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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.

Chat overtakes text – what it means for customer service

May 1, 2013 1 comment

Whatsapp-closeup

Figures released this week show that for the first time more messages were sent through instant messaging chat apps (such as WhatsApp) than SMS text. The research, from analysts Informa, found that 19 billion messages were sent per day in 2012 on chat apps, compared to 17.6 billion texts. And this gap will widen substantially. Informa believe that chat apps will generate 50 billion daily messages by 2014, compared with just over 21 billion traditional texts.

As in many parts of the mobile ecosystem, this growth is being driven by the smartphone boom as users embrace the extra functions and speed of instant messaging compared to text. With SMS traditionally a large revenue earner for mobile carriers, this increases the pressure for them to find alternative sources of income moving forward.

The growth of instant chat also has a potentially large impact on customer service teams. More and more people are now accustomed to the immediacy of real-time conversations with friends and expect the same speed of response when seeking information or answers from businesses. Instant messaging has spread beyond just the young or early adopters, with Skype prevalent in business and Apple’s iMessage built into all iPads and iPhones. The mindset of today’s consumers is focused on speed, personal responses and great service.

So, how can businesses ensure they offer their customers live, online conversations in a way that is simple and straightforward for consumers to use? The good news is that web chat has been in existence for a while and the combination of productivity improvements and wider acceptance of chat makes it the perfect solution for increasing customer engagement.

Web chat has been a central part of Eptica’s Multichannel Customer Interaction Suite for some time and has recently been enhanced to enable organisations to both improve the customer experience and drive increased revenues. The proactive web chat solution is now integrated with the Eptica knowledgebase to improve the efficiency of every chat agent and increase conversion rates by up to 10x. Completely customisable rules of engagement allow chat sessions to be triggered by customer events (such as pausing on key pages, shopping baskets and forms), improving sales without pushing up costs. Enhanced co-browsing enables agents to remove road blocks on the customer journey, increasing successful online form submission by up to 25%.

Customers today demand instant responses to their questions and expect businesses to use the latest technology channels to communicate with them. Proactive web chat is therefore the perfect solution to meet their needs, increase satisfaction and drive increased sales.

The mobile customer service shift

April 19, 2013 7 comments

mobile phones

Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are radically changing how customers interact with companies. Rather than being tied to their PC consumers are now demanding access to information anywhere and anytime, both for research and making final purchases. Businesses therefore need a mobile strategy to support consumer needs, with a seamless, high quality experience vital to winning and retaining customers.

Companies have to make key decisions on how they are going to deliver mobile service – do they adapt their existing websites so that they work across every device or create mobile apps focused on particular operating systems? And if they go down the app route do they build standalone customer service apps or integrate with other parts of the business? The answers to these questions will obviously vary from company to company and industry to industry, but what is vital is to put in place a customer-focused strategy now to ensure that mobile doesn’t leave you behind.

Showing the importance of mobile, the latest Gartner research, based on a survey of over 2,000 CIOs, forecasts an enormous increase in the number of mobile customer service apps. From just 200 in 2012 there will be over 1,200 by 2014, as companies extend their customer service to multiple devices. These apps will cover particular areas of customer experience, meaning that vendors need to make their CRM software open and easy to break into bite size chunks.

To assist CIOs in developing a successful mobile application strategy, Gartner outlines four areas to focus on:

  1. Demand – what do customers want and what does the business need
  2. Supply – what staff and skills are available to manage external partners
  3. Control – who owns and manages the strategy
  4. Risks – what could go wrong and derail the strategy and what other factors could affect it

Consultancy IDATE predicts that there will be more people accessing the internet through mobile devices than PCs by mid-2014. As the centre of gravity on the web shifts, the companies that can deliver the right customer experience will flourish, while those that fail to embrace the new opportunities will see sales shrink. As Gartner points out now is the time for CIOs to develop a mobile CRM strategy if they want their companies to benefit from the mobile revolution.

Retail washout hits shopper numbers

August 22, 2012 5 comments

The recent outbreak of sunshine might have driven it from our minds, but the UK suffered from truly awful weather at the start of the Summer. The constant rain has had a real impact on consumers visiting physical shops, according to a report from the British Retail Consortium and data company Springboard.

They report a decline of 2.3% in the number of shoppers visiting high streets, shopping centres and out of town retail parks in the three months to July 31 2012, compared to 2011. This is even greater than the 2% drop in the previous three months. High streets were particularly affected, with footfall in Greater London plummeting by 8.9%, the East 7.3% and Scotland 8.2%. In soaking June visits to shopping centres rose as consumers deserted the high street for the comfort of the indoors.

While the Olympics has improved things – Springboard saw footfall on UK high streets rise by 4.7% in the last week of the games, these figures are part of two trends. People are increasingly spending their money online – and with the economy continuing to struggle, they are spending less and less.

So how can the High Street in particular hit back and use customer service to bring shoppers back to town centres? Based on Eptica’s

High Street

High Street (Photo credit: Duncan Brown (Cradlehall))

experience we see five areas for retailers to look at:

1          Be multichannel
Shoppers tend to go online to buy specific items as they feel they get a wider choice and keener prices than the high street. But they don’t like paying delivery charges or having to wait for their goods to arrive – all areas where physical shops can compete. Internet ordering services, which see products delivered in-store for free pickup are the perfect way for retailers to get people through the door and into their stores. Once they are there they may well browse and buy other products, boosting spend and increasing sales. Good, clear and joined up customer service is at the heart of making internet ordering services work – after all, no-one wants to visit a shop to be told their purchase hasn’t arrived.

2          Be innovative
Physical shops are constrained by space when it comes to the amount of products they can stock. But with more and more entertainment products (such as films, music and computer games) downloadable clever technology can help. Tesco has just begun a trial of kiosks that allow shoppers to browse a huge library of albums, TV and film content and even computer programs. They simply select the title they want and the kiosk burns the disc as well as printing the original artwork in minutes. Given the small amount of space such kiosks take up there’s nothing to stop other retailers introducing them to the High Street, but again having clued-up customer service is critical to getting mainstream shoppers to use them.

3          Be informed
High Street shops should have a massive advantage over online as they have physical staff there to help, provide advice and deliver useful information. What retailers need to ensure is that in-store assistants are providing consistent, accurate answers – make sure they have the same information as your contact centre staff by giving them access to the same central knowledgebase to provide up to the minute answers. With more and more shops using tablets such as the iPad, the technology is there to make customer service much more visible.

4          Make it an experience
To get people back into shops retailers need to make it an exciting, interesting experience. Lots of town centres run events such as street markets and festivals to attract people and retailers need to embrace these and run their own versions to bring in shoppers. For example toy shops could hold magic shows or build your own model competitions while book shops could host readings of the latest title.

5          Be social and mobile
Social media and mobile technology are potentially immensely powerful tools for the High Street. Use networks such as Twitter and Facebook to publicise time-limited special offers to followers and look at mobile channels to distribute the latest information to people in your local area.

While the High Street is currently suffering, there’s nothing to stop forward thinking retailers increasing footfall and sales by embracing innovation, improved customer service and the unique advantages of physical shops – whatever the weather.

Customer service vs data privacy

July 11, 2012 4 comments
Tails of British Airways Jumbos lined up near ...

Tails of British Airways Jumbos lined up near terminal 5 at Heathrow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Delivering the best service is often about understanding what makes your customers tick – recognising them, knowing their likes/dislikes, what channels they prefer to be contacted by, and even on a basic level whether they prefer to be addressed formally or informally.

In theory the huge amount of personal information now freely available online provides companies with the chance to deliver that personalised service. However at the same time as demanding improved service consumers are increasingly worried about the privacy of their online information and how it is used.

Balancing these two conflicting areas is difficult, as British Airways is currently finding. Last week the airline launched its “Know Me” system, which allows customer service representatives to access data about clients from BA’s systems, as well as information including photographs from the web. This is used at check in and by flight attendants with iPads to help identify travellers and deliver a personalised service to frequent flyers.

However it has flown into a storm, with privacy campaigners claiming that BA may be breaching the Data Protection Act by using web information in this way. The airline has hit back strongly, declaring that it is fully compliant with the law and is only using the information to improve service.

BA’s system seems to be a genuine attempt to use the resources around it to provide improved service, but the fierce criticism shows how difficult the whole area of using personal information is in the internet age. Companies need to be very sure that not only what they are doing is legal, but that it is something that customers are happy with – and if possible, have given their informed consent for. And, of course, that the improvement in customer service that it delivers is both real and long-lasting. Consequently customer service departments in companies in all sectors will be watching BA’s progress with great interest and seeing what lessons they can learn moving forward.

Tesco, pricing and the iPad

March 20, 2012 Leave a comment
tesco slough

tesco slough (Photo credit: osde8info)

The launch of the new Apple iPad has dominated many sections of the media over the last week as retailers and rivals have tried to capitalise on the buzz around the launch.

However an unfortunate pricing error has led to the wrong sort of headlines for Tesco. A misplaced decimal point saw the retailer advertise the new iPad 3 for £49.99, rather than £499, on its website. As news spread across the internet and social media, the Tesco site crashed under the rush before the company suspended sales.

After the mistake was rectified Tesco announced that they wouldn’t honour the offer, refunding anyone that had placed orders for the tablet at the wrong price. Legally it is completely within its rights to do this, as the site terms and conditions mean a contract isn’t made until the goods are actually dispatched but, unsurprisingly, there’s been a backlash on social media from aggrieved would-be iPad purchasers.

Tesco certainly isn’t the first retailer to misprice goods on its website, with Marks and Spencer recently advertising 3D TVs at £199 rather than £1,099, and in the fast-moving ecommerce market it certainly won’t be the last.

While mistakes of this sort can happen, it demonstrates the need for four things:

  • Comprehensive monitoring of activity, particularly on social media, to pinpoint when an issue is developing in real-time
  • A clear crisis management plan to quickly get to the bottom of problems and solve them
  • A process to inform and update customers across all channels about what is happening
  • Measures to rebuild customer confidence. In the case of some retailers, this has resulted in honouring low prices or providing vouchers as a goodwill gesture

Time will tell what damage the iPad pricing issue will cause to Tesco’s reputation, but it provides a further example of the need for fast and comprehensive customer service when it comes to the online world.

Moving telecoms customer service online

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Phone

Image by Pete Prodoehl via Flickr

Telecoms companies have historically had a poor reputation for customer service, something that our own research unfortunately verifies. Previously with little difference between service levels amongst telcos, customers didn’t have much choice, so there was little incentive to invest.

However this is changing as new entrants and technologies disrupt the traditional telecoms market. On the back of technologies such as smartphones  and Voice over IP entering the mainstream, brands such as Tesco, Amazon and Apple are now major competitors – forcing telcos to take a fresh look at customer service if they want to reduce churn and increase sales. And this all needs to be delivered cost effectively to millions of customers, 24 hours per day.

Consequently more and more are embracing the web as a key part of their customer service strategy. New research from Ovum, based on a survey of telco customer service directors, has found that online portals will see some of the greatest growth in investment. This is backed up by Eptica’s own experience, from which we’ve identified four key advantages for web self-service:

1          Accessibility
Consumers have issues 24/7 – not just during business hours. Staffing a contact centre to meet this demand is tricky as it can be difficult to predict, leading to increased costs. Web self-service is accessible at all hours and scales to meet demand. It can also be combined with channels such as social media, as Australian telco Telstra has demonstrated.

2          Reducing complexity
Telcos are now offering a dramatically increased number of services and products. Whether it is TV, video on demand or more complex devices such as smartphones or iPads the consumer comes to the telco to sort their issues in the first instance. And these are more difficult to resolve – queries regarding smartphones can take ten times longer to sort out than for traditional mobile phones, adding to pressure on existing telco customer service resources. A web portal that enables customers to fix minor issues themselves eases this pressure and frees up agents to deal with really complex enquiries.

3          Differentiation
Telcos have worked hard to differentiate themselves from their competitors, investing significantly in building their brands. But what really sets them apart in a crowded market is the service levels they provide – and web self-service adds another channel to customer service and helps resolve more queries, faster.

4          Consistency
Customers want to contact telcos across more and more channels – from retail stores to the contact centre and through social media. Ensuring that you deliver a consistent set of answers and messages and maximise sharing of the knowledge within the business is crucial to ensuring customers remain happy. A web self-service system that shares a knowledgebase with other channels (such as phone and email) provides this consistency and avoids costly silos of information.

With the telecoms market becoming more and more competitive the time is now for companies to invest and shake off their bad reputation for customer service.

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