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Delight Your Customers by Being Effortless, Not Over the Top. Why you don't want or need to emulate Zappos' famous 10-hour customer-support call

By Jeff Gardner

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When it comes to customer support, it's easy to get distracted by flashy stunts aimed at "delighting" your customers. However, focusing on the fundamentals, not the flash, is what really makes customers happy.

Related: The Magic Words Customers Want to Hear

Consider Zappos.com. The shoes and clothing site has earned a cult-like following for its legendary customer support. As a result, many companies are now trying to follow in Zappos' footsteps by encouraging support teams to go above and beyond the call of duty to "delight" their customers.

But my experience with our customers at Intercom -- coupled with some intriguing new research -- has led me to conclude that customer support should focus on simply making interactions as effortless as possible, rather than trying to "delight and wow."

What customers really want

By "delight and wow," I'm talking about over-the-top, ends-of-the-earth customer service, such as Ritz-Carlton providing a wonderful story for why a child's teddy bear took a few extra days to get home.

One of my favorite examples of Zappos' customer service is the 10-hour phone call one of its reps logged. Sounds amazing, right? But a ten-hour call simply isn't practical for most businesses. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has built the entire company culture around going "above and beyond," such that it's now part of the company's competitive advantage. Yet most organizations just don't have the resources, time, or stamina to adhere to the same principles.

Recent research, detailed in the book The Effortless Experience by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and Rich DeLisi, shows that striving to delight customers is more likely to do your business harm than good. In the vast majority of cases, customers don't want red carpets, Dom Perignon and caviar. They just want you to resolve their issue and get out of the way, so they can get on with whatever they were trying to accomplish in the first place.

Low-effort experiences are the real driver of customer loyalty, not exaggerated shows of affection from customer support. Users come to your product to complete a specific job. When something goes wrong or doesn't make sense, your goal should simply be to get the problem fixed or the question answered -- as quickly and easily as possible.

Make sure your customers get the help they need as quickly as possible. For example, consider offering in-app support, rather than making customers deal with the friction of an automated phone system or a support portal where they are issued a "ticket." When your staff are actually communicating with a customer, their responses should be concise yet stay natural, personal, helpful and conversational. The endgame is to empower customers to succeed in their job efficiently, not to provide them with unnecessary "delight."

Related: The Secret to Getting Repeat Customers

Perception > Reality

Shortening the path between question and answer lowers the objective effort required of customers, but that's only half the battle. It's also important to lower the subjective, or perceived, effort that customers experience. According to Dixon, Toman and DeLisi, "Customer effort is actually mostly about how customers feel. The exertion required from the customer makes up only 34.6 percent of how [customers evaluate their experience].

"But the interpretation side -- the softer, more subjective elements based entirely on human emotions and reactions," the authors continue, "make up a shocking 65.4 percent of the total impact." So, it's not enough to just make it easy for customers to solve their problems -– you have to make sure they genuinely feel it was easy for them.

Other strategies for reducing the support overhead (both for your support team and customers) include:

  • Anticipate likely future questions. For example, don't just answer the question about where to find the "reports" feature -- explain where the customer can find out how to export reports to Excel as well.

  • Close the feedback loop. Make sure relevant customer problems make their way back to product or engineering teams. Harness the combined wisdom of your customers to make your product better.

  • Stamp out dumb contacts. These are conversations that are of little value to you or your customers (e.g., if you keep getting questions about resetting passwords, maybe you need to make it more obvious how to do that in the product. This way you can focus your time on more meaningful conversations).

Don't be "delightful."

No one in their right mind actually makes a purchase from Zappos hoping they receive the wrong product in the mail, so that they can then chat on the phone with Customer Support for ten hours. Those professionals should instead aim to provide effective, efficient and low-effort support. Because what customers really want is not to be delighted when things go wrong -– but rather to succeed effortlessly.

Jeff Gardner

Director, Customer Success, Intercom

Jeff Gardner is director of customer success at Intercom. Intercom is the easiest way for web and mobile businesses to see and talk to their customers. He also writes for the InsideIntercom blog.

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