increases operating costs 10-20%.
  • The average service interaction is four times more likely to make a customer disloyal than to make them loyal.
  • 3-5 years ago, 66% of customers primarily relied on the phone, but that number has dropped to just 28% today.
  • Of those who call, 58% actually started out online but failed to find a solution (and are 10% more disloyal as a result).
  • A whopping 84% just want their issue resolved as quickly as possible and are willing to be guided to whichever channel makes that possible.

So if customers aren’t looking to be delighted, what do they want?

Forrester reports that 73% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good service. And to Matt that means delivering an effortless customer experience.

“The key to mitigating disloyalty is reducing customer effort. Companies should focus on making service easier, not more delightful, by reducing the amount of work required of customers to get their issues resolved. This includes avoiding their having to repeat information, having to repeatedly contact the company, switching channels, being transferred, and being treated in a generic manner.” — Matt Dixon

When those “drivers of disloyalty” are reduced, loyalty skyrockets. In fact, CEB reports that 96% of customers who had high-effort experiences reported being disloyal, compared to only 9% of customers with low-effort experiences. Low-effort experiences also lead to repurchases (94%) and increased spend / share of wallet (88%), while decreasing overall cost to serve by 37%.

Pretty darn compelling.

What can we learn from all this?

We’re anxious to hear your opinions, so leave a comment below. In the meantime, here are a few take-aways to ponder:

  1. It’s time to take a closer look at what our customers actually want (not what we think they want).
    Matt says, “While most companies have for decades been pouring time, energy, and resources into the singular pursuit of creating and replicating the delightful experience for their customers, they’ve ironically missed the very thing customers are actually looking for — a closer-in, more attainable, replicable, and affordable goal that’s been sitting right in front of them all this time: the effortless experience.”
  2. Ease, efficiency, accessibility, accuracy.
    Customers want to find answers quickly and painlessly, on any communication channel they choose, at any point in their service journey. They also want to move seamlessly between channels without the need to repeat information.
  3. Empowered agents deliver wow-worthy service.
    Low-effort companies empower their live agents to not just answer questions, but proactively head off subsequent calls, engage customers emotionally (rather than just talking from a script), and make decisions that directly impact the quality of the customer experience. Zappos has this down to a science.
  4. Technology is great, but people relate to people.
    Technology is the gateway to low-effort, seamless, omni-channel customer experiences. That said, we believe interacting with technology should be as comfortable as a conversation with a friend, and that’s what makes our Human Intelligent Virtual Assistants so unique. Our IVAs communicate conversationally to not only deliver accurate, efficient responses, but also harness the proven power of human interaction to increase customer engagement, build brand loyalty, and guide informed decision-making. It’s this unparalleled combination of human interaction and 24/7 omni-channel accessibility — powered by leading-edge artificial intelligence and natural language understanding — that sets our solutions apart.

Check out a few use cases to see how our client partners are harnessing the power of human avatar interaction and automated, omni-channel self-service to create effortless, engaging customer experiences.

* Dixon, Matt. The Effortless Experience. New York: Penguin Group, 2013.
* Forrester report, “Contact Centers Must Go Digital or Die”

Nate Schaub
Nate serves as the Director of Marketing at True Image Interactive, where he spearheads the effort to share how our team of mind-blowingly smart individuals is bridging the gap between people and technology and creating some truly remarkable results for our clients.

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