Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be invited to judge at the inaugural UK Complaint Handling Awards; it was a terrific event, full of remarkable stories of how companies were delivering more positive, proactive complaint handling experiences to their customers. Every winner was absolutely merited and the buzz generated on the day is sure to grow as more people and companies get involved in successive events – I know I’ll continue to be a part of them.

What I found really reassuring was how prominently customer research featured in company success stories; everyone shared stories about how research was used for (but not limited to):
– establishing their current ‘as is’ performance, i.e. current state … as seen through the eyes of their customers
– guide their ideas for improvement and help prioritise investment
– be used in an ongoing performance measurement capacity, including gauging the success of improvement initiatives.

At the beginning of 2017, I launched a new research agency, The Research Locker, which looks to support organisations and understand and improve their complaint handling performance (through customer research) – and, as a result, enhance their customer retention efforts and grow customer loyalty. So, for these Awards to be taking place was both refreshing and reassuring as it allowed me the opportunity to meet and speak with companies where research had played such a pivotal role in helping them improve and better serve their customers. Everyone I met was passionate about their roles, epitomised ‘customer-centricity’ and, most importantly, were happy to share their stories, experiences and successes.

That Doesn’t Make Sense?!

At around the same time, the UK’s Institute of Customer Service published their latest UKCSI “State of the Nation” report. The key headlines of the report included:
– Overall, CSAT had risen slightly on the previous year
– Trust was also up marginally
– But, NPS was down

NPS was down? Even though CSAT was up? This didn’t compute. Surely if customers were more satisfied they should also be more likely to act as advocates?

Further interpretation of the UKCSI report might go some way to explaining this ‘anomaly’ :

  • More customers are experiencing issues with their product and service providers
  • As a result, more are complaining (NB: not all who experience a problem or issue go on to complain!)
  • But when complaining, customers suggest mediocre levels of satisfaction with complaint handling and the speed of resolution
  • And, possibly more insightful, consumers suggest that they are having to expend too much effort to raise and resolve their issues, problems and resulting complaints


Right in that moment, I believed I had just witnessed validation that I wasn’t crazy and had made the correct decision to launch a research agency dedicated to helping organisations improve their complaint handling performance … because when it comes to resolving a complaint, the research suggests customers must exert more effort than they expected to have to exert. Surely, making the customer complaint experience an effortless, even positive occasion could only be advantageous to organisations from a loyalty and advocacy perspective?

After all, whether a customer has a problem, issue or complaint, this is the organisation’s Moment of Truth, i.e. an opportunity to prove to the customer they had made the right choice by resolving the issue for them quickly, painlessly and effortlessly.

Of course, I always believed Effort had a role to play – in late 2016, I conducted some complaints research where the effort required of customers to raise and resolve their complaints was way higher than they expected. There were numerous elements which played their part in this additional exertion: from having to switch channels to staff not recognising the complaint, to First Contact Resolution being few and far between to the customer having to be transferred across departments, from the customer having to repeat their details or issue to the customer having to chase progress updates (usually because ‘update’ promises had been broken) … everything pointed to too much Customer Effort and not enough Company Effort – as a consequence, the likelihood of customers who had complained and believed they had exerted too much effort to raise and / or resolve their complaint remaining with the organisation was severely impacted (and this had serious commercial implications for the business).

Is “Effort” One of Your Key Performance Indicators?

Leading management consultant, Peter Drucker, once said:

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure”

I think what Drucker meant by this was that you can’t know whether you are delivering success if success is not defined, then tracked on an ongoing basis.

While many companies are already measuring their complaint handling performance, I do wonder if they really know what success looks like – through the eyes of their customers? Many organisations may still be too internal looking, using SLAs to evidence the effectiveness and efficiency of their complaint handling operations. But I would advocate using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research to establish what your “success” metrics should look like.

Introducing the Customer Effort Score

Making it easier for your customers to raise and resolve their complaints feels counter-intuitive too many C-Suite executives; they question why they should encourage customers to complain and they cite the cost of managing and resolving complaints.

I confess it is unlikely that any organisation will ever fully eradicate complaints fully, but sometimes we must experience short-term pain to reach the long-term gain … complaints is no exception! Think about the valuable feedback your organisation can collate, analyse and put to effective use if they seek customer feedback on their recent complaint experiences.

Think how the verbatim provided could be used to compliment and bring to life your Root Cause Analysis efforts. Only by understanding current Customer Effort levels, can you understand where customer Pain Points exist and, consequently, start to develop and introduce Pain Relief initiatives.

The Customer Effort Score is a metric designed by the Corporate Executive Board – a best practice insight & technology company (CEB website). CEB research found that organisations how create a ‘low effort’ experience and help their customers solve problems quickly and easily, are more successful at building customer loyalty. And that Effort is the best loyalty metric for organisations with customer service functions. The CEB report that Effort is an excellent indicator of customer intent to repurchase and increase spend (and spread positive Word of Mouth):

  • 1.8x more predictive of customer loyalty than CSAT
  • 2x more predictive than NPS (I’m sure NPS advocates will disagree).

“96% of customers who put forth high effort to resolve their issues are more disloyal, vs. only 9% of those with low effort interactions.”

The results of CEB’s research are also worth noting:

  • Those with an Easy experience were 5x more likely to renew than those who stated resolving was Difficult
  • And 7x more likely to buy additional products from the insurance provider
  • Also, 8x more likely to recommend the insurer to family & friends

These ‘figures’ are not to be scoffed at, particularly as the CEB research was based on 75,000+ customer service interviews with US consumers. For your organisation, there is a link between Customer Effort and Customer Loyalty, i.e. there are obvious commercial benefits by making your organisation easier to do business with, particularly in relation to customer complaints. If you can create a more effortless experience, customers are more likely to remain, buy more and act as advocates for your organisation.

How to Measure Customer Effort

The best way to measure Customer Effort to raise and / or resolve their complaints would be to ask something along the way of:

“How much effort did you personally have to exert to resolve your complaint?”

CEB suggest using a 5pt scale, where 1 = very low effort and 5 = very high effort. Of course, you could also ask this question in relation to effort required to raise a complaint too. This might be a wonderful way to understand how easy or difficult your customers found it to initially contact your organisation and whether you allow them to raise via their preferred service channel.

An alternative approach is to use a statement rather than a question and then ask customers to agree or disagree with the statement. For example:

“[insert company name] made it easy for me to resolve my complaint.”

In this example, a 7pt scale is used with 1 = Strongly Disagree and 7 = Strongly Agree. With a wider scale, you would envisage a wider spread of scores, but this might allow the opportunity for greater understanding of degrees of ease or difficulty. Certainly, for companies just starting out measuring Effort, it might also allow them to recognise the effect of their improvement initiatives easier.

Regardless of what metric you choose, it’s important that you are now measuring Customer Effort, helping you to how easy you are to do business with, where customer Pain Points exist and get started thinking about what might be appropriate Pain Relief. It’s also worth mentioning that if you are already achieving high CSAT or NPS scores, measuring Effort and identifying customer Pain Points is a terrific way to generate opportunities to improve your complaint handling approach.

Whenever a customer suggests Effort exceeded their expectations and resolving was too difficult, it’s a clever idea to ask customers how their experience could have been made easier – in this way, you capture what I like to call “solution mindset” ideas, which can then be collated and categorised into themes.

The larger the volume of themes, the more popular the “solution” idea. This idea can also extend to staff surveys as well as customers, i.e. have staff suggest how their jobs could be made easier so that they might service your customer better.


I’ll summarise by returning to my own recent UK Complaint Handling Awards experience …

Companies are already working hard to improve their complaint handling and I’m delighted that Awards are now in place to recognise their efforts. I believe this event will only grow from strength to strength as there is such a passionate community out there of professionals who want to deliver a better customer experience (and realise the advantages of doing so)

The best of them are already using customer (and employee) research to kick-start their improvement ‘journeys’ but also to track their successes. Many are using both CSAT and NPS as important customer KPIs, but I would advocate including Customer (and Company) Effort metrics too. This doesn’t mean ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ as we all know how keen C-Suite executives are on NPS. Instead, start to measure Effort alongside these other metrics, then start to use this Effort feedback to understand its relationship to Loyalty but also how you can make the Customer Experience more effortless.

Reducing the Effort, it takes your customers to do business with you, particularly when they have an issue, can lead to greater customer loyalty. But as Peter Drucker said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”! Primary research can be a tool to capture the vital customer feedback required to help companies understand the quality of the complaint experience delivered and, more importantly, where opportunities lie to improve this performance and meet – possibly even exceed – customer expectations. Certainly, I hope The Research Locker can help organisations achieve their complaints objectives while making life more ‘effortless’ for customer who have cause to complain.

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