Whatever the industry, customers now have more choices than ever before. The balance of power between companies and consumer has shifted dramatically due to increased competition, the ability to share bad experiences instantly on social media as well as higher expectations of service. As a consequence, companies that have built their brands and reputations on rock solid customer service are flourishing. Even organisations that previously were accused of neglecting customer service have changed tack and reinvented their brand to be more customer friendly.
Customer service keeps a substantial proportion of the UK workforce employed. Some 70% of us perform roles that involve dealing directly with customers and the service sector generates around 78% of the UK’s GDP. This importance is reflected in National Customer Service Week, organised by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), which takes place next week, between 6th – 10th October. Originating in America, it’s now celebrating its 30th birthday with events worldwide dedicated to celebrating and improving customer service.
National Customer Service Week day by day
Eptica is a strong supporter of National Customer Service Week and we’re seeing our customers really using it to focus their efforts on celebrating and improving the role of service within their organisation. This year sees the week grouped into different themes for each day:
- Monday 6th October is dedicated to understanding your customer. With changes in technology and channels transforming how customers interact with organisations, organisations and employees need to develop new skills and capabilities. Recommendations for the day include focusing on who your customers are, what channels they use, what their requirements are – and how this will change in the future.
- Tuesday 7th October asks organisations how easy they are to do business with, across every channel. Can consumers find the information they need and do your processes make it easy for everyone within the organisation to work together? One way of testing this is to carry out your own mystery shopper research to see how your customers are treated when they contact you across every channel.
- Wednesday 8th October will assess how effective organisations are when dealing with problems and complaints and whether they have the right processes in place. Do agents have the right training and how do you respond to a major crisis? Use the day to test your abilities, and benchmark against other organisations across your own and other sectors.
- Thursday 9th October looks at the business impact of customer service. How do you measure this and what is the involvement of senior management in customer service? Firms are encouraged to take a quiz which highlights a few trends and facts that many won’t be aware of.
- Friday 10th October is about recognising individuals within an organisation that have gone the extra mile to help customers in need. For example, you could run an awards ceremony to highlight star performers providing a chance to celebrate the best and an opportunity to encourage their behaviour across your organisation.
Redoubling efforts in light of declining customer satisfaction levels
To get ready for National Customer Service Week, the ICS has suggested a variety of activities that companies can carry out with their staff including pub quizzes, events, surveys, satisfaction surveys and a complaints master class. All of these activities are designed to address the stark fact that over the last 18 months customer satisfaction levels have fallen in 12 out 13 sectors, according to the ICS’s UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI).
It’s never been more important to redouble efforts to deliver the best customer experience. Consumers want faster, more comprehensive service across more and more channels – and have no qualms about taking their custom elsewhere. Whilst we can’t predict the future, it’s highly likely that the next 30 years will see even more challenging conditions for companies. Let’s use this week to prepare to meet this test by boosting long-term customer satisfaction levels.
At a time when consumers are getting ever more demanding, it is good to see that complaints have fallen over the last year in one sector. According to the Consumer Council for Water, an industry watchdog, written complaints made by customers to their water providers have fallen by 18% in 2013/14 compared with the previous year in England and Wales. While four water companies did record a rise in complaints, in total the number of complaints across the industry, which stands at 123,218, is the lowest since the CCW was formed in 2005.
The CCW did however warn that this momentum could be lost if water companies failed to deliver affordable bills. Which is why it is good news that industry regulator Ofwat has introduced plans for water companies to keep price rises below the cost of living with customers expected to be paying on average of 5% less, before inflation is applied, by 2019-20.
One of the drivers to improved customer satisfaction in the sector is likely to have been the Service Incentive Mechanism (SIM), a customer service metric introduced by Ofwat in 2012. SIM is designed to encourage better service across the sector, combining quantitative and qualitative data to measure the experience of customers who have contacted their water company. The results for each utility are then ranked, allowing customers to compare the performance of different water companies.
Delivering an improved customer experience
The data from the CCW demonstrates that it can be possible to balance increased investment, customer satisfaction and reduce prices at same time.
So what are the lessons for organisations in other sectors? How can companies increase customer satisfaction and retain business? One of the keys is technology – by centralising knowledge and making it easy to access, companies can ensure that they provide a consistent, well-informed, efficient and accurate response to customer queries.
This is the approach taken by Bristol Wessex Billing Services Limited (BWBSL), the joint venture that handles billing customer service for Bristol Water and Wessex Water. BWBSL, who spoke at this week’s 2014 Eptica Customer Day, has implemented Eptica’s dynamic, self-learning, knowledge management software to deliver fast, consistent, accurate answers to telephone customer service enquiries for each company.
The Eptica software enables customer service staff to type in customer questions in plain English and then quickly access answers, ready to pass onto callers. This is helping to increase First Contact Resolution (FCR) and reduce Average Handle Times (AHT).
Here are four lessons for organisations who want to improve customer experience (CX) and satisfaction levels:
- Centralise knowledge. Create a single knowledgebase and make it available across multiple channels. Ensure it is easy to update – content doesn’t stand still.
- Expectations are always rising. Keep looking at areas to improve, such as new channels and touchpoints that customers are adopting. Don’t just benchmark against direct competitors but look further afield. Customers judge you against the best CX they receive, irrespective of industry.
- Introducing better customer service operations often increases efficiency. For example, letting customers access answers themselves using self-service technologies can improve First Contact Resolution rates, cutting costs by reducing the number customer calls/emails and reducing the need to follow up interactions.
- The customer experience is a differentiator – even in regulated industries, customers engage more, are more loyal and complain less to regulators.
We live in a world where consumers are increasingly active and vocal if they receive poor service. The lessons from the water industry are clear – by focusing investment on the customer experience and using technology to support agents, it is possible to improve service levels and reduce complaints.
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.