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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.

Mobile World Congress – four trends that impact customer service

March 14, 2014 3 comments

The explosive growth of smartphones and tablets has had an enormous impact on customer service and the customer experience. Mobile devices allow consumers to find information or interact with companies wherever they are. They make it simple to get in touch across multiple channels (from email and social media to voice and text), driving increased contact volumes. Always-on mobile consumers expect a seamless experience, across devices and channels, and if they don’t receive it will head to competitors with a tap of the screen.

Smartphone Evolution

And as mobile adoption increases so does the use of unstructured language, and new ways of interacting. For example, our own research tells us that a person will ask the same question in three different ways through three different devices. With mobile devices encouraging interactions on the move, people have less time to get their message across, which means an increase in unstructured language. Companies therefore need to look at technologies such as linguistics to understand the context and deeper meaning of questions.

Every year the telecoms industry gathers in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (MWC), the annual conference and trade show dedicated to mobile devices and the networks they run on. So what are the big trends from the event, and how are they likely to affect customer service teams in the near future? I’ve picked four areas to focus on:

1          Smartphone growth isn’t slowing down
Research shows that over 50% of the population in Western countries now have a smartphone. At MWC, many companies unveiled handsets to target the remainder of the market, with companies such as Nokia, Samsung and Mozilla launching cheaper models. This means two things for customer service. Firstly, even more people will be contacting them through mobile devices, so they need to ensure the mobile customer experience is as seamless as possible. Secondly, mobile phone operators will have to cater for a new demographic of smartphone owners, with different needs and (potentially) levels of technical knowledge. Both of these add up to a greater mobile focus in the future.

2          Smartphones are getting bigger
The latest generation of smartphones have screens that are 5 inches or larger, making them easier to use for more complex tasks. This is likely to drive an increase in mobile interactions as consumers find it simpler to use their phones to contact companies while they are on the move. Already the smartphone has replaced the laptop as the primary communication device for many people, and this trend will accelerate. For example, it is much easier to type on a larger screen than on smaller version, so expect a greater number of consumers to send emails via their mobile devices.

3          The future is wearable
As technology gets smaller and easier to package, it is being incorporated into devices consumers can wear and use to control their world. From watches to bracelets, major manufacturers launched new products, following in the footsteps of the previously announced Google Glass. This technology has benefits and drawbacks for customer service. It provides the ability to instantly access information and use it in real-time, for example to identify customers and greet them by name, but also raises potential privacy concerns.

4          Everything is connected
It isn’t just phones or clothing that is becoming smarter. The Internet of Things, which will embed communications and intelligence in previously dumb products will connect people, companies and everyday objects. There were lots of announcements about connected cars at MWC for example. This raises expectations and means companies need to deliver a seamless experience across every device that interacts with a customer. To do this customer service will need to be more joined up, linking to information from lots more systems in real-time – such as smart energy meters, or wearable health devices.

As the news from MWC shows, the future will be increasingly based on mobile devices. This means organisations need to ensure that they are providing the right mobile customer experience across every channel if they want to attract and retain consumer loyalty.

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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.

Turning customer service excellence into sales

April 10, 2013 8 comments

logoSuccessful organisations have long realised that delivering the best customer experience has a direct impact on their profits. Happier customers remain loyal, buy more and tell their friends about the good experience they’ve had. Upset customers move to your competitors and use social media to tell the world about the poor experience they’ve had to endure.

This is backed up by research – Forrester believes that a ten point increase in a company’s customer service score can translate into an extra $1 billion of additional sales. But while most companies understand the importance of the customer experience, delivering it well can be much more complex and difficult. Customers have increasingly high expectations and want the same level of excellent service across every channel and device, time after time.

To help businesses meet this need, accelerate online sales and turn customer service into a revenue generator Eptica has just launched its Multichannel Customer Interaction Suite 8.2.

Eptica’s unified solution for multichannel customer service gives customers access to brands from multiple touch points: web, email, chat, mobile, phone and social media. Acquiring Lingway in November 2012 has enabled Eptica to strengthen its suite with one of the most powerful multilingual semantic analysis engines on the market, delivering functionality that helps increase sales and improve the customer experience.

Eptica version 8.2 has been made more powerful in four key areas:

1          Knowledge based proactive web chat
By integrating Eptica’s proactive web chat solution with the centralised Eptica knowledgebase, the efficiency of every chat agent is improved and conversion rates increased by up to 10x. Completely customisable rules of engagement allow chat sessions to be triggered by customer events while enhanced co-browsing enables agents to remove road blocks on the customer journey, increasing successful online form submission by up to 25%.

2          Customer sentiment analysis
Companies can now analyse the tone of every customer interaction, whether on social media, email, forms, surveys, or digitised letters and faxes, delivering vital insight into customer sentiment about product and brand. This can then be used to identify emerging issues, service problems and root causes in order to improve the customer experience, and sales.

3      Emotion-based routing
All incoming digital enquiries are automatically routed based on the content and tone of the customer’s question. For example, difficult or complicated enquiries can be directed to a specialist team, urgent enquiries prioritised and happy customers automatically offered the chance to complete a feedback survey.

4      Enhanced Web Self-service for web, mobile and social media
Customers want access to consistent answers through every channel and on every device. Eptica’s enhanced Web Self-service provides unlimited flexibility and leverages responsive design to create the best customer experience across the web, social media, iPhone, iPad, Android and Smart TV channels. Self-service options can now be quickly added to any point on a website, helping customers find the answers they need to complete their purchase. Customer service answers can also be automatically displayed through existing product search boxes, and Self-service widgets can display context sensitive help related to the product or service the customer is researching or buying.

Companies realise they need to deliver the right customer experience if they are increase revenues and survive in increasingly competitive markets. With the new features in the Eptica Multichannel Customer Interaction Suite, customers can access the right information they need to complete the customer journey, whatever their channel or device, boosting revenues and ensuring that service excellent improves the bottom line.

Eptica wins Asia Pacific customer service excellence award

June 14, 2012 6 comments

Eptica has won the Social Media Customer Service category at the prestigious Asia Pacific Customer Service Consortium (APCSC) Expo International Awards. This award was in recognition of Eptica’s innovative social media customer interaction suite and its successful implementation at low cost airline AirAsia.

Olivier Njamfa, CEO, Eptica at APCSC Awards 2012

By deploying Eptica as a centralised customer Self-service system, AirAsia is now providing fast, consistent customer service across the web, Facebook and mobile channels, 24 hours a day. Over one million enquiries per month are now being managed through the AskAirAsia system. What is critical for consistency of answers is that all these channels share the same knowledgebase. So whether customers ask a question through the web, Facebook or mobile they receive the same answer, through the channel of their choice. This reduces the risk of separate silos of information being created and brings down cost. By using Eptica AirAsia has been able to achieve a significant reduction in contact centre costs, despite dramatically increasing user numbers.

“Social media provides a powerful new channel for delivering customer service that enables organisations to get closer to their customers,” said Olivier Njamfa, President and CEO, Eptica. “However it is vital that it integrates with the overall customer service strategy, sharing information with other channels to provide a consistent and accurate experience. Winning the prestigious APCSC award is the perfect recognition of the success AirAsia has achieved – by centralising customer service knowledge and then delivering fast answers it ensures excellent and efficient service through the customer’s channel of choice.”

As a fast growing business, AirAsia has invested heavily in new areas such as Facebook and mobile for customer service. Its iPhone app, which uses Eptica Self-service to provide an optimised experience when customers ask service questions via their phones, has proved incredibly popular and at launch was the No 1 selling app in the iPhone App store for Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. AirAsia has already received multiple awards for its customer service excellence, including the Customer Lover award at the inaugural WITovation awards, organised by Singapore-based content and community platform Web In Travel (WIT).

Founded 14 years ago, the Asia Pacific Customer Service Consortium aims to promote service quality and customer relationship excellence across Asia Pacific and to recognise and reward companies, business units, teams, and individuals that have contributed to the success of both their customers and the organisations that they serve. APCSC jointly offers the most recognised global certifications for CRM, Customer Service, Contact Centre, Support Services with global education partners and international membership organisations to set standards world-wide.

The APCSC Expo Innovation Customer Relationship Excellence (CRE) Awards are one of APCSC’s key activities, recognising and rewarding industry leaders and professionals for their customer centric service innovation. Winners from across Asia Pacific were announced at a ceremony in Hong Kong on 14 June 2012 that was held as part of the CRE & CPQS Asia Pacific Leadership Summit. Eptica CEO Olivier Njamfa also spoke at the Summit on how companies can successfully manage multichannel customer service in the increasingly complex and ‘always on’ world.

As well as AirAsia’s success, the Social Media Customer Service award recognises Eptica’s innovative technology, including its Social Media Interaction Management suite. This enables companies to listen, respond and interact successfully with customers and prospects on social media. With complete end-to-end conversation tracking and interaction management it allows organisations to proactively identify customer opportunities, quickly act to solve customer complaints before they become serious issues and ensure social media engagement is a success.

Customer service and protecting online customer data

February 15, 2012 1 comment
Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Online privacy is a topic that is constantly in the news at the moment, with iPhone app makers Path and Hipster the latest companies offering apologies after it emerged that they uploaded address book information from phones to their servers without asking permission. Other brands, including Amazon-owned retailer Zappos and Sony have had to issue apologies after their sites have been hacked and customer details compromised.

Clearly this is a complex area and one where issues can hurt relationships with customers and cause a great deal of damage to an organisation’s reputation. And with the European Union planning more stringent laws that would force companies to tell customers of security breaches within 24 hours and threatening large fines, it also has the potential to become extremely expensive.

So what can companies do to manage such crises and, as much as possible, reduce their impact on customer satisfaction? Here are four key areas to focus on:

1          Communicate quickly
Customers want to know what is going on, and so fast communication is vital if personal data has been misused or hacked. Even if you have to issue an interim statement that is then updated it is important to act quickly to prevent rumours spiralling out of control. Customers are no longer willing to wait hours for a response, but want to access answers within minutes if you are to retain their trust.

2          Communicate consistently
If their online privacy is compromised, ensure that all your customers receive the same information, whatever channel they are using to communicate. Have a central knowledgebase of information that is rolled out to the web, contact centre agents and social media to make sure there are clear, consistent answers for customers across all channels.

3          Use technology to automate response
One of the major impacts of a crisis is a huge increase in questions from customers as they email or call your contact centre to find out what is going on. If this overloads your contact centre and causes delays in getting through, customer anger will only increase. Use technologies such as Web Self-service to allow them to ask their questions on the web and social media, avoiding an overload on your contact centre but still providing the information that customers need

4          Monitor social media
Most organisations now have a strategy for monitoring social media for discussions mentioning their company. Make sure this planning includes crisis management and that there is a clear structure involving both customer service and communication staff so that queries are answered quickly and information is provided proactively to prevent rumours spreading. HSBC’s slick response to a major IT outage that shut down cash machines is a great example of how best to cope with a crisis using social media.

Crises do happen, often triggered by events outside the customer service department’s control. However it is vital that customer service teams are well prepared and ready to spring into action to provide the fast, consistent information customers want – otherwise you risk losing customers and long term damage to your brand.

Major award recognises AirAsia’s customer service innovation

January 20, 2012 7 comments

Travel is a sector that has undergone major change in the last decade, with a combination of the internet and low cost airlines dramatically increasing competition and ensuring that companies have to focus on customer service to survive.

In this tough climate, AirAsia is the perfect example of a company that is growing fast by understanding and responding to customer needs. By deploying Eptica Self-service as a centralised online hub, Asia’s leading low cost airline is now providing fast, consistent customer service across the web, Facebook and mobile channels, 24 hours a day. Over one million enquiries per month are now being managed through the AskAirAsia system, with its success being recognised by a string of awards.

The latest of these is the Customer Lover award at the inaugural WITovation awards. Organised by Singapore-based content and community platform Web In Travel (WIT), the prestigious awards aim to highlight companies that have made a difference in their chosen field.

The judges commended AirAsia on its reach and pedigree when it came to truly loving its customers, commenting: “AirAsia’s approach is very user-friendly and appeals to a wider market with varied demographics. The use of a named avatar within AskAirAsia gives the service a personality and creates an online rapport with the user. This service exceeds customer expectations regarding budget airlines where cheap equates minimal service.”

As well as traditional channels such as the web, AirAsia has invested heavily in new areas such as Facebook and mobile for customer service. For example, its iPhone app, which gives users an optimised experience when asking customer service questions via their phones, has proved incredibly popular.  It has generated 2 million downloads, making it the No 1 selling app in the iPhone App store for Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

What is critical for consistency of answers is that all these channels share the same knowledgebase. So whether you ask a question through the web, Facebook or mobile you receive the same answer, through the channel of your choice. This obviously reduces the risk of separate silos of information being created and brings down cost. In fact, by using Eptica AirAsia has been able to achieve a 40 per cent reduction in contact centre costs, despite dramatically increasing user numbers.

As AirAsia Regional Head of Customer Experience and Technology, Zaman Ahmad said, “We are very happy and proud to win the WITovation ‘Customer Lover’ award from Web In Travel. We’d like to thank WIT for recognizing our efforts in providing guests with state-of-the-art but uncomplicated solutions platform, in the form of AskAirAsia. We are always on the move to introduce innovative methods to enhance our guests’ experience and ready to invest more in technology in order to adapt to their needs.”

The combination of this focus on the customer and simplicity is enabling AirAsia to continue its rapid growth – to experience its customer service for yourself simply visit airasia.com/ask

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