Archive for February, 2012

Customer service and protecting online customer data

February 15, 2012 1 comment
Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Online privacy is a topic that is constantly in the news at the moment, with iPhone app makers Path and Hipster the latest companies offering apologies after it emerged that they uploaded address book information from phones to their servers without asking permission. Other brands, including Amazon-owned retailer Zappos and Sony have had to issue apologies after their sites have been hacked and customer details compromised.

Clearly this is a complex area and one where issues can hurt relationships with customers and cause a great deal of damage to an organisation’s reputation. And with the European Union planning more stringent laws that would force companies to tell customers of security breaches within 24 hours and threatening large fines, it also has the potential to become extremely expensive.

So what can companies do to manage such crises and, as much as possible, reduce their impact on customer satisfaction? Here are four key areas to focus on:

1          Communicate quickly
Customers want to know what is going on, and so fast communication is vital if personal data has been misused or hacked. Even if you have to issue an interim statement that is then updated it is important to act quickly to prevent rumours spiralling out of control. Customers are no longer willing to wait hours for a response, but want to access answers within minutes if you are to retain their trust.

2          Communicate consistently
If their online privacy is compromised, ensure that all your customers receive the same information, whatever channel they are using to communicate. Have a central knowledgebase of information that is rolled out to the web, contact centre agents and social media to make sure there are clear, consistent answers for customers across all channels.

3          Use technology to automate response
One of the major impacts of a crisis is a huge increase in questions from customers as they email or call your contact centre to find out what is going on. If this overloads your contact centre and causes delays in getting through, customer anger will only increase. Use technologies such as Web Self-service to allow them to ask their questions on the web and social media, avoiding an overload on your contact centre but still providing the information that customers need

4          Monitor social media
Most organisations now have a strategy for monitoring social media for discussions mentioning their company. Make sure this planning includes crisis management and that there is a clear structure involving both customer service and communication staff so that queries are answered quickly and information is provided proactively to prevent rumours spreading. HSBC’s slick response to a major IT outage that shut down cash machines is a great example of how best to cope with a crisis using social media.

Crises do happen, often triggered by events outside the customer service department’s control. However it is vital that customer service teams are well prepared and ready to spring into action to provide the fast, consistent information customers want – otherwise you risk losing customers and long term damage to your brand.

Microsoft moves into virtual customer service

February 10, 2012 Leave a comment
Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

There have already been a lot of predictions that 2012 will be a key year for customer service, with Forrester amongst those that see it as a major strategic priority for businesses.

News this week from Microsoft seems to back up this trend. It is partnering with a Silicon Valley company called 24/7, which specialises in using data analytics to predict what customers want. Microsoft is both investing in 24/7 and merging some of its assets into the company. The result of this should be a cloud-based software platform that allows customers to contact a company through whatever channel they choose, using speech or touch, with the software predicting what information they might need and automatically providing it. So, service is faster, more efficient and more responsive, leading to happier customers and higher retention rates.

From the outside this can look a little like science fiction, with mind reading computers providing us with answers before we’ve even thought of the question, but it isn’t as far fetched as it sounds.

Much of the technology needed is already in operation. For example, Eptica’s software is built on a self-learning, meaning-based search engine. Essentially rather than simply picking out specific words it analyses questions it is asked by looking at them in context. So it can tell the difference between cricket the insect and cricket the game by analysing the words around them. This means it is able to provide more tailored, accurate answers to customer service queries, whether asked by email, the web, social media or agents in the contact centre.

Eptica’s self-learning capability is another advanced innovation that helps customer service. As answers are selected to specific questions it automatically learns which is the best response and offers this the next time a similar query comes up. New content can be added quickly and simply slots into the system ready to be used in response to questions.

On the topic of prediction, many companies have invested heavily in analysing the customer journey, enabling them to offer a straightforward route through the buying process. This means they can offer help, such as through agent chat, at key points in the journey to ensure customers have all the information they need.

So while it is good news for the industry that Microsoft sees customer service as a growth opportunity, the even better news for consumers is that advanced meaning-based technology is already in use in organisations across the globe.

Eptica celebrates double digit growth in 2011

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Everyone knows that the current economic climate is difficult, with consumer spending down and competition increasing, whatever sector you are in. So, in this context Eptica’s results, with double digit revenue growth, demonstrate the success of our approach and the strength of our technology.

Eptica’s consolidated turnover grew by 20% to $US 9 million (£5.67m), helped by signing 26 new customers across the world. These included Debenhams, TUI UK, New Look, Direct Wines and Travel Jigsaw in the UK, helping sales in the country to increase by 17%. Sales in Asia-Pacific rose to 6% of overall turnover, helped by flagship customers such as AirAsia and retailer Auchan (China).

From our experience there are three trends that are driving Eptica’s success:

Greater efficiency
Companies are looking to reduce costs wherever they can without impacting the service they deliver. Eptica’s Customer Interaction Management technology helps achieve this by providing a central platform for all customer service information, delivering consistent answers across all channels. Centralised information that is easy to access shortens call times and shrinks training time for agents, and by making it available through Web Self-service companies can reduce the number of calls they need to answer. Domestic & General has seen customer call times reduce by nearly a quarter (22%) and operational costs lowered by £158,000 since implementing Eptica software in its contact centre.

Improved service
Obviously reducing costs at the expense of customer service levels is a false economy, as consumers will simply move to your competitors if they are treated badly. Customer service software that quickly delivers the right answers to customer questions, either via the web, social media or contact centre agents leads to faster resolution of queries and happier customers who are more likely to recommend you.

Multi channel
Companies need to manage even more customer channels than ever before, particularly with the rise of social media. In 2011, Eptica launched a new version of its multi channel platform, which allows customer interactions via Facebook and Twitter to be integrated and managed efficiently within an organisations existing customer service environment. And as Eptica’s software is based on a common workflow and self-learning knowledgebase it can be implemented first on one channel and then easily rolled out across other customer service channels in the future.

We expect these three key trends to continue into 2012. With Eptica expanding around the world through both direct sales and an increasing partner network we believe that this year will see similar levels of double digit growth, driven by the need for both efficiency and quality in customer service.

Mobile and the customer journey

February 3, 2012 3 comments
iPhone & Intel Mobile Device

iPhone & Intel Mobile Device (Photo credit: Frank Gruber)

One of the key trends that is accelerating in 2012 is the use of mobile devices to research, access information and make purchases. New studies have found that more and more people now reach for their smartphone or tablet during the buying process, even if they make the final purchase through other channels.

UK figures from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) show that nearly half of smartphone owners use their mobile to search for product information after seeing a TV ad, while 38% turn to it when out shopping. However 80% of purchases are still via a PC, compared to 34% on a mobile. These findings back up a US survey from the Pew Research Center that found that over 50% of US shoppers used their phones for assistance when in bricks and mortar stores.

Essentially these show that mobile devices are now a vital channel for many different types of business and are a key part of the customer journey. The bad news is that a survey of marketers found that just 20% of them had a mobile-optimised site, and just 18% had an app. Given the growth in mobile devices and how easy it is for consumers to access the internet through them, companies obviously need to focus on delivering a better user experience in 2012.

Customer service has to be a central part of this. After all, there’s no point having a wonderful app if it doesn’t link into your overall customer service strategy or creates a silo of information separate from the rest of the company. While early adopters might put up with poor customer service just to be first to use the latest app or site, the mainstream simply won’t.

We’ve talked in the past about the different areas (such as consistency, integration and a single view) that companies need to focus on when they add new channels to their strategy and these apply equally to mobile devices.

But importantly companies also need to understand the effect that increasing use of mobile devices will have on other channels. Not only do customers want to use apps and websites while on the move, they now have the power to send queries by email, post to social media and call your contact centre – all from a single, easy to use device. So create a consistent experience across all channels, including mobile, if you want to retain customers and grow revenues in 2012.


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