Putting the ‘app’ into ‘happy’ – technology will provide a great leap forward for customer service

In my last blog I talked about the need for customer service executives to get a grip over the multichannel world that is already with us. The problem is, that even if they do start managing every known channel, the customer will always want more. And better. And faster.

Customers don’t care about the way you organise your contact centre. They don’t care that you might have 1,000 agents taking calls and only 5 handling Twitter enquiries. To the customer the brand needs to answer their enquiry however it is sent – your internal customer service silos are of no interest.

In our business this is called the ‘omnichannel’ and it affects every sector, although retailers appear to be the first to be working really hard to get it right. It’s a simple concept to understand, but to make it work really well is – well – really tough.

Imagine a customer visits a store, buys a product then gets home only to find it’s faulty. On the receipt is a phone number and email address so they quickly send an email from their phone asking what can be done because they are too busy to visit the store again.

After a few hours, and with no answer to the email, the customer starts tweeting angry messages that mention the product, the store it was purchased from, and the terrible customer service because nobody is getting back. After the tweets remain unacknowledged the customer finally calls the helpline and the agent asks for all the information that was sent in the original email. When the customer complains that all the information has already been sent, the agent replies saying ‘the systems are not connected so you have to give me all those details again.’

This is a fairly typical scenario. Now imagine if the agent at the contact centre had responded by apologising and reassured the customer that they were already on the case because they saw the earlier email. This might go a long way to placating an angry customer, who might even tweet a message of thanks for the great service they finally received.

Perhaps the company involved could have answered using a different channel – calling the customer as a response to the email? In most cases it works best to respond using the same channel that the customer chose to use, but now that customers are regularly using at least six channels for support it is important for companies to be able to draw a true likeness of who their customers are and what they are doing on the various channels specific to the customer experience outcomes they require.

This is not simple. The contact centre might not have a lot of information on the customer. How do you match a caller to an email if you don’t have some connecting data? The social channels are even harder because that is all external data – Facebook owns all the data on their users, you can’t include all Facebook users as a part of your internal customer database.

But it does prove that technology is going to be the answer here. We are now building systems that can provide agents with a much better picture of the customers they are interacting with. The omnichannel may still appear to be a distant mirage to some, but with the right systems and agents in place you can amaze your customers and turn them from detractors into supporters in an instant. And there’s always the ‘app’. We expect to see more and more customer service apps as standard to allow customers to connect with their chosen brands and a channel of preference using an app which will help identify them to the customer experience management team immediately.

Have you personally experienced a great omnichannel moment where a brand offered some great insight that helped you? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Best Shop Ever

 

Phone by Stuart Crawford licensed under Creative Commons

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Multichannel customer service isn’t innovation; it’s simply what customers expect today

How many blogs or articles have been written recently that talk about multichannel customer service as if it is the next big thing? Really? It’s not what the board should be talking about in strategy meetings that are designing a future agenda because its already here, right now.

In my opinion companies running any kind of customer service function should consider that customers are already comfortable using at least six different channels. This may sound like a lot, but we are only just getting started.

Let’s start with the simple ones. The voice call, email, and chat, probably launched from the corporate website. But then add to this the two most popular social channels, Twitter and Facebook, and then the review sites or forums. If you work in hospitality then what customers say on Tripadvisor can trigger sweet dreams or nightmares.

That’s half a dozen channels that most customers will now be familiar with and already using when they need help. Of course there are many other social networks and specialist forums that often offer a way for knowledgeable customers to directly help others. The landscape is continuously evolving.

Google just retired their Orkut social network recently and Facebook is applying their expertise to the Oculus Rift virtual reality system. The Project Glass videos that demonstrated the concept of Google Glass before it was a product were only published in 2012. Things are moving fast. It doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see a world beyond smart phones, where wearable technologies similar to Glass can transport the user to a new world.

Consumers will almost certainly use these new tools to contact brands. They will be asking for information, making complaints, and buying products. In a couple of years the executives managing customer service will be trying to include virtual environments in their multichannel strategy and wondering how to make it work – in the same way that many brands couldn’t understand why a consumer would ask a question on Twitter rather than just calling the toll-free number.

Anyone with a customer service responsibility today needs to step back, to stop thinking that multichannel means answering a few tweets with amusing replies that might be retweeted. The way society communicates as a whole is changing and this means that the customer service function needs to consider that the journey to multichannel customer engagement is just the first step on a long road to the future.

Have you seen any organisations that are really excelling at multichannel support for customers? Leave a comment here on the blog or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Oculus Rift

 

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All I Want For Christmas is Full-On-Sourcing!

Its July 25th and I’m wondering when a particular member of my family will drop me her annual SMS letting me know she’s started her Christmas shopping!

I have diligently refused for many years now to rush my life away and won’t begin to consider what gifts to buy and for whom until December. Assuming I get to the Post Office on time, I will be done and dusted by December 16th!

online_christmas_shopping

I can’t help wondering however what huge numbers we will see reflected in this years statistics illustrating the growth in online shopping. Last year House of Fraser, Debenhams and Amazon reported significant increases in online sales. House of Fraser had the ‘best ever Christmas  sales’ according to Econsultancy.com mostly generated by online purchases (up by 57.7%), Debenhams enjoyed a 27% increase and Amazon saw 426 items per second sold on Cyber Monday alone! And it didn’t stop with Christmas, the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark revealed that on Thursday 26 December 2013, online sales increased by 40.4% compared to Boxing Day 2012. In addition:

  • Sales completed via mobile devices were also strong, growing 63% year over year, and exceeding 45% of total online sales.
  • Smartphones drove 29.9% of all online traffic versus tablets at 28%. When it came to making purchases, tablet users drove 29.4% of online sales, while smartphones users drove 15.8%. 

Its clear the ubiquity of the high-speed, broadband enabled, multi-device consumer environment is undoubtedly going to drive more and more purchases through brand e-commerce sites.

Already this year retailers are planning their strategies to support and optimise this seasonal demand through the introduction and development of omni-channel solutions to meet the order volume increase that begins in late September and rises inexorably to a peak around mid-December. At any other point in the year, maintaining brand reputation through the provision of excellent customer experience management  is pressured enough, but in the run up to Christmas its a huge responsibility.

In our business what we do to help meet such a ‘Dante’s Inferno’ of customer service challenges has been described to me as ‘full-on-sourcing’. It captures perfectly that sense of every business function area operating at full throttle – in HR and training, technology, front and back-end services, operations and logistics, when eight days a week are simply not enough!

I’d like to think the concept of ‘full-on-sourcing’ may in time come to describe not just the power we have in our industry to help ensure seamless and friction-free customer experiences at critical seasons of the year. I believe it may also one day perfectly describe the totality of what we do to ensure brands are able to plug in to any aspect of sourcing they need by accessing with ease ever evolving people, process and platform strategies to maintain efficient and cost-effective business models, drive revenue and sustain growth – all year round.

In short, not every customer is like my sister, in fact if they were some of the most exciting developments in our capabilities and innovations may never have happened! For the rest of us, lets hope our favourite brands are considering their ‘full-on-sourcing’ requirements in plenty of time for the Golden Quarter in 2014.

In anticipation – Merry Christmas!

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Customers really are engaging with brands on Twitter

The Mobile Marketing Watch blog published an interesting statistic about the customer use of Twitter recently. Based on more than one billion tweets – that were addressed to companies – researchers found that 76% of them were neutral, 17.6% were positive, and 5.8% were negative.

If we discount the praise and complaints here or that the companies represent a range of product and service providers, and just focus on that neutral block of tweets then what can be observed? Well, neutral doesn’t mean that the messages had no meaning, just that there was neither explicit praise or negative criticism in the tweets.

According to the research, these neutral tweets comprised customers asking about products, asking about the company, asking how to find or how to use their products. In general, we can see that three quarters of all tweets directed at a company are the customers engaging directly with a company and asking about their products.

So the real observation here is that social media platforms like Twitter are evolving rapidly into heavy-duty customer service platforms. Three quarters of tweets directed at brands are just brands engaging with customers – questions, discussion, queries – not blazing rows or online complaints.

This is interesting to observe in such a large sample size because the impression most people have of social customer service is that it is focused on just praise or complaints, certainly something I’ve used it for in the past. A customer might tweet praise to an airline and then a complaint to their mobile phone operator, but the general impression has not been that they might carry out an online service discussion using Twitter.

Clearly I stand corrected and realise this popular impression is wrong and millions of informative interactions are taking place each day. Adding to this mixed use of Twitter is the fact that customers are making recommendations (or not) about all manner of products, services, travel and even ‘poor customer service workarounds’.

Any customer experience manager planning a complete customer service strategy today needs to consider how this social interaction can be managed as a part of the overall programme of keeping customers informed. It isn’t a giant leap from a well-informed customer to a true customer advocate, a channel that accelerates that journey has got to be taken seriously.

Twitter escultura de arena

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Sky moves to Apps for Customer Service

Sky has recently launched a new app to help their customers manage the most frequently used services linked to their TV subscription directly from their phone. Customers with the app can manage their bill, schedule engineer visits, and manage processes such as recording requests.

This emphasises the importance of understanding the move towards a multichannel customer service environment. Apps are certainly going to grow in significance for customer service in coming years. Customers find apps very easy to use – they are immediately available on the phone once installed and can be accessed in seconds.

Even if the functionality a company offers on an app is all available on their website, the experience is very different. How many times have you tried to login to your customer account on a website only to experience difficulties and then give up?

Though the Sky app is linked to a TV subscription, many other types of service are suitable for support via an app; online banking, credit cards, mobile phone contracts. All could be more easily managed online if an app offers an easy wrapper to the service, rather than relying on customers to login via a website.

And this automation will change the way customer service is provided in general. Customers are adopting new channels – such as apps – and expecting brands to offer these choices. All this self-service does mean that customers can often resolve their own service problems and this does deflect contact away from the traditional support channels of voice, email, and chat, but it requires planning to ensure that all the supported channels fit together as part of a coherent customer service strategy.

Some customers will still call. Some will prefer to only ever use an app. Smart customer service leaders will ensure that their brand offers customers all the channels and the best possible experience regardless of which channel the customer prefers.

Channel hopping 12/01/25

 

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You don’t need to delight, just be effective

Business magazines are full of tips on how companies can delight their customers. This language is used to describe how companies – particularly retailers – can make their customer service experience so good that customers will leave with a smile on their face and a desire to return again to spend more cash.

But the reality isn’t quite like that.

What most customers want when they need to call for help or information is an efficient and competent service. This excellent blog post by Kate Leggett of Forrester addresses this point exactly. Leggett suggests that 77% of consumers (USA) feel that the most important thing any brand can do is to respect their time.

So deal with the problem quickly. Don’t keep people on hold or waiting days for a response. Try to get the response right the first time. These are all the most important factors in trying to offer a great service.

The case studies that talk about customer ‘delight’ are often focused on social media channels. We have all read about the hungry tweeter greeted at airport arrivals with a steak from his favourite restaurant. All these great customer interactions can truly produce delight, but they are not the majority of interactions, in fact they are just a tiny percentage of your customer interactions.

By focusing on pleasing the customer with good information quickly 99% of the time, perhaps your team will have the ability to truly delight the customer 1% of the time. But if you don’t focus on making sure that 99% of service is great then nobody will be delighted at all.

Kathryn blowing bubbles

 

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Frustrate your customers with poor experiences and benefit your competitors

Getting your customer service strategy right is really important. It’s not just a question of making sure the contact centre is ready to pick up some calls – we are now operating in an omni-channel, multi-device consumer environment where customers are comfortable using any one of six or seven channels to get in touch.

More importantly, customers today are less loyal than ever. Let them down once when they get in touch with a query and they are likely to turn to the competition faster than ever – who are only a click or a touch away after all!

New research that questioned 2,000 adults in the UK found that 69% of consumers have become so angered by a customer service interaction that they either demanded to speak to the supervisor or they just gave up on the brand entirely. And how many of those told all their friends (on Twitter) that they were giving up on that brand?

Utilities, telecoms providers, and government are the top three offenders according to this research, but there is no reason why the utilities cannot be providing a far better customer experience – I have seen it. I know it’s possible.

Every executive will tell you that it costs far more to find new customers then to promote loyalty in those you already have. Ensuring your customer service team is not actively ‘encouraging’ customers to switch to an alternative provider is a good start. In fact, it’s really just the foundation that you need to build a service that is so good it improves your revenue, profits and long term growth.

frustration

 

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