How Tech Support Can Lead to Increased Retail Customer Loyalty

The era of ecommerce has commoditized many retail brands, leaving service as the key competitive differentiator. In response to this shift, retailers have come to believe that they can win sales and ongoing loyalty by "delighting" customers. But a story in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) is making smart retail businesses re-think their customer-facing strategies.

In the HBR article, Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman state, "stop trying to delight your customers." While it appears to contradict the idea of providing outstanding customer experiences, the co-authors open the door to new concepts that any consumer can understand and every brand should implement. Now this strategy of measuring customer effort is changing our industry, and is a critical key to improving the pain perceived in tech support experiences.

Subsequent research by Dixon provides key facts and figures. A survey of more than 125,000 customers, 5,000+ agents and more than 100 companies teaches us that customer "delight" only happens 16 percent of the time. And chasing this rarely achieved "delight" increases operating costs by as much as 20 percent. Reducing customer effort is a more effective way to win the competitive battle for customer loyalty without washing away profit margins.

Understanding customer effort
Simply put, customer effort is the amount of perceived work a customer must exert to receive the desired service and resolution. This can include the actual time from start to finish, and the number of times the customer is transferred. This effort isn't simply an annoyance to the customer, it's a driver of disloyalty. Some of the top factors that increase customer effort include:
Multiple contacts: Customers want a "one-and-done" interaction with technical support or customer care. If they need to reach out to you again, customer effort rises.
  • Channel issues: Customers that interact via self-service many times don't want to be moved to the phone. Those that call your center often prefer voice-based service, so don't reply with an email. Any time you force a customer to switch channels, they experience increased customer effort.
  • Repeating information: Phone-based interactions typically begin with customers providing information to an IVR – and they don't expect to be asked again by a machine or a person. If asked more than once, customer effort rises and loyalty fades.

The worst offender: tech support
Technical support is prone to the highest degree of customer effort and one of the leading factors of service-based disloyalty. Consumers typically own 6.3 connected devices in their homes and they expect them to work seamlessly. When a retail website or app crashes, customers turn to tech support to get their devices up-and-running again. However, these devices are often made by different manufacturers, potentially resulting in multiple contact points to effectively diagnose and remediate the issue(s). It's a "perfect storm" of factors that nearly always results in heightened customer effort. Especially when tech support reps play the "blame game," stating that their product is fine and that it's another device that's causing the conflict or failure.

Support-induced customer effort seems like an unavoidable issue, as no manufacturer can be expected to provide expert-level assistance
for products from other vendors. However, a new service category has emerged that provides "one-and-done" tech support. It greatly reduces customer effort and increases loyalty for all the manufacturers and retail brands.

The Premium Tech Support (PTS) model provides service for all devices from all manufacturers, including out-of-scope and out-of-warranty issues, from a single support interaction. It's a paid service that removes customer effort and provides rapid satisfaction.

In the past, some consumers may have been hesitant about paying for tech support, but research from Harris Interactive shows that 86% of customers will pay more for a product that provides better service. Simply put, consumers will pay to reduce tech support-based customer effort. And it's working – retail brands that are offering PTS are reporting far greater satisfaction stats than that of those offering typical free support.

Since all issues are resolved in one interaction, PTS greatly reduces the following high-friction elements of customer effort:
  • Single transfer to the technician
  • No repeat input of information
  • One contact to resolve all issues
  • Ease of contacting service: One single-channel interaction of the customer's choosing
  • Rapid time to resolution
  • Low perceived effort to resolve
Tracking and reducing customer effort
The best way to succeed with a PTS model is to measure customer effort, then track and triage for ways to continuously remove effort. Customer surveys provide insight on consumer sentiment. With a clear understanding on their perceived customer effort, processes can be tailored appropriately. Measurement also provides a look into customer loyalty and an opportunity to improve Net Promoter Scores (NPS).

When measuring customer effort, poll customers on topics such as channel preference, issue resolution factors and their experience with the technician. It's also important to directly ask about their perceived effort, and how they feel following the issue's resolution. Surveys should be delivered in the same channel as the support. For example, phone support can be followed up with a brief, optional phone-based survey.

Survey data shows us that tech support-related customer effort can be decreased and loyalty improved with the following:
Hire the most qualified experts
Move away from scripts and provide customized support
De-emphasize call duration metrics and focus on customer satisfaction ratings

In summary
Because retail consumers want a memorable experience when they buy, a seamless experience with technical support is required. Multiple calls to numerous vendors has proven to erode or destroy customer loyalty. This is a complex problem that's elegantly fixed with a PTS strategy. Vendor-agnostic technical support for the entire connected consumer increases loyalty and earns influence in future purchases during this critical customer touchpoint.

Chandra Venkatesan is the senior vice president of global premium tech support, and Kathleen Banashak is the head of global client support services at Sitel.
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