On April 30, 1943, at the height of World War II, a fisherman stumbled across a corpse floating in the water off the coast of southwestern Spain. The body was that of an adult male, Major William Martin of the Royal Marines. Martin was dressed in a military uniform with accompanying military boots and one odd addition—a black case chained to his wrist. The mysterious black case, which appeared to be of utmost importance, was immediately brought to Spanish authorities. It wasn’t long before German intelligence officials in the area caught wind of the suspicious black case. In the dark of night, German spies finagled their way to the case, indiscreetly opening its contents revealing a letter sent from Lieutenant General Archibald Nye, the vice-chief of the Imperial General Staff, in London, to General Harold Alexander, the senior British officer under Eisenhower in Tunisia. The letter disclosed the Allies plans to invade Greece and Sardinia—a shocking and startling revelation.
The only issue was the holder of the black case, “Major William Martin,” was a work of fiction. The body wasn’t that of Major William Martin but was that of a deceased vagabond, dressed in military garb carrying a fabricated letter. He was one piece in a brilliantly crafted plan by British spies to convince the Germans that the Allies were invading Greece. Germany allocated resources to Greece and by the time they realized it was a fake, it was too late (Gladwell 2010).
Like the Germans, we’ve been duped—only this time, our “Major William Martin” is the myriad real estate seminars, corporate executives, strategy session plans, and personal goals that tell us to win the battle of customer service, we must delight the customer. Matthew Dixon, Nick
Toman, and Rick Delisi of the Corporate Executive Board in their new book,The Effortless Experience,implore us to realize that sometimes the obvious isn’t so obvious—sometimes the statistics tell a different story.
THINK POINT #1: Rethinking Customer Service
After years of extensive research into customer service, 89% of customers surveyed told the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) they were focusing more of their efforts on exceeding expectations or they’re continuing their focus in this direction. The perception among real estate gurus and corporate executives is that exceeding customer expectations has an exponential payout—that the more we delight our customer, the stronger their loyalty becomes. When we look closer, this may not be the truth. After analyzing more than 97,000 customer responses, a very different picture was painted—a picture that has dropped conventional wisdom on its head. Researchers discovered virtually no difference between the loyalty of customers whose expectations had been exceeded and customers whose expectations had been met.
In fact, after customer expectations are met, loyalty remains the same, no matter how much a company exceeds customer expectations.
To complicate matters, in CEB’s global survey, they found no statistical relation between satisfaction and customer loyalty. The two variables weren’t related. However, what was similar was the relation between customer service interactions and disloyalty. CEB found that any customer service interaction is four times more likely to drive disloyalty than to drive loyalty.
So if customer service interactions don’t create loyalty and are more likely to spawn disloyalty where does that leave us? How do we create loyalty with our clients?
The Effortless Experience believes we need to ask a different question. How do we mitigate disloyalty?
THINK POINT #2: Low- Effort Interactions
Think for a second about your personal experiences with the companies you do business with. For example, think about your trips to the bank. Does the vase of newly picked daffodils on the counter or the complimentary cookie really matter to you? Probably not, they’re nice add-ons, but at the end of the day, your customer service experience is going to come down to whether you’re able to get in and out and complete your transaction smoothly. Your customer experience comes down to the amount of effort you have to exude.
The authors state that “96 percent of the customers who had high-effort experiences reported being disloyal, compared to only 9 percent of customers with low-effort interactions.” This is an astonishing figure. The amount of effort the customer exudes makes or breaks loyalty.
So, what does additional customer effort look like in real estate? Is it additional calls made to you, the agent? Is it viewing houses that don’t fit customer’s requests? Perhaps additional customer effort occurs when the customer must repeat information. Or additional effort may result from the perception that you, the real estate agent, aren’t working hard enough to solve the customer’s problems. Additional customer effort can be found in many shapes and forms, and it can be both perceived effort and actual exertion required from the customer.
According to the CEB, four of the five drivers of disloyalty involve additional effort customers must put forth, which includes the customer having to:
• Make more than one call to resolve an issue
• Deal with generic service delivered by rep
• Repeatedly provide information
• Expend (according to his perception) additional effort to resolve issues
In order to mitigate the disloyalty, agents should focus on delivering an “effortless experience.” Minimizing customers’ perceived and actual effort ensures a seamless experience that leaves customers content.
THINK POINT #3: Psychology of Low-Effort Interactions
Customer effort can be broken up into two segments:
1) 36.6% - Customer’s Actual Exertion or Effort
(number of steps and actions required during the service experience)
2) 65.4% - Customer’s Subjective Interpretation of Effort
(impression of how the process made the customer feel)
As you can see, what matters most to the customer is how the customer feels. Effort is two-thirds feel and one-third action. With “feel” being a crucial component for how customers determine effort, the psychology of customer service plays an integral part in how we communicate with our clients.
Taking control of the customer conversation and delivering a perceived low-effort experience revolves around the concept of “experience engineering”—constructing the conversation or process in a manner that improves how the customer interprets what they’re told or experience. Experience engineering has proven to be crucial in managing the customer conversation and interestingly enough, increasing customer loyalty.
No one likes to be told “no,” especially by her real estate agent. A real estate agent is charged with a tall task—not just aiding in the process of finding a house, but a home—a place where memories are to be made, stories will be told, and life will happen. All of this to say, buying a home can be one of the biggest buying decisions a consumer faces: it is complex, stressful, and lays a tremendous burden upon the real estate agent to consistently deliver “dream homes” to his or her clients. Since the customer’s perceived effort is always high in the real estate business, real estate agents need to be armed with tactics to mitigate disloyalty.
To have a positive effect on customer’s perceived effort, employ these three strategies:
1) Be an Advocate: Align with the customer’s interests and actively support the customer.
2) Use Positive Language: Convey your messages positively and refrain from using language that includes “no” or “can’t.”
3) Anchor Appropriately: Position your outcomes as more positive and desirable by comparing them to another less desirable outcome.
After customer expectations are met, loyalty remains the same. It does not matter how much a company exceeds customer expectations. Using your resources to “delight the customer” isn’t a cost-effective or sensible approach. The battle ground for customer loyalty isn’t won with complimentary cookies or steep discounts, it’s won by producing low-effort experiences for your customer in the way you operate and the way you talk.
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Delisi, Rick, Matthew Dixon and Nick Toman (2013), The Effortless Experience, New York, NY: Penguin Group.
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About the Author
Grant is currently a Brand Sales associate in IBM’s Summit program. He earned his BBA in Professional Selling from Baylor in 2014. While in school, his interests were in accelerating university corporate engagement, sales psychology, and storytelling.