Posts Tagged ‘multichannel’

Keeping agent morale high at peak times

As we move into the busiest part of the year for many contact centres, keeping staff morale high is even more crucial for delivering fast, efficient service. eptica_peak_timesAt the same time, contact centres are taking on extra staff to cope with demand, all of whom need to be motivated and trained to be ambassadors for your brand.

Together, these factors add to the pressure on contact centre operations. How can you ensure that you get the best from all your staff? Based on our experience working with contact centres across the retail, financial services, travel and public sector we’ve isolated five areas to focus on:

1. Give them the tools to do the job
One of the biggest complaints from agents is that they don’t have fast access to the information they need to answer customer queries or have to navigate through a myriad of different systems to find what they are looking for. This makes their job more complex, interactions more time consuming, and decreases customer satisfaction. In many contact centres basic information is still stored offline in physical folders, rather than being available on their PCs. Make sure that knowledge is centralised, easy to update and that it is simple and straightforward for agents to access it.

2. Match the skills to the channel
Every person is different, so ensure that you play to their strengths. Some agents are typers, more at home with the written word, while others are talkers, happy on the phone but less confident with answering emails or chat sessions. While modern contact centres require multi-skilled, multichannel agents, make sure you recruit and train people with the right traits to deliver high levels of service.

3. Provide variety
There are many different types of interactions dealt with within a contact centre. For example, a department might be responsible for issuing paperwork to customers around insurance policy changes or VAT certificates to corporate buyers. Rather than simply assigning this role as a full time task for someone, inject variety into their day by mixing tasks. We know of one Holiday Company that focused staff on customer complaints in the morning and then more positive communications in the afternoon in order to keep motivation high.

4. Train, train and train
Particularly for new staff, there is a balance to be struck between providing sufficient training and getting people working productively as soon as is feasible. Again, a central knowledgebase can help reduce training time, as agents don’t need to memorise specific information or processes, but can quickly access them from their PC. Analysis of the questions that they are posing on the system can also allow supervisors to identify gaps in their training that can be filled with refresher sessions.

5. Make it fun!
At peak times of year, the pressure is very much on, and contact centre agents are at the coalface of customer contact. Build team spirit through competitions, decorate the office, hold themed – or even better – food-related events and reward star performers to create a buzz around the contact centre. This will increase motivation, attendance and build a reputation as a great place to work – which all feeds into increased staff retention and easier recruitment.

What tips do you have for increasing motivation at peak periods? Leave your ideas in the comment section below.

How close are we to the omnichannel future?

November 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Customer service is continually evolving. Driven by customer needs and channel expansion the original telephone-only call centres have added new contact methods, such as email, chat and social media, to become multichannel customer engagement centres. However the biggest shift is still ongoing – from a silo-based channel by channel approach to a more integrated, seamless and consistent omnichannel operation.eptica_omnichannel_future

Essentially omnichannel means allowing customers to contact you through their channel of choice, at any time, and change channels during an interaction without it impacting the service they receive or having to repeat themselves. In an omnichannel world the experience is based on what the customer wants, rather than consumers being forced to use specific channels by the company they are contacting.

So how are companies coping with the move to omnichannel? New US research on the omnichannel experience from Call Center IQ makes for depressing reading. Nearly every company surveyed (96%) understands the importance of delivering seamless, consistent, customer-led service. However, the majority admit that they are nowhere near providing this. In fact, while 52% view serving a customer on the channel of their choice as very important/essential, only 30% say they can do this with any regularity. 7% simply say they are not a multichannel business.

Moving on, just 10% of companies currently define themselves as omnichannel, with the same percentage believing they have made significant progress towards the goal. 39% of businesses have made some or little progress towards omnichannel, yet believe it is not urgent to improve.

There is a clear gap developing between the best and worst, which seems to be caused by differences in business priorities, attitude to customers and technology:

  • Nearly half (48%) of companies rate being able to serve a customer on his or her preferred channel as moderately, slightly or not at all important.
  • Just 4.5% say they can always comply with a customer’s channel preference (although 32% say they can ‘usually’).
  • Technology is an issue – 30% say they are not at all successful in being able to pass data between channels in real-time.
  • 11% have no plans to develop a holistic, cross-channel view of customers, though an additional 70% are working towards this.

So how can companies bridge this gap to the omnichannel future? The first point to make is that isn’t easy. Channels have grown organically, interaction volumes are up and customers continually expect faster responses that answer their queries – and are happy to move elsewhere if they don’t get what they want. Businesses need to focus on five areas:

  • Provide the right channels – customers want you to be contactable on their channel of choice. So make sure you understand your demographic and match their needs. For some businesses this could mean keeping paper-based channels such as fax and letter, if that is what customers want.
  • Seamless channel switching – you need a holistic view of the customer that spans your entire customer service operations and allows consumers to move between channels without needing to repeat themselves or re-enter details. This has to be real-time and scalable to cover new channels as they are added to your operations.
  • Consistency – customers want the same answer, whatever channel they use to contact you on. A single knowledgebase that underpins customer service operations delivers this, while also driving efficiency across the business.
  • Speed – as we’ve previously said, customers expect responses in shorter and shorter timeframes. And they don’t care about concepts such as business hours – they want 24×7 service that matches their needs.
  • Skills – successful call centre staff were good talkers, able to build empathy on the phone. Digital channels, such as email, chat and social media all require different skills, with a greater emphasis on written language – although there is a wide variation within them.

Customers are demanding omnichannel service, and, as the CCIQ study shows, the vast majority of companies know they need to be providing it. With the impact of poor service increasingly felt on the bottom line, now is the time to invest if companies are to thrive and grow.

Amazon joins the High Street?

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

If recent media rumours are to be believed, Amazon is planning to open its first bricks and mortar outlet, located in the heart of New York City, close to the Empire State Building and world famous department store Macy’s. The opening is said to be scheduled ahead of this year’s holiday shopping season.eptica_Amazon_on_the_high_street

The move, if true, looks like a big change in direction for an ecommerce giant which until now has totally focused on the online channel. However, there may be some strong underlying reasons that explain why Amazon appears to be going against the grain and dipping a toe into physical retail. Here are three key ones:

1. Flagship location
Opening a store across the street from the Empire State Building, which boasts 4 million visitors a year will serve as a giant advertisement for Amazon’s online operation. It would be a flagship store where consumers could try out its own products, such as Kindle e-readers and Fire phones, in a similar vein to the outlets opened in major cities by the likes of Apple.

2. Click and Collect
Many experts believe one of the real drivers for the store would be to serve as a central hub for delivering online orders. There is a huge, growing demand for click and collect services. For example, in the UK it is something that 35% of Britons like to use. Obviously at present Amazon doesn’t have the physical stores that many of its rivals possess, making click and collect difficult. Similarly, the store could be a convenient way of supporting product returns for customers in the New York area.

3. Same day delivery
A third reason could be that Amazon wants to develop the site as a distribution centre to allow same day deliveries to local addresses. This seems increasingly credible in the light of Amazon’s move into selling ‘need-it-now’ items such as groceries and household goods which need to be delivered on the day. Essentially the building will act as a giant warehouse, with a shop on the front.

Amazon isn’t alone amongst pure-play online operations that have looked at expanding to have a physical presence. eBay did something similar a few years ago with its London pop up store. Given the importance of multichannel, including the High Street, to retail, it makes sense for ecommerce specialists to focus on building their capabilities in the physical world.

The challenges of extending the Amazon brand to a physical environment
However, Amazon will certainly face some new challenges if it wants to succeed in bricks and mortar retail. Here are three of the main ones:

1) Differences in customer service across channels
Amazon’s online customer experience is consistently rated highly by analysts and consumers. However, it is based on an automated, self-service model. A physical store has a different dynamic which involves face to face service. This requires people, all of whom have to be trained, motivated and monitored. Amazon will therefore need to work hard to extend its enviable reputation for online customer service to a physical environment.

2) Extending its USPs to the real world
Having made its name by pioneering ecommerce features such as online profiles, wish lists and reviews, Amazon will need to find ways to make it easy for shoppers to access and build on these elements in physical stores.

3) Delivering the range of products
Amazon is known for selling millions of products through the web – and, for many, is the de facto start point for online shopping. Given it offers 230 million items for sale in the US alone, it clearly can’t sell all of these in store. The company will therefore need to find a way to narrow down its focus and product catalogue. Does it, for example, look at high ticket items that people want to try before they buy or those that people want to receive quickly?

Whether the speculation about Amazon’s New York store is true or not it demonstrates the importance of multichannel to the retail world. Consumers value convenience and quality above all, meaning that, if they want to succeed, retailers need to make sure they can deliver the right experience seamlessly across the physical and online world.

6 Top Trends Driving Customer Expectations

August 27, 2014 1 comment

Every business understands that today’s customers are demanding more – and are happy to move to the competition if they don’t receive what they are looking for. However, breaking these demands down into specific areas can be difficult, so those involved with customer experience should take a look at a recent Forbes blog post by customer service expert Micah Solomon as it gives more detail on 10 areas where companies should focus on fixing problems.eptica_6_top

Many of these echo what we hear at Eptica when talking to our customers as well as our own research in the recent Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study of 100 top UK brands. Looking through Micah’s top 10, I’ve picked 6 areas which reflect exactly what we are seeing in the market:

1. Speed is critical
Customers want answers to their queries delivered in near real-time, with expectations rising continually. Yet when we analysed companies in the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study the average time to answer an email was 61 hours and 39 minutes (nearly three whole days), while the average response time for Twitter was 8 hours and 37 minutes. This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to reply quickly (and accurately) – the fastest response time on email was 7 minutes and for Twitter just 4 minutes. If you don’t improve speed of response, chances are that your competitors will.

2. Accuracy is paramount
Misspelt emails or incorrect, inconsistent information are not acceptable to consumers. Companies need to join up systems and centralise information to ensure that not only do they deliver fast answers but that they are accurate. Again, the Eptica Study found a lack of consistency – just 1 in 8 companies provided the same answer to an identical question asked across 2 channels.

3. Customers are happy to help themselves
Driven by a desire for speed and control, customers are increasingly keen to find out information for themselves or update their own details without needing to call or email. Web self-service software has been deployed on 55% of the top 100 brands we researched, helping customers to help themselves. This boosts satisfaction levels, reduces the load on the contact centre and increases efficiency at the same time.

4. We live in an ‘always-on’ world
Customers want information or a response NOW, rather than within office hours. This is a challenge to many companies who may lack the resources to staff contact centres or social media monitoring teams 24×7. However, using technologies such as web self-service can help by providing answers to customers at any time, day or night, minimising the number of employees that need to be working out of office hours.

5. Being multichannel is vital
The typical customer journey spans multiple channels and consumers don’t expect to have to repeat themselves or re-enter information if, for example, they move from the web to email. Technology needs to join up channels to give a consistent experience and create a single customer record that can be accessed by agents however consumers choose to contact you.

6. Customers expect you to notice
Customers want to be valued – and that includes listening to what they say about your brand, products and service. Whether they comment on social media, blogs or the web, they expect you to pick up on their words and respond quickly and helpfully. This means that you need to be on the same social media channels as your customers – yet, for example, the Eptica Multichannel Study found that just 76% of companies were on Twitter.

All of these trends (and the other 4 in Micah’s top 10) stem from the fact that customers are both now more demanding and more empowered than ever before. They want more and are unafraid to either complain or switch supplier if they don’t get what they want. Companies therefore need to focus on delivering the right experience, right now, if they are to retain customers and grow their revenues.

20 years of ecommerce – and the impact on every business

August 20, 2014 1 comment

The first secure ecommerce transaction took place 20 years ago when a lucky shopper paid $12.48 plus shipping to buy Sting’s album, Ten Summoner’s Tales, from NetMarket. From these small beginnings online sales have grown to hit £93 billion in the UK last year, according to IMRG, and are expected to top £100 billion in 2014.

Heptica_20_yearsow we shop today is radically different to 1994, changing the retail sector completely and reshaping the competitive landscape. ‘New entrants’, such as Amazon, have grown to become billion dollar corporations, while many long-established high street names have disappeared.

Aside from the benefits to consumers in terms of greater choice and lower prices, ecommerce has driven 3 major changes that have impacted business, particularly retail.

1. Customers demand more
The balance of power between companies and their customers has shifted. The combination of greater competition and the advent of social media means that consumers can easily switch supplier, as well as share their experiences on social media. This doesn’t just apply to retail – customers are demanding more from every organisation they deal with, from utilities and banks to government departments. No matter what sector you are in, you are judged by the same standards as the best performing organisations, so you need to ensure you are benchmarking against them and improving to provide what customers want.

2. The customer experience is paramount
Twenty years ago, the experience received by customers was patchy. Some high street shops were renowned for poor and unhelpful service, but as consumers had little choice, little was done to improve the experience. Indeed, the term customer experience was little known back in 1994. Its importance has developed in parallel with ecommerce, across every channel and sector.

Now, in today’s multichannel world, shoppers expect the same, consistently high, levels of service in-store as online, or over the phone. At the same time, the recent recession has focused retailers on better understanding their customers and delivering what they want, no matter how they make contact. The technology and tools are available to empower staff with the right information to provide this, helping to retain customers and build brand loyalty.

3. Integration is vital
At many points over the last two decades experts have predicted the end of the high street, with all retail sales moving to online channels. This has obviously not happened, and with the growth of click and collect services and flagship stores, physical shops have never been more vital. However, what is crucial is that all these channels are integrated to meet customer needs. Shoppers might browse the web on their mobile, place an order through their PC and then pick the item up in a shop or return an ecommerce purchase in-store. Consumers want the ability to switch channels dependent on their circumstances and needs, meaning that retailers need to integrate their operations to ensure a seamless, cross-channel experience that is centred on the customer.

Expect to see equally radical change in retail over the next 20 years, as new channels, and distribution mechanisms, build on the foundations of ecommerce. However, what won’t change is the need to focus on the customer – delivering the right experience across the multichannel journey. Organisations in all sectors therefore need to put in place the framework to manage every channel holistically, underpinned with consistent information based on customer needs. By doing this, they will be able to build lasting relationships that increase loyalty and revenues, now and in the future.

The UK insurance customer experience – struggling to deliver?

Insurers in the UK are under unprecedented pressure. Margins have been slashed by the rise of the internet and price comparison sites, competition is growing, customer loyalty is at an all-time low and claim costs and regulation are both increasing.Insurance_cover_small

Against this backdrop,the balance of power is shifting overwhelmingly in favour of consumers. They expect more, for less – and want answers faster and through the channels they choose. Adding to consumer pressures is a growth in regulation – insurers now have to be able to provide a full audit trail of all their interactions with customers and prove that they are obeying not just the spirit but the letter of the law.

To see how some the sector is coping with these challenges, the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study evaluated ten leading UK insurers. It looked at their ability to provide answers to routine questions via the web as well as their speed, accuracy and consistency when responding to email, Twitter and web chat. The study formed part of a larger, multi-sector study of 100 major UK brands, and builds on research carried out over the past two years.

So, how did the insurance sector perform across each channel?

  • On the web: Over half (57%) of questions were answered online (up from 48% in the previous year), this lagged behind other sectors, notably fashion retailers, who answered 79% of questions asked via the web. There was a widening gulf between best and worst – one company successfully answered 8 questions online, while another provided a relevant response to just 3.
  • Twitter: Half of companies were on Twitter, although just three responded successfully to tweeted questions, putting insurance in the bottom half of the sector league table. The average response time was 37 minutes.
  • Email: While 90% of insurers offered the ability for non-customers to email them, only 70% actually responded to a message. And then just 30% answered the question satisfactorily. There were great differences between insurers. One responded within 1 hour and 6 minutes – yet the slowest took over five days.
  • Web chat: At the time of the study none of the insurers surveyed offered web chat, although one has since introduced the service. Insurers could be missing out as the study overall found that with other sectors web chat scored highly for accuracy and speed, with 93.5% of interactions receiving satisfactory answers in an average time of 4 minutes and 29 seconds.

All in all, the study found inconsistencies in terms of channel availability, response times and the answers delivered between different insurers. Based on our experience, Eptica recommends five areas to focus on in order to resolve these challenges:

  1. Increase efficiency
  2. Make it easy for customers
  3. Engage
  4. Learn from the best
  5. Integrate with the business

The full findings of how the insurance sector performed within the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, along with recommendations for areas to focus on, are available in the Eptica Insurance Guide, which can be downloaded from

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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