Navigating the Customer Loyalty Highway: Avoiding a Crash from Negative Customer Emotions & Effort


Customer experience research from the Customer Contact Council tells us that reducing customer effort is a critical component in building customer loyalty.  The more actual, or even perceived, effort customers must invest in the customer experience, the lower the chances they will start or continue down the road toward product, brand or company loyalty – the Loyalty Highway.

Whether it means requiring a customer to mail in a proof of purchase label if they could instead supply the same barcode information online, by phone or e-mail … take extra or wasteful steps to secure product information on a website … or drive to a physical location to drop something off – all of these require added customer effort.

Customer effort literally eats away at the value you have worked so hard to build with that customer!

Most customers have what I call a maximum self-effort threshold for products or services they buy.  Customers expect to expend a certain amount of effort to gain information or have a problem solved, but the closer your company moves toward the maximum self-effort threshold with a particular customer, the more you risk ceding ground to your competition in the never-ending fight for that customer’s business.  Any way you slice it, effort spells trouble in a company’s goal to build and sustain loyalty.

So what exactly is Effort?  In a nutshell, effort can be described as customer energy expendedEffort is the work required to gain something or make something right.  Customer effort is not inherently bad until it crosses an Effort-Value line that each of us has drawn in our brains or causes us to unreasonably divert our attention from the other things we need to accomplish.  When the Effort-Value line is crossed, at least in the service world, effort can be deadly.

The real dilemma for the customer service agent is usually there is more to effort than meets the eye … or the ear.  You may believe effort is simply all about the time it takes for a customer to have a problem solved when he calls your service center, or the actual physical or mental steps your customer must take to obtain what he needs.  Of course, those things do constitute effort.

But there is something about Customer Effort that you may not have considered.  Every time the customer feels a negative emotion, whether it’s anger, frustration, confusion, fear, stress or any other negative emotion that we humans can muster, customer effort increases.

That’s right, just the fact that I am worried about getting my wireless bill adjusted or that I am stressed because my Internet service is out, the effort meter starts running in my mind, even before I reach out to your company to fix those problems.  Even before the customer service agent has an opportunity to tell the customer to reset the modem, or ask him what message appears on the monitor, before the customer service agent shares the product return policy with the customer or breaks the news that the problem cannot be fixed over the phone … as soon as the customer generates any negative emotions about his practical problem, he begins to expend effort.

We’re not talking about mental or physical effort here; rather, it’s Customer Emotional Effort … energy expended.  And just like its mental and physical counterparts, Customer Emotional Effort causes a breakdown of perceived value in the customer’s mind, and that breakdown is detrimental from a customer loyalty standpoint.

What is the impact of Customer Emotional Effort on the Customer Experience Equation?

Well, every time a customer reaches out to one of your customer service agents, whether by phone, e-mail, chat, social media or in person, and even before that customer has opened his mouth to tell you about his situation, the likelihood is high that the customer has already expended Emotional Effort.  In other words, if negative emotions are in play, the customer has already begun to veer off the Loyalty Highway before any service interaction with your company has commenced.  For this reason it is critical that a customer service agent is equipped not only with the customer service skills to deal with the customer’s practical issues, like an internet outage, but also with the customer’s emotional baggage already caused by the internet “down time.”

Customer service agents must be able to first work with a customer to put away the customer’s negative emotions so that the customer can allow any positive emotions from a possible solution work to eliminate the customer’s problem.  If a customer’s negative emotions going into an interaction with your company are not dealt with effectively, the customer’s maximum self-effort threshold could be crossed before your customer service agent even has a chance to use his product or system knowledge to produce a solution for your customer.

Your customer service agents must be ready to proactively discover and handle the normal emotions associated with product or service breakdowns and disruptions at the beginning of the customer experience interaction so they can pave the way for building positive emotions within the remainder of the customer experience touchpoint.  Otherwise, it’s a demolition derby instead of smooth sailing on the Loyalty Highway.


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About Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey, CEO, heads Pretium Solutions’ Customer Experience & Sales Area focusing on Customer Loyalty, Brand Loyalty and Customer Retention Strategies. He directs Pretium’s revolutionary customer loyalty program, the Golden Touchpoint™. Pretium Solutions is a premier provider of cutting-edge, sustainable and globally-recognized customer experience management solutions and customer service, call center and sales training, consulting and leadership programs. Pretium shows companies how to create, build and maintain customer loyalty, the most important measure of a company’s success with its customers and the most profitable customer service outcome.

4 Responses to “Navigating the Customer Loyalty Highway: Avoiding a Crash from Negative Customer Emotions & Effort”

  1. Kundlojalitet March 22, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Creating Customer loyalty is not so really hard to do, just be professional when you are talking to the customer. Well this is really a fantastic article about customer relations. Well done.

    • Pretium Solutions March 22, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

      Thanks for the compliment, and couldn’t agree more that professionalism is an important element of what it takes to create loyalty. There are other ingredients that need to go into the mix as well, but without the attitude and behaviors of a professional, the cake won’t turn out so well.

      Glad you enjoyed the article, and please keep coming back for more – we love to get feedback!

  2. Jenny Lim December 29, 2011 at 6:38 am #

    With more outsourced customer service agents or having them located remotely, there are gaps whereby they are not fully equipped to handle normal emotions of different cultures and backgrounds.

    • Dr. John Miller December 29, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Jenny. You are absolutely correct, handling the emotional needs of customers is certainly a challenge for any service representative, but particularly those in an offshore environment. The cultural and language barriers can sometimes exacerbate these issues, which is why it is critical for outsource call center providers to consider programs like Pretium’s Golden Touchpoint program to equip their agents with the ability to first correctly discover and assess the customer’s practical and emotional needs, then align with those needs to effectively serve that customer and provide a low-effort experience. Contrary to what some people think, those abilities do not come as some sort of default strength when you hire new service reps. Stay tuned, Jenny, more to come on this.

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