OPINION16 July 2013

The snakes and ladders of customer service


Why do brands continue to deliver a customer experience that is akin to a game of snakes and ladders? Multiple ladders to find what you want, multiple snakes to send you back to where you started. It’s time to simplify, says Peter Shreeve.

Most ‘snakes’ are well known and the focus of corrective attention, but they still exist:

  • Slow or no response to email queries
  • Ambiguous or poorly detailed information on websites
  • Websites that suffer from poor navigation
  • Call steering systems that lead to long waiting times and call abandonment

When prospective and existing customers come across these situations in one channel they may switch to other channels to help them reach their goals. However, moving from one channel to another exacerbates the effort put in by the customer, increases the chances of the enquiry or purchase being postponed or – worse still – moves the customer on to a competitor.

Hence, there is some debate in the research industry around measuring customer effort as a key metric. Smart brands not only work on their snakes but also focus on adopting solutions to reduce the number of rungs on the metaphorical ‘ladders’ that customers have to climb to achieve their objective.

  • Smart brands make sure that where information is already held, it is used to reduce the effort customers have to make e.g. by pre-populating contact information in forms. Drawing on the principles of behavioural economics this action increases the chances of task compliance and completion.
  • Smart brands can use this information allied with sophisticated customer analytics to present recommendations or further options of relevance to the next part of the journey, e.g. customers who ordered a product would then need to understand how to use it. Handling both the order and usage in one call substantially reduced the further contacts for a telco in the US
  • Smart brands ensure customers do not have to repeat information about their query or order by capturing and making available customer records through whichever channel the customer uses to make contact.


Where does research fit in?
Primary research combines with secondary data to identify the ‘snakes’ and measure their impact, while also assessing the efficiencies of the ‘ladders’ to resolution.

  • Web analytics identify website blockages and how many steps it takes to find information.
  • Website usability research aids diagnosis and helps create better websites with fewer rungs.
  • Enterprise Feedback Management programmes draw on customer opinion, combined with customer complaint categorisation, call waiting and abandonment data to measure process and staff performance in contact centres.

The challenge remains for brands to know which snakes need improving and which ladders need removing, and then culturally and operationally to make the changes required. Research will continue to represent the voice of the customer and be used to help brands become smarter, in combination with data – whether big or small.

Peter Shreeve is an independent research consultant

A special report on customer experience appears in issue 2 of Impact, the new quarterly magazine of the Market Research Society (publishers of Research-live.com). Follow @ImpactMRS on Twitter for updates or click here to find out how to subscribe.