What a customer wants is very simple; their query or issue resolved as quickly and easily as possible, with minimal effort on their part. But with 77% of organisations reporting that their customers’ issues are resolved in one go, and just 40% of their customers reporting the same, it is clear that something is missing. A CEB study entitled ‘Blinded by Delight; Why Service Fails and How to Fix It’ identified two key attitudes which, though unusual, ought to be prioritised over the status quo if businesses’ positive perceptions of good service and their customers’ actual experiences are to match:

1. Customers are far more likely to penalise a company for poor behaviour than praise it for good behaviour.

2. Customers are just as happy when their expectations are met as when they are exceeded.

What this tells us is that customers prefer prevention to cure, and that simply meeting their expectations is all the customer wants and needs to be happy. So is a rearrangement of our priorities what is needed? Should we focus not on customer satisfaction (a variable conclusion) but on efficiency (which will invariably result in a satisfactory conclusion)? As the CEB study suggests, managing and tracking how much effort an interaction costs a customer will tackle the issue at its source. In order to do this, we need to better understand these two attitudes:

1. Customers are far more likely to penalise a company for poor behaviour than praise it for good behaviour.

The CEB study found that ‘96% of customers who put forth high effort in service interactions are more disloyal, while only 9% of those with low-effort interactions are more disloyal’. The number of customer service horror stories massively outnumber the good stories, which proves that word-of-mouth is far more eager to penalise than to praise. This peculiar dynamic casts a bad light on society but is a powerful piece of knowledge which businesses can use to reimagine their customer service. So why this imbalance? When a customer has to re-contact a company, the context of the interaction is pre-emptively negative, as opposed to the neutral position they entered with when they first gave custom. Therefore, businesses do not have to outperform themselves and their competitors in order to serve their customers well; they have only to make no mistakes.

2. Customers are just as happy when their expectations are met as when they are exceeded.

Unfortunately, the CEB study found that ‘most companies underestimate the value of simply meeting customer expectations and overestimate the value of exceeding them’. This is unnecessary, as customers are in fact expecting no more than you can reasonably give. They expect no less either, but it should be easy enough to take advantage of small expectations.

Customer service by its very nature is reactive’, but this is okay as long as the customer has to expend only minimal effort. They will be loyal to and promote a company that makes things easy over a company that manages customer service traditionally by apologising profusely, making other (often unwelcome) offers and affecting extreme politeness. Rather than meeting customers halfway with eager apologies, let’s go all the way with humility and simplicity. That’s really all they want.

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