Don’t forget the importance of email in customer service

Email email email

Email is still a critical customer service channel for consumers, generally ranking second (to telephone) in customer preference studies. But the latest Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study reveals that many companies seem to be placing less value on email, despite the importance of this channel to their customers.

It is easy to see why email is popular. It is versatile; emails can be sent (and answered) without the need to speak directly to a customer service agent and, with the rise of mobile devices, it’s now even easier for the consumer to email whenever and wherever is convenient. Moreover, it has the advantage of providing a written audit trail of activity, important for both the organisation and customer.

Company marketing departments are very aware of email’s positives – with just over three quarters (75.8%) now using more promotional emails to drive sales and engagement according to data from the Direct Marketing Association.

Nevertheless, Eptica’s study shows that many companies are shutting off email to non-customers, making the option difficult to find and forcing consumers down other channels such as the phone.

This trend, which was first noted in 2012, has accelerated in 2013 with nearly a third (29%) of companies in the study found to be un-contactable by email, compared to just 13% in 2011.

The Eptica research evaluated 100 leading UK companies on their ability to provide answers to routine questions via email and a range of other channels. Key findings related to email were:

  • Just 41% of emails were answered successfully in 2013. While this was a minor increase compared to 2012’s 39%, it is substantially down on 2011’s 48%, meaning nearly six in ten emails are not being answered satisfactorily.
  • According to analyst Forrester, 41% of customers expect a response to their email within six hours. Yet the research data reveals that only 18% of companies deliver within this timeframe.
  • On average it took 61 hours and 39 minutes (nearly three whole days) to get a response via email, a minor improvement of 3 hours from last year.
  • Eight out of ten sectors answered email slower than in 2012.
  • There were major differences between sectors and between individual companies in the same sector:
  • The fastest sector to answer an email was Entertainment, with an average response time of 22 hours and 19 minutes.
  • The slowest sector was Banking, with an average response time of 190 hours and 17 minutes.
  • And while it took one electronics retailer just 7 minutes to successfully answer a question, another in the same sector, took over 9 days to answer the same question!

Research shows that email is still central to how customers want to communicate, and that overall volume is growing rather than shrinking. Dealing with email can be difficult – incoming interactions tend to be unstructured and can be complex to respond to properly. However, technology such as linguistics can help. If they are to win and retain their business, organisations need to look at how they handle the email channel and put in place the resources to deliver fast, accurate service to consumers, on their channel of choice..

See more in the full Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study in this infographic or download the full report, which covers email, web, chat, and social media channels here.

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The 7 characteristics of the customer of 2015

The one constant in customer experience is that consumer expectations are continually rising. This means that even the most respected brands and their customer service teams need to be always alert in order to innovate and respond to changing market conditions.future ahead concept

At the heart of delivering the right customer experience is understanding what makes consumers tick, now and in the future. After all, if brands can predict what customers will want and when, it will make it simpler to create the right processes in readiness.

So what does the consumer of the near future want? A new infographic from Reuven Gorsht brings together detailed information to create a picture of what the customer of 2015 looks like. Essentially he/she shares seven key characteristics:

1              Always connected
Smartphones are now an essential part of everyone’s lives. In the US 73% of men and 63% of women check their phone at least once an hour. This means that wherever they are and whatever they are doing they are able to communicate through email, social media, web, and of course, telephony. Poor experiences can be broadcast to the world instantly, while the volume of customer interactions is growing as consumers can contact brands at anytime.

2              Opinionated and shares it
Linked to this, consumers are positively embracing today’s sharing culture. Over a third have turned to social media to air their feelings about a company – and nearly half feel that being online gives them licence to be brutally honest about the experiences they receive. If brands are to win and retain a reputation for being customer-centric, they will need to be continually alert and ready to respond to customer interactions quickly, whatever the channel.

3              Value conscious
The internet makes it simple to compare prices, regardless of the sector or product. Consumer loyalty is fickle, and they have no qualms about moving to a competitor if they offer the same product at a lower price. This extends to physical shopping, with 41% practising showrooming, examining products in the real world and then buying online. Good service and providing the right information is central to keeping customers engaged.

4              Trust is convenience
How companies behave is increasingly important. Nearly 9 out of 10 consumers believe that organisations should balance achieving their business objectives while improving society and safeguarding the environment. Demonstrating strong codes of ethics is therefore vital to customer engagement.

5              Seeks authenticity
Consumers are bombarded by ads and consequently pay less and less attention to the messages they contain. Three quarters (75%) believe that companies don’t tell the truth in adverts and value information from other sources, particularly trusted sources such as friends, families and reviews above paid advertising.

6              Requires immediacy
Impatience is increasing as consumers are unwilling to wait for anything. They demand that information is easy to access, that queries are dealt with quickly and that they can get hold of their purchases in a shorter and shorter timeframe. This is driving the growth of Click to Collect services and also putting increased pressure on customer service teams to answer emails and social media posts in near real-time.

7              Follows rituals
Perhaps driven by the huge amount of information now available, in many areas consumers are becoming creatures of habit. For example, 89% rely on the same brands for their morning ritual of getting up, having breakfast and readying themselves for work. However, this shouldn’t breed complacency. Consumers still demand that they receive the right experience from brands or they will go elsewhere.

Whatever sector you are in, consumers want a tailored customer experience that reflects their needs and aspirations. Take a look at your customer base – how many of the seven characteristics above do they share – and are you catering for their needs?



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£116 billion – the true cost of bad service

April 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Poor service costs UK brands £116 billion every year. That’s the headline figure from new research from Accenture, which found that over half (53%) of British consumers had switched provider in at least one industry in the last twelve months. To put this in context, the equivalent of 12 per cent of UK consumers’ annual disposable income is being switched due to bad service.

trends-switching-1-46_460According to the Accenture Global Consumer Pulse study 23% of customers have switched from one retailer to another due to poor service, followed by 14% changing banks and 13% moving utilities. At the other end of the scale, airlines had the lowest figures for switching (3%). Overall, customer loyalty is extremely low. On a scale of 1-10 just 16% rate their loyalty to brands as between 8 and 10, with over a third (36%) scoring between 1 and 3.

The research found that the reason for this high level of switching is a fundamental disconnect between digital and traditional modes of customer support. Just 4% of UK consumers thought companies successfully combined all channels when it came to customer service. 81% still use the phone to get in touch, even though just 45% were happy with the results.

The picture painted by the Accenture research demonstrates three key trends that we’ve seen in the market:

1          Customers are increasingly demanding
Whatever the industry, consumers expect a superior customer experience, through their channel of choice. The balance of power has moved from brand to consumer, and more and more people are happy to switch if they receive poor or inadequate service. Additionally, as they are easier to access, digital channels are driving people to get in contact more often, increasing the volume of interactions that brands need to satisfy.

2          Channel choice is growing, not shrinking
The Accenture research highlights that poor performance on online channels is preventing businesses from migrating their customers from phone and face-to-face contact to become digital by default. While this is partly true, many consumers still want to call a brand or discuss products in person, meaning that companies need to deliver a consistent service across every channel. These need to be joined up, so that consumers can move from one to another during the customer journey, without needing to repeat themselves or re-enter information.

3          Knowledge is power
Three out of the top four customer service priorities for consumers relate to human qualities of the staff they are talking to. However, while over half are happy with agent politeness, only 45% thought staff were knowledgeable and just 35% felt they could help solve problems without having to refer to other people. This demonstrates a need for better access to centralised information that will empower frontline staff so that they can improve satisfaction levels. Collecting and sharing knowledge across every channel would also solve another pain point the study highlighted – the inability to access information in a convenient way online or on mobile devices.

As the economy continues to grow, consumers are becoming increasingly confident and happy to switch if brands don’t provide what they are looking for. The Accenture findings show the scale of the cost to companies – now is the time to review customer service across every channel and ensure it meets consumer needs before they move elsewhere.

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What are the 4 key attributes of successful customer engagement?

April 9, 2014 1 comment

In an era of increased competition and more demanding consumers, engaging with customers is critical to driving a long term, loyal relationship. Engagement moves beyond transactional, potentially cost-based, interactions to build deeper ties between a brand and its customers. This makes companies more successful in two ways. Firstly, happy, engaged customers are likely to remain loyal and potentially spend more. Additionally, they act as brand ambassadors, recommending your products and services to other people, through both word of mouth and social media.

Creating an engaged customer community is therefore a key aim for brands and organisations across every sector. However, there are issues that often make engagement difficult. Many companies still operate through a silo-based approach that sees marketing, sales and customer services working independently, rather than collaborating to engage with customers. With more and more ways available      for customers to interact, internal resources can be stretched thinly, leading to many companies focusing on particular channels and disengaging from others.

So what can organisations do to get closer to customers? To help, Gartner has identified the four key attributes that drive engagement:

1              Active customer engagement
If companies don’t take the time to actively engage with their customers, then they are missing out on the chance to build stronger relationships. So, the first point is be active – communicate with customers and provide the ability for them to engage with your company through forums, communities and other channels. Ask for feedback and show how you are using it to improve products and services.

2              Emotional customer engagement
When consumers connect with a brand at an emotional level they are more likely to complain less and compliment more. Apple is the perfect example – people around the world feel that it ‘fits’ with their personalities and makes them feel engaged. Building this kind of trust can take time – but it is easily lost, for example, if personal data is misused, sold on or left unprotected.

3          Rational customer engagement
The sales process has been changed completely by the internet. Potential customers can now build up their knowledge of a brand and its products on the web and social media, without needing to get in direct contact until they have made a decision to buy. Gartner argues that companies therefore need to provide more information and make it easy for consumers to find answers to their questions, whatever channel they are using. Web self-service software that enables customers to submit queries in their own words is a good way of providing this tailored access to information and increasing engagement.

4          Ethical customer engagement
Today’s consumers are more ethically aware than ever before and demand high standards from companies. Social media and mobile devices provide the means to quickly spread news of unethical behaviour, meaning that businesses need to publish clear guidelines for how they will act, use robust systems to monitor activities, and stay true to their promises.

Customer engagement is a key challenge for today’s businesses. Studying Gartner’s four attributes and looking at how you can apply them within your business provides the perfect starting point for the journey to deeper engagement and more loyal, profitable customers in the future.

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Smiles and Systems – why good customer experience needs both

April 4, 2014 2 comments

Organisations can find it difficult to deliver a consistently good customer experience across every channel and every interaction. Customer expectations are constantly rising, and the growth in enquiries, often through unstructured digital channels, increases the pressure on businesses to perform, time after time.artscience

A good starting point for meeting these needs is to break the customer experience down into separate components. As customer service expert Micah Solomon points out, essentially it is both an art and a science, so your approach has to embrace both smiles (the emotional, personal side) and systems (providing consistent, scalable service).

Achieving this balance requires companies to focus on four key areas:

1              Benchmark both smiles and systems
Traditionally companies have benchmarked their customer experience against competitors. This seems logical, as these are your immediate rivals when it comes to winning and retaining customers. However, it is worth looking beyond your industry to capture best practice and ideas from sectors that are good at smiles (such as hospitality) and systems (manufacturing companies). That way you get to improve both your processes and the softer side of your customer experience by looking at experts in each area.

2              Build the right team
Few people possess the exact mix of smiles and systems when it comes to how they think and operate. So make sure you build a balanced team that includes both types of person, putting them in the best roles for their skills. Recognise their strengths and ensure you incorporate all of their ideas in improving the customer experience.

3              Make it scalable
Smaller organisations, such as local shops, often score highly for customer experience as they have the time to deliver a personalised, friendly service to consumers. Scaling this in larger companies is more difficult, but it comes down to a combination of training and empowering your staff. Look at the success of the Games Makers at the London 2012 Olympic Games – thousands of volunteers, but all with a single focus on ensuring that spectators had a wonderful experience.

4              Measure the right metrics
Traditional contact centre metrics focused on productivity, such as measuring average call length or the number of interactions agents completed in a shift. While these are necessary to meet targets and deliver efficiency, it is vital to look at other metrics that focus on customer satisfaction (such as Net Promoter Score) in addition. Balance smiles and system metrics. Ensure staff understand what they will be measured on, and put in place the right systems to record everything involved in the customer interaction.

5              Use technology as a platform
Obviously the systems side of customer experience requires technology to ensure that interactions reach the right agent, and that they are armed with the right information to solve a customer’s query. However technology can also help on the smiles side as well. By automating processes and enabling customers to find information themselves (such as through web self-service systems), agents can focus on more complex interactions which require more time. Technology such as linguistics can also analyse incoming digital communications to understand their tone, helping prioritise and giving vital information that can be used to provide a personalised, empathetic customer experience.

Customer experience is now central to business success. Companies therefore need to ensure they embrace both smiles and systems if they are to deliver the experience that customers really want.

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Is there anyone delivering an excellent customer experience?

Everyone understands the importance of the customer experience to increasing loyalty and attracting new business, but how do UK brands fare in practice? Not that well, according to the first Forrester UK Customer Experience Index (CXi). Most of the 2,000 UK consumers it researched rated their experiences with 28 leading brands between ‘very poor’ and ‘OK’ – and no brand was ranked as ‘Excellent’.

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Based on the same methodology as existing US research that has been conducted since 2007, the Forrester CXi asked consumers three simple questions about the brands they interacted with most over the last 90 days:

  1. How enjoyable was it to do business with the company?
  2. How easy was it to do business with the company?
  3. How effective was the company at meeting your needs?

The highest score (81) went to Amazon, with five other retailers scoring 75 or above, putting them in the ‘good’ category for customer experience. At the bottom of the chart were TV service providers and mobile operators, who all rated as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. In fact, even the highest performing mobile brands ranked below the worst performing retailer.

Given that last week we released the latest Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, we can make some interesting comparisons with the Forrester research. There are obviously some differences in methodology – the Eptica study is based on analysing the performance of 100 UK brands in ten sectors across key customer experience channels (web, email, chat and Twitter), rather than consumer research. Therefore, it looks at how companies handle individual interactions, rather than how consumers view the overall experience. This means that if a customer did not have to contact a brand or they avoided channels where the company was poor, they were likely to give it a higher score within the Forrester CXi.

Setting this aside, there are some strong parallels. In neither study did companies deliver truly high scores – and there was a big range between brands and sectors. Fashion retailers were the top sector for answering questions on the web in the Eptica Multichannel Customer Study, and overall, retailers scored highest in the Forrester CXi. Travel companies (split by Forrester into airlines and hotels) also ranked highly in both studies. Banks varied by brand, but gained average results in both.

Mobile telecoms companies, TV service providers and electronics manufacturers scored much worse in the Forrester CXi study than in the Eptica research. This is probably down to the nature of the consumer interactions that made up the experience. The first two are industries where changing supplier is both common and complex, leading to frustrations if consumers feel they are not getting a helpful and customised experience. Many interactions with electronics manufacturers are likely to be driven by product issues, set-up queries or requests for service, again meaning that consumers are going to be pre-disposed to be critical.

In contrast, the retail experience has a much lower ‘cost’ of switching supplier – it is just about clicking across to another website rather than cancelling a complex contract. As this is simpler, the experience needs to be extremely strong if brands want to retain customers, leading to the higher CXi scores that retailers delivered.

What is most striking about both research studies is that UK customer experience still has a long way to go. At Eptica we’ve seen scores improve over the last three years, but on average, just 63% of common customer questions can be answered online, with just 41% of emails and 39% of tweets receiving a successful answer. As mentioned before, no company scored ‘Excellent’ in the Forrester CXi research.

Brands therefore need to look at their entire operations and where they can deliver improvements that put the customer first – before consumers take their business elsewhere. You can find out more about the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study and download a management report on the findings here.




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4 ways customer service can make Mother’s Day special

Over the years the importance of celebrating Mother’s Day has grown, and it is now one of the busiest periods for sending flowers outside Valentine’s Day. Britons spend an average of £12 each on gifts for their mothers, although research shows that this rises to £53 in Liverpool.

Mother's Day Bouquet

However, there is one major difference with other celebrations such as Christmas. Mother’s Day is obviously on a Sunday. This means that, for one day a year, most florists and other retailers have to change their delivery strategies to operate outside their normal opening hours.

The pressure is definitely on to get it right. Particularly for those that can’t actually visit their mother in person, it is vital that flowers and gifts arrive on the specified day, are exactly what was ordered and aren’t damaged or substandard. Failure isn’t an option if companies want to retain business for next year and avoid complaints being broadcast through social media.

So, what can retailers and their delivery partners do to make sure it is Happy Mother’s Day for all their customers?

1          Plan ahead
Mother’s Day isn’t a new phenomenon, so look at your performance in previous years in order to fine tune processes and ensure that the right resources are in place across the business. Track sales in the run up to the day itself and make sure you have sufficient capacity to cope with peaks in demand.

2          Man all your channels
While many businesses operate seven day a week contact centres, others don’t. Once a year this needs to change, so that any queries can be dealt with swiftly by staff via phone, email or social media. This goes for all parts of the supply chain – logistic companies need to have representatives on hand to provide information in case deliveries are delayed or go astray.

3          Make information easily available
Ensure that it is simple for customers to track their order via the web and use web self-service to enable them to answer common questions. Look at sending confirmation emails or texts when the delivery has been successfully made. This reassures anxious senders that their present has arrived.

4          Every Mother is special
Obviously, major retailers are dealing with thousands of orders but each one is precious to the person planning something special. Therefore, train staff to empathise with callers and empower them to go the extra mile to sort out any problems that might occur.

Mother’s Day is not just a test for those looking to spoil their mums, but is a customer service challenge for retailers, florists and logistics companies. Get it right and you’ll be responsible for putting a smile on the faces of mothers up and down the country – fail and you’ll be trending on Twitter before you know it.

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