It may surprise people that this year marks the 32nd birthday of email, with the original copyright on a program to send and receive emails granted in 1982. That is seven years before Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web while working at CERN.
Over the last 30+ years email has changed the way we communicate at work and play with 114.8 billion emails now sent on a daily basis. And this number continues to grow despite the advent of new channels such as social media and web chat.
However, whilst volumes increase, the way we send and receive emails is changing. According to SendGrid, one of the world’s largest email delivery companies, more emails are now opened on Apple platforms such as iPads, iPhones and Macs than on Microsoft Windows (which tends to be mostly desktop PC based) devices. In the UK these figures are even more marked with nearly half of all emails opened on an iPhone. Essentially mobile devices are driving greater use of email, rather than diminishing its reach. People can answer on the move, rather than just when they are at their desks or home PCs.
The importance of email to customer service
Email remains a central as well as an essential channel for customer service and engagement. There are number of reasons for this. Customers like its flexibility and the fact that they can choose when to send or reply, putting them in control. Indeed analyst firm Forrester tells us that 58 per cent of customers want to communicate with companies by email. Equally it can make life easier for businesses as it isn’t real-time, which gives agents time to think and craft a considered response. A written record of the conversation can also be valuable for analytics and help avoid re-work when picking up an open query with a customer, as well as for regulatory reporting.
However, many companies are neglecting email. The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study evaluated 100 leading UK companies on their ability to provide answers to routine questions via email and a range of other channels. It found that just 60% of companies responded to a question emailed to them – and just 41% successfully answered it. This means an astonishing six out of ten customer questions are not being dealt with.
And on average it is taking up to 61 hours and 39 minutes (nearly three whole days) to provide a successful response back to the customer. This is wildly out of kilter with Forrester research which shows that 41 per cent of customers expect a response to their email within six hours. Just 18 per cent of companies are delivering on this.
Improving email performance
As the statistics show, the number of emails companies receive are continually increasing, meaning that any issues with email management are only going to become worse over time. So what can companies do to improve their response times, response rate and accuracy?
Some of the answers are obvious. There needs to be a culture that says leaving any customer communication sitting unanswered for three days isn’t acceptable in today’s world, backed by a corresponding investment in people, process and technology to bring down response times. Companies need to ensure they are meeting customer expectations when it comes to email.
Linguistics-based email management technology can also help deal with growing email volumes in four key ways:
1. Faster responses
By understanding incoming emails, linguistics can automatically suggest answer templates to agents that they can personalise to the individual customer’s query. This increases agent productivity, while delivering consistency, speeding up response times, removing backlogs and improving customer happiness
2. Improve understanding
Linguistics allows firms to analyse the tone of an interaction quickly and easily. This can then be used to both prioritise and route the message, and for longer term analytics.
3. Deliver joined-up service
Linguistics can take the hard work out of connecting multichannel conversations. For instance it lets you extract information freely provided by customers within incoming emails (such as in the signature) and cross-reference/update the master customer record (i.e. in a CRM system). This gives a more cohesive view of the customer, refining the multichannel service you can provide.
4. Greater efficiency
Linguistics can route emails to the right department or agent first time, reducing handling time and ensuring quicker, more informed answers.
In a world where it may seem that new customer service channels are invented every few weeks, there can be temptation to embrace the new. Yet email will be with us for a very long time. The same Forrester study that looked at email preferences found that nearly 70 per cent of those born after 1995 want to contact firms via email. This same ‘Generation Z’ is already on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest but they also want the flexibility of email too and this won’t change overnight. So make sure you have the technology infrastructure in place to deliver quickly and consistently on the email channel, now and in the future.
Talk of Big Data is everywhere, but it is increasingly moving beyond the hype cycle to deliver real results to businesses. To start with, let’s define what Big Data actually is, given there are multiple descriptions in the market. According to Gartner, Big Data is “high volume, high velocity, and/or high variety information assets that require new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision making, insight discovery and process optimisation”.
Top-down versus bottom-up
For those in the information management profession, the advent of Big Data means that the traditional, top-down view of the job is being turned on its head. For the best part of the last 20 years information managers have known what business information they’ve been looking for and have built the data models to try and find it. So they’ve consolidated relevant information, built the data warehouses and worked toward the all elusive single version of the truth.
But this all changes in a Big Data world. Very often information professionals don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for. Instead, as Gartner puts it, they ask the question “What would the data tell us if it could talk?”. It’s a fundamentally different, bottom-up way of looking at data and one which more traditional information managers can fear and view as a threat. They might for instance worry that the new breed of data scientist will lead to added costs and complexity through data fragmentation, or they may just fear that new technology and methods will replace the more traditional way of doing things.
The same worries also apply to customer experience professionals who have focused on Voice of the Customer’ (VoC) exercises to better understand consumers. Again, these tend to be top-down methodologies, but now Big Data techniques can be applied potentially to vast data sets to uncover different customer insights that potentially go beyond VoC.
The role of trust
Does this mean that the Big Data approach now takes over? No. At least in the short and medium term both traditional and Big Data techniques need to exist side by side. In the view of Gartner, success will come from reconciling both approaches within the same strategic framework. But they caution that the key to the success of Big Data (like any information management project) is trust.
Trust begins with the customer. They have to have faith in the ability of an organisation to keep their data safe and not misuse it. Otherwise, not only will they not provide it, but they will move elsewhere to do business with companies they do trust to protect their data.
Secondly, and equally importantly, it means having trust in the data you are analysing. This is where customer interaction data (i.e. the questions people ask via customer service channels) is incredibly valuable. This is for three reasons:
1. Data is captured in real-time, when customers are actively engaged with your brand (as opposed to a survey filled in at a later date).
2. It is from the coal face – participants are on the customer journey so it is real world experience – for all the good and bad that might mean.
3. It provides both immediate opportunities (for instance, if customers have a problem that could point to a wider issue that needs solving in real-time) and longer term ability to analyse trends in customer behaviour.
The role of customer interaction information to Big Data
So, how should a organisation best manage this information so it contributes to their Big Data (or traditional information management) mix? There are four key points of focus to look at:
1. Ensure interaction software is open and it is easy to share data in real-time with other systems.
2. Make sure it includes the ability to segment by channels, to give multiple views into data.
3. Natural language and linguistics are a must to provide insight into not just what is being said, but tonality and the context of how it is being said.
4. Make it able to link together the whole customer journey, across channels and devices to give a holistic picture.
Despite the hype around Big Data, there is real potential (starting with the four points above) to deliver valuable insight. This doesn’t necessarily mean replacing traditional methods, but using a parallel approach, where Big Data techniques are unleashed to find nuggets of information that organisations never thought to look for up to now. Customer interaction data should be central to both traditional and Big Data efforts as it delivers the true Voice of the Customer, while they are on their journey. Organisations therefore need to ensure they are integrating it into their information management efforts and mining it for the information they need to better understand customers and deliver what they want.
From the contact centre to the web and mobile, technology is central to how organisations interact with their customers to deliver an enhanced experience. Consequently it seems hard to believe that the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software market is now over 20 years old. The appetite for CRM software remains as healthy as ever. According to Gartner it is growing at an impressive 13.7% globally, and is worth currently worth $20.7 billion in annual revenues. What is driving this growth is obvious – an insatiable appetite within organisations to better understand customers and do whatever is necessary to attract and retain their business.
It’s easy to forget just how much CRM technologies have changed in the last two decades. As Kate Leggett of Forrester points out CRM originally started out by tackling operational efficiencies. It aggregated customer data, analysed it and automated workflows to optimise customer engagement processes. By reducing marketing costs, decreasing service resolution times or boosting sales pipeline visibility, companies could claim an ROI from their CRM investment. Modern CRM tools build on this heritage and now focus on enabling good customer experiences that meet customer needs. With far more interaction and transaction data available than ever before, CRM is now about delivering contextual experiences that add value to the customer over a range of social, digital and mobile channels.
Integrating the experience
Therefore there is now a need to bring customer experience and customer engagement together like never before. In particular, this means integrating CRM and the contact centre into a single architecture that is flexible, adaptable and scalable to meet corporate needs. This is why Gartner believes that organisations are moving to ‘Customer Engagement Centers’ (CEC) where technology and business applications are engineered to provide customer service and support, regardless of the interaction (or engagement) channel. In the CEC environment Gartner argued there are 5 things that CRM can do better:
1. Mobile – delivering a tailored experience and support to consumers using tablets and smartphones.
2. Empowering agents with the right context around particular interactions.
3. Arming agents with correct, consistent information to meet customer needs.
4. Providing an improved, more intuitive, web experience for site visitors.
5. Giving agents the ability to listen to customers on social media and engage with them more easily.
At Eptica, we believe there are 8 technology areas to focus on when building an integrated customer engagement solution:
1. Open. APIs must enable organisations to link to external and existing systems and share information seamlessly to integrate operations.
2. Flexible. Technology should have the option of being deployed in the cloud, as well as on-premise, to give flexibility and scalability.
3. Scalable. Digital interactions are increasing rapidly, so technology has to be able to cope and be simple to extend to new channels as needs change.
4. Easy to use. A good user experience for agents cuts training costs and means they’ll be able to deliver the best possible customer experience.
5. Easy to maintain. If the system is simple and easy to update, efficiency is increased and staff time is freed up to concentrate on helping customers.
6. Driven by knowledge. Systems built on a single, centralised knowledgebase that underpins all channels are the only way to ensure consistency and efficiency.
7. Workflow. Increasingly the whole organisation is involved in the customer experience. Software therefore needs to have the ability to route interactions across the company to provide a seamless, joined-up experience for the customer.
8. Analysis. Techniques like linguistics can play a vital role in better understanding customer interactions by providing a richer view of what customers are really looking for when engaging with an organisation. This can also add to an organisation’s Big Data and Voice of the Customer programmes and provide long and short term analysis of customer demands.
From tablets to smartphones, customers today rely on technology as never before. Only those organisations that similarly empower themselves by integrating CRM, contact centre and customer engagement technologies can hope to understand their needs and keep one step ahead in highly competitive markets.