When Matt Dixon completed his PhD in political economy, he knew one thing for sure: the world of academia wasn’t for him. Political economy’s loss turned out to be CX’s gain, and since 2006 he’s been one of the leading lights in the industry.

During 18 years at renowned research firm CEB, Matt honed his skills leading the firm’s research divisions for call centers, B2B sales and financial services.

He’s also penned bestsellers The Effortless Experience and The Challenger Sale, in which he took a sledgehammer to some of the common myths in the world of CX and sales.

Now the Chief Product & Research Officer at Tethr, an Austin-based AI company, he continues to be at the cutting-edge of CX research and enabling organizations to make more of data contained in the voice and chat conversations they have with their customers.

The chronic suck zone: How to get out of it

It’s the eternal question: how do brands get known for good CX?

Ask Matt this question and he’ll talk about a quadrant, with “Experience Effort” on the y-axis, and “Product/Brand Stickiness” along the x-axis.

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“That bottom left square—low stickiness, high effort—that’s the Chronic Suck Zone,” says Matt. “Companies don’t last long down there.”

But if you take a look at the top-right quadrant and you’ll see the brands that Matt considers CX leaders.

“Amazon and its Prime service are up there—it’s incredibly easy to use, and it’s the first and last place many of us go when we need something.”

Low-effort but low-stickiness? Think of your closest—but not necessarily favorite—grocery store. “It’s only a 10-minute drive, but you’re not so impressed by the produce.”

And the brands that are very sticky but extremely high-effort are what’s known as ‘captive sticky.’ “Think of a brand you use all the time, but only because it’s become a habit, or switching would be too much hard work.”

Of course, ‘captive sticky’ brands need to watch out for disruptors, as there’s only so long people will tolerate bad experiences.

So, how do you move into the top-right of this quadrant? “Stop doing things that put you in the other three!”

“Shooting for the top-right and doing things that might get you there doesn’t mean you’ve stopped doing the things customers would consider high-effort, or that don’t make your brand stickier.”

Zappos got a lot of attention for a call center rep who stayed on the phone with a customer for 10 hours and 43 minutes to solve their problem, but Matt says Zappos backs this up with high levels of service every day.

“If a company that sucked 99% of the time did that kind of thing, it wouldn’t make a difference in the eyes of customers,” explains Matt. “You need to earn the right to do something like that and get as much press as Zappos does.”

“Disagreement research” & taking a sideways look at old problems

Delivering on expectations—not surpassing them—was the smarter, more profitable approach. And the one customers actually wanted.

If there’s a common thread to Matt’s work, it’s an aversion to conventional wisdom. “My standard position is to be skeptical of it,” says Matt.

“The core of our work at CEB was to apply new research methods and rigorous analysis to some common problems—something we called ‘disagreement research,’” explains Matt.

That approach led Matt and his fellow disagreers to deliver some pretty non-conventional conclusions—and ones that challenged the fundamental ways CX teams functioned.

It’s the world of call centers that has received a lot of Matt’s attention during his career.

“If you go on Amazon, 9 out of 10 books on call center CX will talk about delighting or wowing customers,” says Matt. “But it’s all based on anecdotal evidence and 1-2 examples of what’s worked for a specific person or business.”

When Matt looked at the data though, that strategy didn’t appear to affect the bottom line. Delivering on expectations—not surpassing them—was the smarter, more profitable approach. And the one customers actually wanted.

“Call centers aren’t lacking in data, but myths and misconceptions still reign supreme,” says Matt.

So why do some call centers base their strategy off one or two anecdotes, instead of looking at the vast amounts of data they’ve got?

“The skeptical view is it’s laziness. But these one or two stories of amazing customer experiences also feel good,” explains Matt.

“It’s just not as exciting to say to your call center team, ‘Just hit expectations and do what the customer wants.’ It’s easier to motivate if you say let’s delight customers and create some PR-worthy moments. No one’s asking if it’s worth the time and money to do that, though.”

However, he thinks there’s been a shift in thinking in recent years.

“There’s now a greater interest in customer loyalty across the board and a view of call centers as a key touchpoint in any customer journey,” says Matt. “It’s also seen as a profit driver now, not a cost center—so there’s greater pressure to deliver real ROI.”

AI: Listen to customers, don’t micromanage staff

So the leading brands are looking at the vast amount of X-Data they’re gathering on messaging platforms, email interactions, call logs and social media, and thinking how they can tap into it.

One way Matt sees call centers evolving is through their use of AI and advanced analytics.

“Conventional research introduces a whole bunch of biases, and we sometimes lack detail in survey feedback,” says Matt, noting also that most brands will only get 10-15% of its customers to complete surveys.

“So the leading brands are looking at the vast amount of X-Data they’re gathering on messaging platforms, email interactions, call logs and social media, and thinking how they can tap into it.”

Advanced voice and text analysis that utilizes AI technology is helping teams automate these processes and not have to review reams of data manually. This is the focus of Matt’s company, Tethr, who is also a new Qualtrics partner.

“And what I find fascinating is that AI was originally used to monitor reps, to make sure they stayed on script,” explains Matt. “Now, instead of micro-managing staff, this tech is being used to listen to customers.”

Matt points out that as far as high-effort experiences go, calling up a call center is right up there. So asking someone to fill out a survey afterwards is almost asking for trouble.

“Taking insights from the call center interaction itself is easier for the customer, and also gives you more unbiased data than if someone completed an IVR survey right after.”

Ease and the perception of effort

84% of people would forego their favorite channel if another one was easier, but they need a brand to clearly signify what the best channel is, and too few do this.

It’s not just voice analytics that’s separating great call centers from bad ones.

“Many brands have this idea that they need to offer customers a variety of channels, and leave it up to the customer to choose,” says Matt. “That’s one of those incorrect bits of conventional wisdom.”

In reality, customers don’t want choice—a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ approach to help and support, as Matt puts it. They want to know the fastest and easiest channel; the one that will get them an answer as soon as possible.

“When I was at CEB, our research showed 84% of people would forego their favorite channel if another one was easier,” says Matt. “But they need a brand to clearly signify what the best channel is, and too few do this.”

‘Ease’ is not objective though—customers’ perception of ease is just as important.

Brands have known this for a while, so they have trained their call center reps to be friendly on the occasions they don’t have an answer for the customer.

But the best brands out there are teaching their reps sophisticated language techniques to engineer better customer outcomes.

“It’s about using language that shows you’re on the customer’s side, not the company’s,” says Matt. “We’ve seen this has a massive impact on perception of ease.”

So instead of saying what they can’t do for the customer, great reps will explain what they can do; what they will do for them, not what they won’t.

“Reps can build up a rapport with the customer by using words that indicate they’re working on behalf of the customer, not serving their own company.”

Matt left political economy behind him a while ago, but maybe it’s pretty similar to call center CX after all. To quote Adam Smith: “We are delighted to find a person who values us as we value ourselves.”

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