All companies understand the importance of delivering a superior customer experience (CX). The combination of intense competition, more demanding customers and an increasing range of channels, mean that organisations have to continually improve the service that they offer to consumers if they are to retain business, whatever sector they are in.
However, achieving a consistent customer experience is not simple. Companies need to deliver the right service, irrespective of channel, with consumer loyalty a thing of the past in most industries. The customer experience spans multiple departments, including marketing, IT and customer service, meaning that silos need to be broken down to ensure that investment achieves real results.
Research reports, including the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, have pinpointed a growing gap between those companies that deliver the right experience and those that are unable to provide a consistent, high quality service. Worryingly for the laggards, customers now judge every organisation by the same high standards, irrespective of the sector they are.
The growth of CX budgets
Given the need to focus on the customer experience it is good to see that more companies are increasing investment in this area. Recent research from Gartner said that 18% of marketing budgets were spent on customer experience in 2014, with CX systems the largest IT investment that companies made. Over half of organisations surveyed (51%), are set to increase budgets by an average of 17% in 2015. Bigger organisations are spending more of their overall revenues on marketing – and those that believe they are outperforming their competitors are planning even larger increases than their peers. This further increases the challenge for those who are underperforming, as the gulf between best and worst may well continue to grow.
The need to work across departments
Forrester’s predictions echo this gap. As it points out, delivering an average customer experience, is no longer enough, as standards rise and leaders move from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Innovation and building an emotional attachment to customers are key to ongoing success. However, a separate Forrester report does highlight some of the factors that can hold back customer experience excellence and digital transformation. Chief among these is internal politics and organisational confusion, as different departments compete to lead digital and CX initiatives. For example 39% of CEOs believe they personally set digital strategy, but just 26% of other executives agree. At the same time CIOs are expected to become more involved in specifying and implementing digital technologies that were previously the preserve of ebusiness teams.
As we move closer to the end of 2014 expect plenty more predictions for what will happen to the customer experience in 2015. But, as these early reports show the key requirements for companies will be to invest smartly, work across departments and channels and engage with customers through a great experience that goes above and beyond your competitors.
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.
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.
Eptica customer L’Occitane has been recognised for the strength of its customer service, ranking first in the prominent 2014 Qualiweb/Stratégies index for email and fourth in the category for social media. It is the only brand to feature in both categories, demonstrating the strength of its multichannel service and consistency of its approach.
Running since 1998 and organised by independent market research institute, the Cocedal Conseil, the Qualiweb research works by sending seven ‘mystery shopper’ emails to 350 different companies within 18 sectors. Responses are marked against 100 different criteria, including time, relevance and degree of personalisation. A total percentage score is then calculated, with L’Occitane scoring 92.58%. For the social media category three Facebook posts (two private, one public) were sent to 250 companies who had their own Facebook page.
Across Europe and the United States, L’Occitane is using Eptica’s multi-lingual customer management interaction software to manage incoming emails, web self-service and telephone contacts, as well as to power L’Occitane’s new web chat service in Europe. Every month it answers 2,500 individual emails through Eptica, delivering responses in less than 24 hours.
Through a centralised knowledgebase L’Occitane customers now receive fast, consistent answers to their questions, whatever the channel or language they use, improving the customer experience and aiding sales conversions. The deployment will be extended to Asia in 2014.
“To provide a 360 degree view of the customer, we implemented Eptica’s software to enable us to manage all channels from the same interface in the interests of efficiency and personalisation,” said Anne-Sophie Pouyau, International and European customer service manager, L’Occitane.
The deployment of Eptica is part of a larger international project to overhaul L’Occitane’s customer relationship management systems. Through this L’Occitane is aiming to offer its millions of global customers a personalised, cross-channel experience however they interact with the brand. L’Occitane has 2,300 shops in 90 countries.
The strong showing of Eptica customers in the Qualiweb index and in awards across the globe demonstrates the importance of a multichannel approach to service. Through Eptica consumers receive a fast, consistent and personalised response to their question, on their channel of choice, reinforcing loyalty, increasing sales and improving efficiency.
This month, Facebook is ten years old and has celebrated its birthday by hitting 1.23 billion active users and delivering 2013 revenues of $7.87 billion. While it was no means the first social network (and won’t be the last) it has radically changed not just how people interact with each other, but more importantly how they engage with brands, particularly when it comes to customer service.
Before social media, customers essentially communicated with companies through one-to-one channels such as the telephone or email. Networks such as Facebook changed all that – feedback is instant, public and visible to the entire world. Compared to word of mouth, posts and status updates reach a much wider audience, and are also much more powerful as they are endorsed by someone that you know and are connected to. Feedback can have a positive as well as negative effect – 71% of consumers who’ve had a good social-media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others
So social networks have delivered not just a new channel, but have rewritten the rules for how consumers expect and want to be treated. They are demanding faster, more comprehensive answers to their queries, 24×7, on their channel of choice. Additionally, the speed and immediacy of social networks has raised expectations on other channels. People are no longer willing to endure lengthy waits for email responses – they want them delivered much faster. After all, if a Tweet can be answered in 10 minutes, why can’t other channels respond as quickly?
The past decade has consequently seen a major evolution of how organisations deal with social customer service, mirroring the rise of Facebook itself. The vast majority (71%) have now implemented social customer service in some form. Companies tend to pass through four stages:
- Discovery – often by accident, companies find that their customers are talking about them on social media, and realise that they need to engage.
- Toe in the water – individuals within the organisation respond to customers, often in an ad hoc manner, without any strategy or control.
- Marketing control – an official presence is set up on Facebook, often controlled by marketing. However this can mean that customer service posts or queries are being answered by non-specialist staff, who can give inconsistent answers compared to other customer service channels.
- Integration – marketing and customer service work together and Facebook is run by a joint team that use their different, complementary skills to benefit the customer. Queries on Facebook are automatically identified and the channel is integrated into the overall customer service infrastructure, delivering an efficient, consistent and fast response.
Facebook has come a long way in ten years, and it is fair to say that not every company has yet reached the integration stage of social customer service. However as more and more queries arrive through Facebook, a silo-based approach simply cannot scale to deliver the service that today’s customers demand. As Facebook usage continues to grow, now is the time to take a step forward with social customer service in order to deliver the best possible experience to consumers and increase engagement on the network.
How will consumers interact with brands in the near future? What channels will they use and what sort of experience are they looking for? A new report, ‘The coming era of on-demand marketing’, from consultants McKinsey aims to shed light on these questions and to help companies prepare themselves for this changing world.
Essentially McKinsey believes that emerging technologies will mean that consumers demand a radically different, personalised experience from companies. Sensors in devices, the Internet of Things, the rise of Big Data and the ubiquity of smartphones will accelerate the current shift in the balance between consumers and brands, adding a physical dimension to previously virtual transactions.
And customers will want this experience in real time and almost everywhere. In this on-demand world, consumers will judge brands by their ability to deliver heightened experiences, which McKinsey define as interactions that offer high levels of value and are radically customised and easy to access, across the entire customer decision journey.
Driven by ubiquitous search, social media and mobile devices consumer demand will rise in four key areas:
- Now: people want to interact anywhere at any time
- Can I: they want to do truly new things based on the information companies hold on them
- For me: they expect data to be used to deliver a personalised experience, based on their needs
- Simply: They will expect all interactions to be easy
So what can companies do to prepare for this future? Based in a combination of the McKinsey report and Eptica’s own experience there are five key areas to focus on:
1 Work together
Bring together teams across disciplines and departments to meet customer needs. The rise of social media has shown that the customer journey is not the responsibility of a single department – everyone will need to work together to meet customer needs moving forward.
2 Embrace the physical world
Cheaper, smaller sensors and advances such as QR codes mean that consumers can now interact with the world around them as part of the experience. For example, smartphones can be used to tap and pay for coffee or travel. Look at how you can make the experience better using these emerging technologies.
3 Use data to personalise the experience
Consumers are leaving ever deepening digital footprints, leading to potential concerns on privacy. However McKinsey’s research found that customers are willing to provide more data as long as it is used to improve the experience by personalising it.
4 Make it simple
Smartphones and tablets have radically changed how we interact with technology with touch and speech-based inputs increasingly replacing keyboard and mouse. While you cannot replace every interaction with touch, ensure you make it simple to navigate along the customer journey, removing roadblocks from the path.
5 Be omnichannel
As McKinsey pointed out, companies have embraced multiple channels but not necessarily linked them together. This leads to an uneven experience that infuriates customers who want to contact you on their channel of choice, rather than being forced to change their behaviour to fit your structure. At a basic level link your customer service and CRM systems so that you can identify consumers and their preferences however they contact you.
The customer experience is crucial to business competitiveness now and in the future. Companies therefore need to put it at the centre of their plans in order to succeed going forward.
From the start the aim has been to provide updates and opinions on the customer service market, highlight best practice and show how customer needs are changing. And the market has definitely been transformed. We’ve moved from multichannel to omnichannel and new (at the time) technologies such as mobile and social media have matured to be central to the customer experience offered by every organisation.
The good news is that how companies interact with their customers has never been more important – businesses recognise that good service delivers increased sales and greater loyalty.
Since April 2011 we’ve had an incredible 31,120 views of our 195 blog posts. This means more people have viewed the blog than the population of Monaco! On a monthly basis the average is 1,200 views, a figure which is still growing. And while the UK makes up 36% of the readership, we’ve had visitors from 148 countries around the world. 15% of views come from the US, 5% India and 4.5% France.
We’ve looked through our archives and put together a list of the top 5 blog posts from the past two years:
1 Email customer service – why does it have to be so hard?
Research from the 2011 Eptica UK Multichannel Customer Service Study found that the UK’s top 100 companies were failing to deliver adequate service on the email channel. Unfortunately when we repeated the research in 2012, we found that email service had further deteriorated.
2 The key trends for customer service 2012
Based on presentations from the Eptica International Customer Summit, this post looked at the consumer and company customer service trends for 2012. Take a look through the post – the majority of the points are equally valid today for organisations looking to offer an excellent customer experience.
3 The cost of customer service failure
Fail to answer a customer’s question on one channel and they will either move to a competitor – or migrate to a more expensive channel. The result? Higher costs and angry customers. Recent research from Forrester backs up this post – 60% of customers switched from the web to the email or phone channels if they couldn’t find an answer to their question online, while 17% went to a competitor.
4 AirAsia mobile customer service app is a bestseller
With over 50% of the population now owning a smartphone, mobile is front of mind for customer experience teams. Leading low cost airline AirAsia has pioneered mobile customer service with an Apple iPhone app that relies on that same Eptica knowledgebase as other channels to provide customers with a consistent, accurate response to their queries.
5 Who should run social customer service?
Customers increasingly want to use social media to interact with businesses. With potentially thousands of customer interactions on networks such as Twitter and Facebook, which department within a company should be in charge of social customer service? The blog looks at different approaches and comes up with some recommendations for keeping customers happy.
As always, do let us have your feedback – what’s been your favourite post and why?
Guest post by Dominic Tavassoli, VP Product Management, Eptica
Picture the scene: you wake up one morning to find that your lovingly crafted company Facebook page is covered – horrors – in questions. Not the sort you wanted, such as “I love your brand, where can I buy more stuff?” but actual customer service questions and complaints! What do you do? Try to answer them yourself? Call support? Delete the complaint… and suffer a backlash ten times worse? Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned…
This sort of nightmare scene will become increasingly frequent as customers of B2C but also B2B companies realise they can get much prompter service by posting a public rant via social media than sitting on the phone for “the next customer service agent” or waiting 24 hours (or more) for an email answer.
Companies and organisations need to address this situation before their brand image suffers. Every unanswered technical question is a stone in their garden, the voice of every unhappy customer now heard by hundreds, thousands of prospects, and marketing doesn’t have an unlimited budget to compensate with brand awareness activities. Your marketing database will obviously also quickly become useless if you can’t stop losing customers to bad service.
Your users expect fast, high quality answers whichever channel they use. From our experience, there are three ways marketers can team up with customer service to enhance the customer experience and safeguard their brand image.
- Implement a true multichannel Web Customer Service solution, so that all social media and Web questions and complaints immediately get routed to the support team for fast expert resolution. This will ensure your Facebook page and Twitter feed demonstrate your commitment to every customers success.
- Add a Self-Service Knowledgebase to your Web site home page, so your customers don’t need to look far for the answers they seek and never need to take their complaints public. This is a true win-win as the knowledgebase, automatically displaying the latest hot topics and tips, will drive those elusive repeat visits to your Web site
- Keep an eye on the Customer Service reporting and analytics, so you can proactively address latent pain points and budding issues with marketing tactics such as webcasts, white papers, and agenda items for your next event… or even a blog post.
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