By Graham Ede, Yonder Digital Group.
In a recent survey of customer satisfaction in the UK, the Institute of Customer Service looked at the top 4 differentiators of high-scoring organisations.
These differentiators, it was revealed, are not related to technological prowess or the organisations’ ability to provide the latest digital solution, instead, customers quoted as differentiators: staff efficiency, attitude, understanding of the issue and of course the outcome of a complaint. These results, collated as recently as January this year, suggest that consumers are more interested in live customer service than businesses may think.
Human contact remains at the heart of the customer experience. In February, one major department store retailer announced plans to open a new store that will employ a multichannel approach connecting the digital experience with the in-store experience. The retailer’s multi-channel vision is accompanied by investment in stores, confirming the enduring importance of a bricks-and-mortar location, augmented by the right digital tools. In 2016, 47% of British online consumers opted for collecting their purchase in store thanks to click-and-collect. This also demonstrates how the customer journey is now characterised by a number of touchpoints – some automated, some live.
Today’s customers expect seamless service but their retail journeys are far from linear, as they take advantage of the choice of channel that brands offer them. For example time-poor customers, faced with spending precious time on hold over the phone, benefit from alternative means of communication such as artificial intelligence chatbots or online chat tools. On the other hand, when it comes to complaints, social media has fast become a popular platform for venting frustration, though some still appreciate the clout of a formal letter sent by post.
The issue is that the customer journey is more complex than automated tools allow for. Each individual customer has different preferences depending on the issue at hand and the means available. Customers who like online chat may have to revert to calling if the service is slow. Others may feel more comfortable sending an email. A hefty 75% of online customers expect a response within five minutes. A growing proportion of this 75% will most likely take to social media to make a query or complain. But sadly, research shows that 55% of customer requests for service on social media are not acknowledged, never mind resolved.
The reality is that live agents continue to have an essential role in the customer journey. Despite digital developments, the customer service process does not seem to be more efficient. In fact, businesses lose $1.6trn annually due to poor customer service, according to Accenture research. One explanatory factor is that businesses invest in new technology without giving thought to the overall customer journey, which progresses from one contact point to another. Without taking into account these movements, companies cannot achieve maximum efficiency in their live customer service interactions.
New and ever-improving technology appears to present retailers with an all-in-one solution for managing various contact points. Many are relieved to find totally or partially automated solutions, which seem to address the problem cost-effectively. These solutions include marketing emails, which are tailored using recipients’ previous purchases and communication with the company, and tools to manage social media interactions and digital presence. These tools are valuable, but businesses should be wary of sitting back and entrusting their customer services operations entirely to automated tools.
When a customer has exhausted all channels, or when they simply need to talk to a person directly, the availability of a live agent is crucial. Proving this point, a study by Accenture show that 83% of consumers who switched providers say if companies could provide better live or in-person support, they may have retained their business. However too many businesses are paying more attention to improving their online service rather than improving their live services.
When customers are kept waiting for a long time, and then realise the customer service agent has no record of their interactions with the business via other contact points, this is likely to lead to a more irate conversation, while also lengthening the next customer’s waiting time. Technology should be used to provide agents with a clear view of the customer’s preferences and history with the company. This increases customer satisfaction, in turn strengthening loyalty and brand reputation. As for the agent, they are able to improve the service by offering speedy resolution, or even suggesting other products that match the customer profile. This all represents a cost saving through reduced call times, and creates potential for further profits.
Today’s consumers expect instantaneous, convenient services that make life easier. But this doesn’t mean that retailers should be jumping blindly on latest-technology bandwagons. In 2016, Amazon launched Amazon Echo in the UK, a voice-activated virtual assistant which, among other things, enables users to put items on their Amazon shopping list through a voice command.
Not to be outdone, Google introduced a shopping feature to its voice-powered Google assistant in February this year. But the report Reality of Retail Tech found that only 21 percent of the consumers surveyed felt that virtual assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home will boost their shopping, including during major holiday sales. Companies are continually thinking of new ways customers can communicate with them, but these new methods do not necessarily produce value or improve services. Technology-enabled live agent contact points on the other hand offer great potential.
- UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), January 2017
- E-commerce in the United Kingdom: Facts & Figures 2016, 09 June 2016, Twenga Solutions
- 13 stunning stats on customer experience (including the $1.6 trillion cost of bad service), 30 June 2016, Vision Critical Blog
- 50 Important Customer Experience Stats for Business Leaders, 15 October 2015, Huffington Post
- An introduction to AI and customer service, 08 February 2017, Econsultancy
- U.S. Companies Losing Customers As Consumers Demand More Human Interaction, Accenture Strategy Study Finds, 23 March 2016, Accenture
- Tech And Shopping: Consumers Don't Want Help From Chatbots, Amazon and Google When Buying Stuff, 22 February 2017, International Business Times