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Support Services

Delivering the Support Experience Your Customers Want by Reducing Their Customer Effort Level

Best Practices for Creating a Low-Effort Experience to Increase Your Customer Effort Score

9 min read
By Dave Baca
When the Support Services Industry talks about reducing the customer effort level, what business challenges come to mind? How do you know what specific support service experience your customers want? Have you ever asked your customers for their feedback to help you deliver the experience they desire?

When you invest the time to survey your customers on their desired support experience, your customers will undoubtedly tell you:
  • Make it easy for me to use and consume your products and services.
  • Reduce the customer effort level required for me to find answers to my questions. 
  • Provide me with fast and effective responses and resolutions to my technical issues.
  • Ensure your Support Representatives know your product better than I know your product.
  • Know who I am when I come to you for technical help and remove all the additional information that does not apply to me.
  • Anticipate my problems and solve them before I know about them.
  • Ask me for my feedback and opinions on how you are meeting my service requirements.
As this anticipated customer feedback implies, reducing the customer effort level is a key to delivering the support experience your customers want.

What Is a Customer Effort Level 

Customer Effort Level refers to how much effort the customer needs to expend in order to receive or consume your support service (such as getting their query answered or technical issue resolved.) In essence, how much work are you requiring from the customer to resolve their issue? 

Your Customer Effort Score is a metric that seeks to answer that question. Calculated through surveys, your Customer Effort Score will give your company a yardstick for how well you are performing in different Support Service venues and show you areas where you are making customers do the “heavy lifting.” 

Why Improving Your Customer Effort Score Matters

You can’t fix what you don’t measure, and so Support Service organizations hoping to improve their customers’ experience need to understand where they are starting from. Aggregating data on what your Customer Effort Score is as simple as automatic surveys that pop up after customer interactions, but lead to complex insight on how well your Support Service team is functioning. 

Once you understand the current customer effort level, the question becomes: how do you reduce it? 
This blog gives you the tools and best practices for reducing customer effort level, boosting your Customer Effort Score, and enhancing your customer’s overall experience. 

Utilize Remote Monitoring of Consumption and Adoption Data

One question crucial to improving a customer's experience that every company should ask: “are you able to remotely monitor the adoption and consumption of your products?”
As you might expect, companies who generate most of their revenue through XaaS products/services have the highest ability to remotely monitor the adoption and consumption of their products. But sadly, not all companies who have this capability extend the adoption and consumption data to their Support Services team. As more companies transform their business from on-premise to XaaS, providing this capability to all service-focused organizations, especially to Support Services, is table stakes. 

Who else, besides Support, interacts with your customers as frequently and knows  them best? Support needs this capability to identify users who are lagging in their consumption and adoption. With this knowledge, Support Services can provide customers with recommended solutions for improving their adoption, consumption, and product knowledge.This will reduce the customer’s effort level while helping them to achieve their desired business outcomes –which in turn helps achieve your desired outcome of a reducing customer effort level.
From an industry perspective, this best practice is adopted by just over 50% of TSIA’s Industry members. However, XaaS-based members  adopt this practice by over a 2-to-1 ratio when compared to their on-premise counterparts. And when XaaS-based member companies adopt this best practice, their average median P1-P4 incident resolution time is improved by nearly 5 days! How’s that for improving the customer experience and reducing the customer effort?

Maximize the Use of Self-Service

TSIA’s ongoing channel preference research continues to confirm that customers prefer to help themselves by utilizing company self-service solutions. As a preferred support channel, self-service has grown year over year to 75% in 2021
Self-service matters to customers and to support organizations alike. A key part of any support operation is keeping a close eye on the incident problem types submitted into the assisted support channel. Based on TSIA benchmark data, nearly 24% of all incoming case volume that flows into the support organization is categorized as ‘how-to’ questions or ‘questions related to the product. That is one in four cases that should be resolved via self-service. 

Self-service allows customers to resolve their technical issues and questions at their own speed, at their convenience, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Meeting customers in the channel solution that they prefer improves their customer experience and when the self-service solution has a strong foundation of knowledge management, the customer can locate more applicable and helpful knowledge-base articles. In turn, this can prevent the customer’s need to go through the additional effort of submitting an assisted support case, lowering the customer effort level.
Additionally, strong self-service programs enable Support organizations to effectively scale their delivery of service and operational efficiency. It allows support engineers to focus on resolving more advanced and technically complex cases that need to be solved through live-assistance support channels. And applying a knowledgeable, live-assistance support resource earlier in the incident lifecycle means a solution can be provided to the customer sooner and with less customer effort!

Focus on Improving Incident Resolution Time

TSIA’s Support Services benchmark has identified several key metrics that are important to focus on, namely Support Resolution Time for P2, P3, and P4 incidents. Data correlation shows how Transaction Assisted CSAT ratings directly correlate to Renewal Rates. For SaaS-based businesses in particular, your C-suite will focus on Annual Recurring Revenue and Renewal Rates. The following data correlation chart demonstrates the highly critical relationship between CSAT and Renewal Rate:
Data correlation chart mentioned in text above
Data Correlation Chart

Our research shows that  (P2) / (P3) / (P4) Resolution Time is directly tied to key operational drivers of transactional customer satisfaction. These drivers are necessary to bolster contract renewal rates and upsell–highlighting the impact Support Services and improving your Customer Effort Score can have on the company as a whole.

Note: If you are wondering why P1’s aren’t included in the data correlation, it’s because in general virtually everyone does well on resolving P1 issues. Because of this, there is not much differentiation from company to company for P1 resolution time. On the other hand, resolution time for P2-P4 requires great service, and this is where many Support Services organizations distinguish themselves. Those who do well in resolving P2-P4 issues are able to consistently drive higher CSAT, which in turn, positively impacts renewal rates and Annual Recurring Revenue.

Invest in Support Team Readiness

Whether your product solution is on-premise or XaaS, a company’s ability to quickly and accurately deliver service requirements that come with new releases is a challenge that many frequently wrestle with. This is an especially difficult challenge to solve if your Engineering Team has adopted an agile software development framework, where production software is released more frequently than the legacy waterfall development process ever required or imagined.
To overcome this common business challenge, the following three strategies can be used to ensure support engineers have sufficient technical knowledge for each new release:
1. Invest in an Internal Organization Dedicated to Knowledge Transfer/Training: A common TSIA recommendation is to invest in an internal organization that is dedicated to the knowledge transfer and training for all service-based business units. It is equally important to appoint key Support members to serve as liaisons to work closely with the dedicated internal training and knowledge transfer group. These Support Liaisons ensure all support-based training and knowledge transfer satisfies the technical rigors necessary for the Support Team. This enables them to work with your technical admins and end users in order to address the increase in support-case volume that almost always accompanies each new release. (This is especially applicable to SaaS-based companies.)

TSIA’s benchmarks also reveals that when companies invest a considerable amount of training across their support organizations, the curriculums focus on the following broad topic areas:
  • Product functionality
  • Product certification
  • Technical skills
  • Business processes and soft skills
2. Invest in Pre-Release Testing and Familiarization Across Service-Delivery Teams:
Intentionally build time into the release schedule to allow Support Services to actively test the pre-release software prior to every software release. This makes certain Support Engineers (and Professional Services/Customer Success team members) understand the new product functionality and allows the identification of additional quality items that weren’t previously identified during the development and testing process. At a minimum, Support Services can confirm that previous release bugs/defects were fully solved in the new release and don’t inadvertently cause new and unexpected bugs/issues/functionality impairment. Following this best practice ensures customers get off to a great start as they begin using each new release.
3. Leverage Your Knowledge Management/Content Authoring Team:
Have your Knowledge Management Team (dedicated and organized within the Support organization) document and publish new knowledge-based articles that contain new features, known quality issues, and approved workarounds that Development is unable to resolve prior to finalizing each new release/version/patch. Ensuring that new releases are accompanied with ‘known issue knowledge-based  articles’ via your self-service portal can prevent the post-release new incident wave from hitting your Assisted Support Team by deflecting known issues through your self-service portal.

Provide a Personalized Customer Experience

A personalized customer experience begins with the very first customer touchpoint. Usually, this is with your self-service portal or your web-based assisted support case submission process. Knowing who your customers are when they are using your self-service portal and other support channels is the key to providing a personalized experience. 76% of all TSIA Support Services member companies agree that requiring customers to login before they can access your self-service/web portal is a best practice for the following reasons:
  1. You’ve invested considerable resources into providing searchable knowledge base articles and related content on your self-service portal. Giving your knowledge base away for free to anyone who finds your self-service portal without any login requirements devalues the investment you’ve made. Allowing ungated content also allows competitors to freely examine and understand your product’s strengths and weaknesses.
  2.  When no login is required, it is much more technically difficult to measure the self-service KPIs (i.e., success, implicit and explicit deflection) without the use of precise user identification techniques.
  3. When no login is required, the ability to deliver a personalized customer experience within your self-service or web portal/customer service portal is nearly impossible.
When the personalization engine is powered by AI and machine learning, several  support processes become automated and streamlined. This includes:
  • Customer-specific displays. Customers see knowledge base articles and content that is solely related to their licensed products. This simplifies the customer’s view of your self-service content and reduces the customer effort level to consume your knowledge base content!
  • Real-time information for Support Engineers. Personalization ensures that Support Engineers assigned to new cases understand where the customer has navigated within the self-service portal and provides insight on whether the knowledge base content accessed by the customer was successful (i.e., was the KB article helpful?).
  • Automated case routing process. When an assisted support case is submitted, the case can be automatically routed to the Support Engineer that has the best skills to quickly resolve the case.
  • More engaging chatbots. If you have deployed a chatbot solution, your chatbot will leverage the personalization to virtually interact and respond with more precision and a higher success/deflection rate.

Deliver a Proactive Customer Experience

Proactive Support often begins from the need to improve Support Team productivity/efficiency.
One proven method for boosting support efficiency is to establish a robust knowledge management program. The program should continuously analyze and mine incoming cases for gaps in the existing self-service knowledge base. Measuring how frequently the Support Team can resolve new incidents with existing knowledge base articles is one method for locating knowledge gaps. Another is to implement an intelligent unified search application that identifies instances of search results that don’t return existing knowledge base content. Using both methods together helps to proactively deliver the best possible self-service solution by continuously injecting new knowledge base articles to your customers.
In addition to improving efficiency, providing customers with Robotic Process Automation based solutions that they can initiate through self-service is another way Support Services can create a proactive customer experience. Password reset is one common issue that can be solved using this proactive method. Instead of requiring the customer to create an assisted support case to request that their password be reset, the customer can use your self-service portal to resolve their password issue. When RPA-based self-service options are provided, companies can achieve upwards of 100% case deflection for these types of automated resolution actions.

Conduct Customer Effort Score Surveys as Part of your VOC Survey Program

Through benchmark data correlations, TSIA continues to demonstrate that the best survey programs are comprehensive in nature. The Support Services Research Team conducted a webinar, which outlined The Layers of Customer Loyalty. At the center of one of these layers was qualitative customer surveys. A comprehensive survey program that provides customers with an active voice should include the following best practice survey types:
  • Transactional Assisted CSAT Surveys: incident-based surveys reported by channel, product, agent, geo, and more.
  • Unassisted (Self-Service) CSAT Surveys: surveys based on the use of the self-service options.
  • Annual CSAT: survey to identify the status of the overall relationship with the customer.
  • Customer Effort Score: a question to identify the level of ease to interact with support or self-service.
A common gap in many survey programs is the inability to capture the customer effort required by customers to consume Support’s service offerings. Over the past 3 years, the use of Customer Effort Score surveys to determine the customer’s overall effort level has been gaining traction and is now being conducted by just over 47% of TSIA member companies. TSIA’s best practice recommendation is to include one Customer Effort Score question in each of the Transaction Assisted Support, Annual, and Self-Service CSAT surveys. Adopting this Customer Effort Score survey best practice will allow your customers to tell you where they are having the most challenging and most pleasing experiences within your support delivery processes. This will provide actionable insights to improve your customers’ support experience.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

Keeping a watchful pulse on the support experience you are providing to your customers is good for your customers and good for your support business. And keeping that focus using the following methods will enable you to continually reduce the customer effort level while providing a world-class customer experience:
  1. Utilize Remote Monitoring of Consumption and Adoption Data
  2. Maximize the use of Self-Service
  3. Focus on Improving Incident Resolution Time
  4. Invest in Support Team Readiness
  5. Provide a Personalized Customer Experience
  6. Deliver a Proactive Customer Experience
  7. Conduct Customer Effort Score Surveys as Part of your VOC Survey Program
Implementing these best practices and solutions for improving your customer effort level can result in faster resolution times, an increased renewal rate, and a stream-lining of automated and self-service features, leading to a more personalized and proactive experience.

 September 16, 2021

Dave Baca

About Author Dave Baca

Dave Baca is the director of support services research for TSIA. In this role, he provides membership and advisory designed to help member companies optimize their Customer Support organizations (including help desks, call center, and tech support) to achieve and deliver desired customer and organizational outcomes.

Prior to joining TSIA, Dave held various senior leadership roles in Customer Success and Support Services at leading companies such as basys and ANCILE Solutions, collaborating with internal Product Management, Technology, and New Customer Implementation teams. Dave is passionate about helping Customer Support organizations transform and achieve industry-leading results.