Celebrating 30 years of National Customer Service Week

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.eptica_celebrating_nat_cust_week

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.

5 Areas to focus on for customer engagement

September 26, 2014 Leave a comment

eptica_key_themesThis week’s Eptica Customer Day brought together customer service professionals from multiple sectors, enabling them to compare best practice and learn from each other.  It was also a great opportunity to tap into the experience that Eptica has gained working on multichannel customer experience strategies and implementations around the world. My thanks again to all those who attended, in particular to our keynote speaker Adrian Swinscoe and guest speakers Andrew Babbage from Laithwaite’s Wine and Sue Turk and Matt Bailey from Bristol Wessex Billing Services Limited, who presented case studies on the benefits they are receiving by using Eptica.

Looking at the day as a whole, I saw five themes that ran through the conversations and presentations:

1. Customer service should be everywhere
The traditional view of customer service is that it is solely the responsibility of the contact centre. Given its central importance to every organisation this is starting to change, meaning that more and more companies are benefiting by joining up customer service systems, processes and knowledge with the entire business. Examples included integrating with back office functions (such as delivery systems), to remove silos – by doing this Laithwaite’s Wine has reduced back office costs. Other companies are sharing knowledge management systems across departments, and extending it to front line employees, such as shop staff, who can access it via tablets or point of sale technology.

2. Focus on the marginal gains
As Adrian Swinscoe pointed out in his keynote presentation, minor improvements can make a huge difference to the customer experience. He recommends that companies need to adopt British Cycling’s approach of aggregating marginal gains, looking at where they can make multiple, small improvements that together add up to major advances. This extends to technology as well – optimising Eptica’s software through regular reviews and talking to agents can reap big gains in efficiency and service levels.

3. Chat is coming
The benefits of chat are increasingly recognised. It combines the immediacy of the telephone, with the audit trail and written strengths of email in a channel that is easy to use by consumers. More and more organisations are therefore either trialling or rolling out web chat, and are looking at how best to deploy it within their multichannel infrastructure. There was much talk about video chat and whether that will deliver additional benefits when it comes to the customer experience, balancing cost against the additional engagement it provides.

4. Put your agents first to get best results
Contact centre staff are not robots.  They need to be provided with the right tools, information and training if they are to both do their best and remain motivated. Their skills and inclinations vary – some are better on the phone, while others prefer written communication channels. The vital thing is to understand their individual strengths and give them the opportunity to focus on what they are best at, while still ensuring that all types of interaction are successfully covered. One idea to keep agents happy was for the whole team to focus on a particular area (such as complaints) in the morning, before handling more positive communications in the afternoon.

5. The call centre is dead
The traditional telephone only call centre is on the way out. Today, companies need to offer a full range of channels to their customers if they want to retain them. Importantly, introducing new channels, such as social media or inbound SMS, can’t be at the expense of shutting down older ways of making contact. Indeed, some companies still receive a large percentage of interactions through the post – while others are actually implementing fax for the first time to meet customer demand. Consumers will judge you by the channels you offer, so cover all your target demographics and be driven by customer requirements.

Whatever sector you are in, the customer experience has never been more critical to business success. As the discussions at the Eptica Customer Day showed, companies that invest in improving customer service are seeing real benefits when it comes to greater loyalty, increased efficiency and closer engagement with consumers. The day sparked some great discussions, and I look forward to next year’s event to see how our customers have further enhanced the customer experience within their organisations.

Reducing complaints in the water industry

September 24, 2014 Leave a comment

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.eptica_being_water

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.

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 3 comments

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.

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