Over recent years, we’ve seen organisations focus heavily on customer service. Greater competition, even in mature markets, and increasingly demanding consumers have moved service and the customer experience up the business agenda. The rise of social media has also provided a global channel where customers can quickly share their views, redrawing the relationship between consumers and brands.
Since 2009, the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) has been tracking customer service, and its impact, through its six monthly UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). Based on over 40,000 survey responses from more than 12,000 consumers and covering 189 companies in 13 sectors, it measures satisfaction with key measures such as professionalism, quality, efficiency, problem solving and complaint handling.
Up until the beginning of last year, the UKCSI had been on a continuously upward trajectory, moving from an average of 72 out of 100 in 2009 up to a high point of 78.2 in January 2013. But since then results have been falling, with the latest figures showing a score of 77.1. Only one (banking and building societies) out of the 13 sectors surveyed actually improved its performance, and 81 organisations saw their scores fall by at least one point. Even Amazon, the highest scoring company, dropped a point in its evaluation over the last 12 months.
This marks a year of decline in customer satisfaction levels. So, have UK companies given up on customer service? Clearly not, though the gap between best and worst seems to be widening. Looking to explain the findings, the ICS points to factors such as cuts driven by the recession, and a short term, quarterly focus rather than organisations taking a longer term view with their strategies and investments.
Perhaps the strongest reason for the drop is the unrelenting growth in customer expectations. Driven by our mobile, always-on world, consumers continually expect more, even from the best brands. What was outstanding a year ago is now merely acceptable, so woe betide any organisation that stands still. Consumers also judge companies irrespective of sector, expecting the same high standards from a utility or public body as from a retailer.
The ICS figures are backed up by Forrester’s studies into the customer experience. The analyst feels that the majority of companies are still in the first phase of customer experience (Repair) which sees them fighting fires and fixing issues as they occur. There are another three phases beyond this, culminating in Differentiate, where organisations set themselves apart and gain a competitive edge through the customer experience.
The UKCSI figures should act as a wake-up call to UK organisations, and provide a warning against any complacency. Now is the time to review your current customer service projects to ensure they remain on track and have not lost priority compared to other, new initiatives. Four areas that we at Eptica believe they should focus on are:
1. Continually evaluate the experience you provide
Customer service is continually evolving, so your processes need to be flexible to adapt to changing consumer needs. Review everything you do regularly, and make sure you look beyond metrics to find out how satisfied your customers actually are.
2. Benchmark against the best
Obviously you need to look at how you perform against your nearest competitors, but go further afield. What can you discover from organisations in other industries or countries? Make sure you are continually learning from your peers in order to deliver the right experience.
3. Don’t forget the basics
What you think of as small issues can be critical barriers for customers. So while you need to look at the big picture, make sure that the customer journey is as seamless as practically possible, and that you act on feedback to smooth any rough edges from the experience. For example, if you say you are going to respond to an email within a set timeframe, then keep your promise. Otherwise you risk losing customer trust, even if you do eventually deliver what they are looking for.
4. Think long term
As the ICS points out, companies need to take a strategic view of the customer experience, and invest continually over the long term. It has to run through the DNA of the organisation, from top to bottom, with everyone realising that customer experience is part of their role, whatever their actual job is. Yes, it should be led by the CEO, but the whole company has to be behind it.
Whatever part of the financial services sector you operate in, delivering an excellent customer experience is becoming a vital part of differentiating, increasing sales and retaining customers. However consumers are growing ever more demanding and less and less loyal. They want an excellent experience, whichever channel they chose – and they want it delivered quickly. Fail to deliver and they are very quick to switch to another provider.
These challenges are sure to be among the high level discussion areas at theIQPC Customer Experience Exchange for Financial Services event which Eptica is attending between 18-19 February. Aimed at senior level decision makers in financial services, the event features a mix of speakers, such as Forrester Research, along with Think Tank workshop sessions and one-to-one business meetings. Participants will have the chance to gain insight into key business problems around the customer experience, as well as the ability to learn from and network with their peers and industry leaders. This is the fourth IQPC event that Eptica has been involved in, in both Europe and Asia. Last year we sponsored the very successful Executive Customer Contact Exchange in Dublin.
So how can financial services companies deal with an increasing number of customer queries while reducing costs and improving the quality, speed and efficiency of every interaction?
Linguistic technology is at the heart of meeting the tough challenges that financial services companies face. Linguistics automatically analyses incoming digital interactions from email, web or social media using natural language processing and semantic techniques, helping companies understand the real meaning, tone and context of what the customer is after so their needs can be more effectively and efficiently satisfied.
In our experience, implementing linguistics can deliver major benefits in five key areas:
1. Quickly identify and prioritise high value conversations
The volume of interactions from customers is rising rapidly, so by analysing the sentiment and tone of a customer query (such as positive or negative language), linguistics technology can help prioritise key conversations and enable timely interventions to turn potentially lost customers into brand advocates – or drive engagement with new prospects in a timely manner to support conversions.
2. Boost efficiency and First Contact Resolution (FCR) rates
Through linguistic search you can understand the true meaning of queries and automatically deliver a more accurate response from your knowledgebase. More queries are handled effectively during the initial interaction, whatever the channel, increasing efficiency and delivering higher First Contact Resolution rates.
3. Deliver consistency and meet regulatory guidelines
Semantic analysis techniques such as linguistic search enable you to understand the context of a question, across any digital channel, and automatically provide a more consistent response from your knowledgebase, anytime and anywhere. This consistent response, built on an auditable process, increases customer satisfaction and delivers a written record of interactions which guards against misselling claims.
4. Reinforce loyalty by allowing customers to use their own ‘language’
For many consumers financial services is full of jargon which they don’t completely understand and find awkward to use. Linguistics helps you understand your customer’s language and the terms they use for your products and services, as well as specific formats such as text speak and Twitter. By allowing customers to interact in their own way you strengthen loyalty and improve the customer experience.
5. Listen to the Voice of your Customers to track sentiment over time
Linguistics can be used to track sentiment around product names across all your digital channels and monitor how it is changing month by month. By sharing this information with the entire business you will benefit from a comprehensive view of your customers.
Whatever area of financial services you operate in, linguistics delivers the ability to transform and automate customer experience management processes, and better understand customers. You can excel operationally and meet regulatory requirements while helping build customer intimacy and loyalty. To find out more, get in touch or talk to us at the IQPC event.