Poor service costs UK brands £116 billion every year. That’s the headline figure from new research from Accenture, which found that over half (53%) of British consumers had switched provider in at least one industry in the last twelve months. To put this in context, the equivalent of 12 per cent of UK consumers’ annual disposable income is being switched due to bad service.
According to the Accenture Global Consumer Pulse study 23% of customers have switched from one retailer to another due to poor service, followed by 14% changing banks and 13% moving utilities. At the other end of the scale, airlines had the lowest figures for switching (3%). Overall, customer loyalty is extremely low. On a scale of 1-10 just 16% rate their loyalty to brands as between 8 and 10, with over a third (36%) scoring between 1 and 3.
The research found that the reason for this high level of switching is a fundamental disconnect between digital and traditional modes of customer support. Just 4% of UK consumers thought companies successfully combined all channels when it came to customer service. 81% still use the phone to get in touch, even though just 45% were happy with the results.
The picture painted by the Accenture research demonstrates three key trends that we’ve seen in the market:
1 Customers are increasingly demanding
Whatever the industry, consumers expect a superior customer experience, through their channel of choice. The balance of power has moved from brand to consumer, and more and more people are happy to switch if they receive poor or inadequate service. Additionally, as they are easier to access, digital channels are driving people to get in contact more often, increasing the volume of interactions that brands need to satisfy.
2 Channel choice is growing, not shrinking
The Accenture research highlights that poor performance on online channels is preventing businesses from migrating their customers from phone and face-to-face contact to become digital by default. While this is partly true, many consumers still want to call a brand or discuss products in person, meaning that companies need to deliver a consistent service across every channel. These need to be joined up, so that consumers can move from one to another during the customer journey, without needing to repeat themselves or re-enter information.
3 Knowledge is power
Three out of the top four customer service priorities for consumers relate to human qualities of the staff they are talking to. However, while over half are happy with agent politeness, only 45% thought staff were knowledgeable and just 35% felt they could help solve problems without having to refer to other people. This demonstrates a need for better access to centralised information that will empower frontline staff so that they can improve satisfaction levels. Collecting and sharing knowledge across every channel would also solve another pain point the study highlighted – the inability to access information in a convenient way online or on mobile devices.
As the economy continues to grow, consumers are becoming increasingly confident and happy to switch if brands don’t provide what they are looking for. The Accenture findings show the scale of the cost to companies – now is the time to review customer service across every channel and ensure it meets consumer needs before they move elsewhere.
Organisations can find it difficult to deliver a consistently good customer experience across every channel and every interaction. Customer expectations are constantly rising, and the growth in enquiries, often through unstructured digital channels, increases the pressure on businesses to perform, time after time.
A good starting point for meeting these needs is to break the customer experience down into separate components. As customer service expert Micah Solomon points out, essentially it is both an art and a science, so your approach has to embrace both smiles (the emotional, personal side) and systems (providing consistent, scalable service).
Achieving this balance requires companies to focus on four key areas:
1 Benchmark both smiles and systems
Traditionally companies have benchmarked their customer experience against competitors. This seems logical, as these are your immediate rivals when it comes to winning and retaining customers. However, it is worth looking beyond your industry to capture best practice and ideas from sectors that are good at smiles (such as hospitality) and systems (manufacturing companies). That way you get to improve both your processes and the softer side of your customer experience by looking at experts in each area.
2 Build the right team
Few people possess the exact mix of smiles and systems when it comes to how they think and operate. So make sure you build a balanced team that includes both types of person, putting them in the best roles for their skills. Recognise their strengths and ensure you incorporate all of their ideas in improving the customer experience.
3 Make it scalable
Smaller organisations, such as local shops, often score highly for customer experience as they have the time to deliver a personalised, friendly service to consumers. Scaling this in larger companies is more difficult, but it comes down to a combination of training and empowering your staff. Look at the success of the Games Makers at the London 2012 Olympic Games – thousands of volunteers, but all with a single focus on ensuring that spectators had a wonderful experience.
4 Measure the right metrics
Traditional contact centre metrics focused on productivity, such as measuring average call length or the number of interactions agents completed in a shift. While these are necessary to meet targets and deliver efficiency, it is vital to look at other metrics that focus on customer satisfaction (such as Net Promoter Score) in addition. Balance smiles and system metrics. Ensure staff understand what they will be measured on, and put in place the right systems to record everything involved in the customer interaction.
5 Use technology as a platform
Obviously the systems side of customer experience requires technology to ensure that interactions reach the right agent, and that they are armed with the right information to solve a customer’s query. However technology can also help on the smiles side as well. By automating processes and enabling customers to find information themselves (such as through web self-service systems), agents can focus on more complex interactions which require more time. Technology such as linguistics can also analyse incoming digital communications to understand their tone, helping prioritise and giving vital information that can be used to provide a personalised, empathetic customer experience.
Customer experience is now central to business success. Companies therefore need to ensure they embrace both smiles and systems if they are to deliver the experience that customers really want.