Can reducing Effort be the key to improving the customer complaint experience?

Can reducing Effort be the key to improving the customer complaint experience?

Last week, The Research Locker judged at the first ever UK Complaints Awards – it was a terrific event, full of great stories of how companies were delivering more positive, proactive complaint handling experiences to their customers. Every win was absolutely merited and the buzz generated on the day is likely to only grow as the event, and those interested, continue to discuss last week’s efforts.

What I found really reassuring was how prominently Research featured – everyone had stories about how they used research to initially guide their strategies, how they continues to use for ideas for improvement and most seemed to have performance measures based on NPS or CSAT metrics. As someone who’s agency exists to help organisations understand how they can use research in a variety of ways to improve their complaint handling and enhance the customer experience, it was great to see the role Research had played in helping companies be better at serving their customers. The passionate, customer-focused professionals I met were all driven to continue improving their performance and delivering for their customers – some even cited their terrific NPS and CSAT scores! But this got me thinking …

“Do these terrific scores ensure your customers remain with your organisation?”

“And if not, is there an alternative metric which might identify opportunities for improvement?”

Recently, I delivered some complaints handling research for a client – in them, a high CSAT score did not necessarily equate to a high likelihood for the customer to remain with the organisation. Indeed, while customers suggested high CSAT scores, they had indicated they were (a) at risk of, or (b) highly likely to move away from my client’s organisation.


Because while the customer may have been satisfied with the handling of their complaint, elements within the experience had just been too difficult for them, i.e. they had to work harder than they had anticipated to resolve their complaint. Typically, this left them with negative emotions associated with my client and, as a result, they intended to move away from the provider.

What the results suggested was that, regardless of the level of satisfaction my client’s organisation delivered in terms of their complaint handling, their customers were still at risk of defection because the experience had required too much effort! If this were true for my client, then how many organisations attending the Complaint Awards (and beyond) were also at risk of customer defections because customer effort could be reduced?


Having a focus on reducing the amount of effort your customers have to undertake might just be a terrific opportunity to actually improve the complaint experience and reduce the number of defections your business might be experiencing. By making it easier for customers to complain and to have that complaint resolved with little effort on their part delivers the reassurance to that customer that you were THE right choice of provider for them.

The Customer Effort Score is a metric designed by the Corporate Executive Board – a best practice insight & technology company (CEB website) – you might recognise the name as they are also the brains behind “The Customer Sale” and “The Customer Challenger”, two books which have revolutionised the traditional approach to selling, i.e. it’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell. CEB research has 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.

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

At The Research Locker, we measure the quality of an organisation’s complaint handling performance from the customer perspective (to compliment internal, operational MI) and understanding Customer Effort features prominently in our approach. The client research I mentioned earlier actually suggested a similar defection level the CEB stat above, i.e. 85% of those who put high effort into resolving their complaint suggested they would not renew their insurance.

The research’s other Effort-related results are also worth noting:

  • Of who stated resolving their complaint was ‘easy’, less than 1 in 4 suggested they were not likely to renew.
  • But whose experience was easy 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

OK, so my research was for just one company and was a few thousand customer interviews, but the CEB stats were based on 75,000+ customer service interviews. Regardless, we suggest they are real commercial benefits to reducing customer effort and making your organisation easier to do business with, particularly when it comes to helping customers resolve their complaints. Those who have a more effortless experience are more likely to remain, buy more and act as advocates for your organisation.

Worth considering, particularly if you organisation is already achieving high CSAT or NPS scores, measuring Effort and identifying customer pain points is a great 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 great idea to capture some additional verbatim feedback, then analysis in order to understand where improvement opportunities might lie. This idea can also extend to staff as well as customers.


Using complaints as example subject matter, the best way to measure the degree of effort it takes for your customers to raise and resolve their issues & problems with your organisation is to ask the following question:

“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 great way to understand how easy or difficult your customers found it to make contact with your organisation initially and whether you allow them to raise via their preferred service channel.

More recently, a new approach has emerged whereby you ask customers to rate Effort based on the following statement:

  • “[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 move between score ‘bands’ as a result of improvement initiatives.

Regardless of what metric you choose, the important aspect to recognise is that you are now measuring Effort in an attempt to understand how you can make it easier for your customers to resolve their complaints.


As I witnessed at the Complaints Awards, companies are already working hard to improve their complaint handling – and the best of them use customer (and employee) research both as a start point and a continued source of performance data. Where CSAT and NPS scores might be lower, then this research has offered opportunities for improvement. But, and this doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bath water, measuring Effort might just be the one metric which would truly help companies improve their complaint handling performance and deliver a more positive, effortless customer experience. Reducing Effort across service channels can lead to greater customer loyalty and using Research to capture the vital customer feedback you need to drive your business performance forward.

You can find who all the Complaint Award winners were here