Flying high? The state of customer experience in the airline industry

September 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Like many industries, the internet has radically changed the airline industry. It has altered the role of travel agents and led to an elimination of analogue, paper-based processes as it has moved to a digital-led model. At the same time competition has increased exponentially, with newer airlines with lower cost-bases further disrupting the sector.

Avoiding the social media #faileptica_flying
Consequently, the customer experience is increasingly vital. The rise of social media means that customers will immediately share poor experiences – even if (like weather delays) they are outside the airline’s control. The YouTube video and campaign, started by musician Dave Carroll after his guitar was damaged during transit by United Airlines wiped 10% off its share price, while other airlines have come under fire for tardy responses to social media complaints.

The rise of mobile devices is also changing the overall travel experience with 47% of UK travellers browsing the web using mobile devices during their break, and 34% posting updates on social networks while on holiday.

Improving the airline customer experience
To meet these challenges, many airlines are looking to adopt customer experience management (CEM). This aims to drive loyalty and satisfaction by achieving a complete understanding of the customer. Using this they can then be offered customised services and relevant communication at all touch points in real-time through their journey. The vision depends on two elements:

  • Recognising and understanding individual customers throughout the process, from buying a ticket onwards.
  • The ability to gather, share and act on this information at every touch point, in real-time.

Given the scale and complexity of airline operations, this is potentially difficult to achieve. According to specialist research organisation Travel Tech Consulting it will take an estimated 5 to 7 years for the first large scale, successful customer experience management implementations. It points to six critical factors which will ensure the success of CEM:

1. The content provided to customers, which needs to be relevant and appropriate

2. Context: information must be relevant to a situation, for instance communicating a gate change via SMS rather than email.

3. Location: being able to precisely locate travellers (such a via beacons or Bluetooth) within airports.

4. Timeliness: information needs to be real-time so passengers can alter journey plans if necessary.

5. Control: passengers must feel that they’re in control and see the benefits if they share personal information (such as their location) with airlines.

6. Personalisation: airlines must understand the customer to a sufficient degree that they can personalise every experience. For example, they can differentiate when a regular business traveller is on a family trip.

Getting the basics right
So how are airlines performing today? The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study researched how they respond on channels such as email, Twitter, chat and web self-service. As part of the study of 100 organisations, the research looked at five airlines, and found a mixed picture:

  • Email performance was poor:
    • Just 60% (3 out of 5) airlines let non-customers email them – though one said that if the answer could be found online they wouldn’t respond to the email.
    • One airline gave 28 days as the deadline for replying via email – which it then failed to meet.
    • Only 40% of airlines answered a question emailed to them. The fastest responded in a hour, but failed to provide a successful answer, while the other took 121 hours to provide a more comprehensive response.
  • Twitter is patchy
    • 60% of airlines are on Twitter, and 50% successfully answered a question tweeted to them
    • The fastest responded within just 8 minutes. However, another took a day to answer and asked to be emailed – somewhat defeating the purpose of interacting via social media channel
  • No airline surveyed offered web chat, missing out on its benefits of speed, consistency and real-time interaction.

The combination of increased competition, ubiquitous mobile devices and the rise of social media is driving customer experience up the agenda for airlines. However, as the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study has found, if the CEM vision is ever to be realised, airlines need to first focus on the basics, if they are gain trust and retain passenger loyalty.

Transforming Customer Service with Technology

September 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Today, businesses understand that they need to engage with customers, whatever the channel, if they want to be successful. Customers are demanding more, across every sector, and, with social media, they have a megaphone to publicise their experiences (good or bad), instantly, around the globe. The number of interactions is increasing dramatically and consumers want faster answers than ever before. Newer channels such as social media and chat are joining email, the web and phone in a multichannel world, adding to complexity within the customer service function.eptica_transforming_tech_1

Technology is at the heart of meeting these challenges, helping customers to help themselves as well as arming agents with the information they need to deliver an unsurpassed experience to consumers. Consequently customer engagement software can underpin transformation of service in four key areas:

1. Centralised knowledge management across the organisation
By creating a single knowledgebase that spans all contact channels, and is available to agents and directly to consumers via web self-service, organisations can deliver consistent answers to questions while improving efficiency.

2. Empowered agents through improved User Experience
Ensuring that it is easy and straightforward for agents to respond to customer queries is vital if service is to be efficient and fast. Providing the tools, information and answers to agents when answering queries over the phone or via email is critical, as is a user friendly interface that can be adapted to their particular needs.

3. Linguistics to understand what customers really mean
Today, companies need to deliver consistent, rapid and personalised responses to consumers, based on understanding the tone and style of the language they use. And they need to do this faster and across more channels and interactions than ever before. Linguistics, the scientific study of language, helps by automatically analysing incoming interactions, prioritising them based on tone, forwarding to the most relevant agent or department and suggesting relevant answers. This not only increases efficiency but provides unparalleled insight into customer behaviour that can link into Big Data and Voice of the Customer initiatives.

4. Joined up workflow to ensure fast, efficient answers
Nothing annoys a customer more than being forced to repeat themselves when they change channel or are transferred within the contact centre. At the same time customer queries are broader and more wide-ranging than ever before, meaning relevant subject experts may be located across the organisation. Efficient and effective workflow that manages all incoming interactions and links back office systems to create a single view of the customer should be a priority for organisations.

To discuss how multichannel customer engagement can transform customer service, Eptica is holding its 2014 UK Customer Day on 23 September 2014 in London. Providing the opportunity to hear about the key issues in the industry and to inform future strategy on multichannel customer service, the event also provides an excellent opportunity to network with, and learn from, industry peers.

Featured topics and sessions include:

  • Bristol Wessex Billing Services Limited (BWBSL) speaking on Driving customer service excellence through centralised knowledge management
  • Writer, speaker and customer experience/customer service consultant Adrian Swinscoe delivering the keynote speech Removing the grit from your customer experience
  • Laithwaite’s Wine, part of Direct Wines, presenting Improving Customer Service Quality for the Call Centre and Back Office
  • Olivier Njamfa, President & CEO, Eptica on market and company updates
  • Interactive round tables on social customer service, chat, self-service, knowledge management and achieving consistency

Additional presentations will include optimising your customer service technology, future Eptica technology roadmap and a demonstration of Eptica’s latest 9.1 customer engagement software. Eptica customers can book their places via http://www.eptica.com/Ang/Mailing/Events/Conference2014/Overview.html  – I hope to see you there.

Happy birthday email!

September 12, 2014 Leave a comment

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.eptica_hb_email

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.

Moving from monologue to dialogue with customers

September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Organisations need to radically change how they interact with their customers proclaimed Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) in a recent speech.  In her state of the nation address, she highlighted how the balance of power has shifted dramatically from companies to their customers. While many organisations see this swing as a threat, it can actually deliver benefits to those companies that embrace and improve the customer experience.eptica_dialogue

Driven by better access to information and new channels such as the internet and social media, consumers can now share their feedback and views more widely than ever before. These developments have transformed the traditional, one-way conversation which was typified by companies pushing their carefully planned messages to customers. Now, customers want a two-way dialogue, not a monologue – companies can no longer control the conversation. This has a real impact on how organisations interact with consumers and, ultimately, whether they succeed or fail as businesses.

Changing from the traditional top down model to a more conversational way of engaging might seem challenging but it can deliver real benefits in 3 areas:

1. Co-creation: Capturing and acting on feedback and insights can help companies create products and services that better match customer needs, helping to boost sales and revenues.

2. Improved customer relationships: Engaging positively with customers in a dialogue increases loyalty and leads to an increase in referrals, both directly and via social media.

3. Differentiation: Organisations that value customers and interact conversationally with customers can differentiate themselves, and consequently transform the service they deliver.

While some companies are embracing the idea of customer dialogues, there is clearly a long way to go. For example, the ICS UK Customer Satisfaction Index, which tracks customer happiness with the service they receive from brands, fell in July 2014 for the third consecutive time. Over half of organisations experienced a drop of at least one point in their ratings, while satisfaction levels fell in 12 out of the 13 sectors surveyed. Just 28 out of 197 organisations saw their scores rise.

These findings are supported by the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, which found that many companies are still providing average or worse service on some channels. Email customer service was often slow or unavailable, just 39% of companies responded successfully to questions on Twitter, and overall there were vast differences between the best and worst performers across sectors and channels.

So what should companies be doing to make the most of the changes the industry is experiencing? In her speech, Jo Causon of the ICS points to 5 key areas:

1. Invest in people with the right skills, including those that have a high level of emotional intelligence and commercial acumen. Then support them with the right technology and tools to do their jobs.

2. Report publicly on your customer service measures and satisfaction levels in order to motivate and spur the whole company on to continually improve.

3. Use insight from customer service to drive business change including amending your products and services and the way you deliver them to meet consumer needs.

4. Make customer service a boardroom issue so that it is top of mind in all business decision-making.

5. Use customer service and the insight you receive as a predictive tool to shape the direction of your future strategy.

We all know that the balance of power has shifted so that customers now have greater influence on the companies they buy from. Organisations can either start shaping the customer experience they offer in a way that increases two-way engagement with consumers – or stand still and invite failure. The rewards for transforming the experience are potentially huge in terms of winning new customers, retaining old ones, building your brand and increasing loyalty. The time to focus is now.

Big Data and Voice of Customer – why it is all about trust

September 5, 2014 1 comment

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-upeptica_big_data
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.

The Changing Face of Customer Technology

September 3, 2014 1 comment

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.

eptica_changing_face_2It’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.

6 Top Trends Driving Customer Expectations

Every business understands that today’s customers are demanding more – and are happy to move to the competition if they don’t receive what they are looking for. However, breaking these demands down into specific areas can be difficult, so those involved with customer experience should take a look at a recent Forbes blog post by customer service expert Micah Solomon as it gives more detail on 10 areas where companies should focus on fixing problems.eptica_6_top

Many of these echo what we hear at Eptica when talking to our customers as well as our own research in the recent Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study of 100 top UK brands. Looking through Micah’s top 10, I’ve picked 6 areas which reflect exactly what we are seeing in the market:

1. Speed is critical
Customers want answers to their queries delivered in near real-time, with expectations rising continually. Yet when we analysed companies in the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study the average time to answer an email was 61 hours and 39 minutes (nearly three whole days), while the average response time for Twitter was 8 hours and 37 minutes. This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to reply quickly (and accurately) – the fastest response time on email was 7 minutes and for Twitter just 4 minutes. If you don’t improve speed of response, chances are that your competitors will.

2. Accuracy is paramount
Misspelt emails or incorrect, inconsistent information are not acceptable to consumers. Companies need to join up systems and centralise information to ensure that not only do they deliver fast answers but that they are accurate. Again, the Eptica Study found a lack of consistency – just 1 in 8 companies provided the same answer to an identical question asked across 2 channels.

3. Customers are happy to help themselves
Driven by a desire for speed and control, customers are increasingly keen to find out information for themselves or update their own details without needing to call or email. Web self-service software has been deployed on 55% of the top 100 brands we researched, helping customers to help themselves. This boosts satisfaction levels, reduces the load on the contact centre and increases efficiency at the same time.

4. We live in an ‘always-on’ world
Customers want information or a response NOW, rather than within office hours. This is a challenge to many companies who may lack the resources to staff contact centres or social media monitoring teams 24×7. However, using technologies such as web self-service can help by providing answers to customers at any time, day or night, minimising the number of employees that need to be working out of office hours.

5. Being multichannel is vital
The typical customer journey spans multiple channels and consumers don’t expect to have to repeat themselves or re-enter information if, for example, they move from the web to email. Technology needs to join up channels to give a consistent experience and create a single customer record that can be accessed by agents however consumers choose to contact you.

6. Customers expect you to notice
Customers want to be valued – and that includes listening to what they say about your brand, products and service. Whether they comment on social media, blogs or the web, they expect you to pick up on their words and respond quickly and helpfully. This means that you need to be on the same social media channels as your customers – yet, for example, the Eptica Multichannel Study found that just 76% of companies were on Twitter.

All of these trends (and the other 4 in Micah’s top 10) stem from the fact that customers are both now more demanding and more empowered than ever before. They want more and are unafraid to either complain or switch supplier if they don’t get what they want. Companies therefore need to focus on delivering the right experience, right now, if they are to retain customers and grow their revenues.

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