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6 Top Trends Driving Customer Expectations

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 Leave a 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 http://www.eptica.com/insurance-multichannel-Study-2014.html.

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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Managing the rising email tide

March 13, 2014 3 comments

Despite the growth of new channels, email is still a vital part of the customer service mix. Consumers like the fact that email provides an audit trail, is convenient and allows them to send emails in their own time, rather than having to respond instantly as on the phone or social media.

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With the growth in smartphones and tablets, you don’t even need to be in front of your computer to send or respond to email. Many interactions that begin on other channels (such as social media) escalate to email because of its flexibility and privacy. It is therefore no surprise that email usage is up – recent figures from Experian found that volume had grown by 11.2% when you compare Q4 2013 and the same period in 2012. Recognising this trend, 40% of marketers plan to increase their spend on email platforms this year.

However the growth in email causes potential issues for customer service teams. The sheer volume of incoming messages can cause delays in responding, particularly as emails contain unstructured data that takes time to read and understand. At the same time customer expectations are rising – they want an answer within minutes and hours, not days and weeks. Fail to provide one and they may well email again, adding to the backlog, or move to a more expensive channel, such as the telephone, to get an answer.

Fortunately linguistic technology can help companies to manage the email mountain, while increasing efficiency at the same time. Linguistics, the scientific study of language, is able to better understand the context of unstructured data, delivering benefits for companies in three key areas:

1              Improved efficiency and customer engagement
Using linguistics enables customer service systems to understand the meaning of questions asked in incoming emails. Rather than just looking at individual keywords (such as ‘delivery’ or ‘cancellation’), it understands the context of what is being said, and then acts on it. This could be routing the email to the best department or agent, or automatically suggesting a relevant answer for the agent to personalise and send. This increases productivity as agents can handle more emails per hour, while at the same time improving the quality and consistency of the response that customers receive.

2              Improving data accuracy
Customers want a joined-up response, whatever channel they contact you on. However many organisations have data gaps in their records, such as missing phone numbers or Twitter handles, meaning they find it hard to deliver an integrated response. How do you know it is the same John Smith contacting you by email that spoke to you last week by phone? Linguistics lets you extract information freely provided by customers within incoming emails (such as in the signature) and cross-reference/update the master customer record. This gives a more cohesive view of the customer, refining the multichannel service you can provide.

3          Improving understanding
By looking at the context and language of the email linguistics lets you analyse the tone of the interaction quickly and easily. This can then be used to both prioritise and route the message, and for longer term analytics. For example an email from a customer threatening to cancel their contract unless their problem is immediately solved could be prioritised so that it is answered more quickly than normal. Equally, a message praising the service received could be routed to marketing in order to provide VIP offers or to ask the customer to take a survey. Analysing responses, such as terms used around specific products, gives a deeper insight into how customers actually feel about them, and measures how it is changing over time.

As we’ve seen, email usage is growing and customer expectations are rising fast. Therefore organisations need to look at ways of improving efficiency and taming the email channel – linguistics delivers an answer that provides tangible benefits, while improving the customer experience.

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The rise of Generation Y and what it means to the customer experience

November 22, 2013 2 comments

Across the world customer satisfaction is getting worse – and younger generations are saying goodbye to the phone channel. These are just two of the headline findings from Dimension Data’s 2013/14 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report.MultichannelGraphic_Web

The 16th edition of the report is based on a worldwide survey of 817 companies in 11 industries and 79 countries. It paints a bleak picture of the state of the market. Customer satisfaction scores have dropped to an average of 77.6%, while First Contact Resolution (FCR) rates are now at 73.1% – meaning more than a quarter of customers are not having their issues solved the first time they interact with an organisation. Both of these metrics have fallen for the fourth year in a row, despite the levels of investment in contact centres.

There’s also a channel shift occurring around the globe. The phone is now the third choice of members of Generation Y (born between 1980 and 2000) when they want to communicate with a company, behind electronic messaging and smartphone apps. While consumers in Generation X (1961-1989) still rank the phone as their number one contact mechanism, the gap is narrowing compared to other channels.

So how are companies looking to improve the experience for customers of all generations? There’s an obvious shift away from voice only call centres towards multichannel contact centres, but the study found that agents still don’t have access to unified resources, such as a single view of the customer – no doubt contributing to poor customer satisfaction.

Essentially the report believes that many organisations are still operating channels as separate silos, rather than providing the cross-channel and omnichannel experience that customers demand. This frustrates consumers, pushes up costs and prevents agents from delivering excellent service.

Reading the study, there are three key points I’d pull out that chime with my own experiences:

1          Web chat is a necessity, not a nice to have
The number of web chat deployments increased by 27.2% over the last 12 months, with  50.6% of contact centres either offering or planning to offer web chat. Given the ability this channel has to deliver cost-effective, personal service and its growing appeal to consumers, web chat’s time has definitely come.

2          Isolated technology islands are pushing up costs
Companies recognise the need to lighten the burden on agents, aiming to shift nearly a third (32.6%) of contacts to self-service systems. However many are implementing these through a piecemeal, channel by channel approach, leading to a plethora of systems and silos. What is needed is a centralised approach that collects knowledge and makes it available across every channel in a consistent, accurate manner.

3          Complexity is driving agents away
Front line agents are leaving contact centres in their droves. Agent attrition is running at 26% of the workforce – that’s over a quarter of staff leaving, every year. Additionally, agents are three times more likely to be absent from work compared to their managers. A lack of support and resources to help cope with the move to multichannel is blamed for this accelerating trend – so organisations need to listen to their agents and provide the technology, knowledge and training to help them meet changing customer needs.

The Dimension Data report shows that organisations face significant changes when it comes to delivering the service that consumers require. Investment needs to be targeted to provide the cross-channel experience that customers are demanding and agents need to be armed with the right tools and skills if they are to successfully do their jobs. Consequently the next twelve months will be crucial for many contact centres as they evolve to meet a changing business environment. 

Finding the key to managing cross-channel customer service

October 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Customers want to interact with companies on an ever-widening number of channels. And while newer channels such as mobile and social media may currently be hitting the headlines, it is vital that customer service teams don’t neglect traditional communication methods such as email, the web and phone.

In fact, the total number of contacts, across every channel, is increasing. A recent study by market researchers MARKESS International found that the volume of customer interactions was increasing by 5% per year. The 2013 MARKESS research, carried out in conjunction with Eptica, surveyed 145 business and IT decision makers in France and highlighted the global shift to digital channels.

Companies predicted that by 2015 over half (51%) of contact would be through digital channels (web, email, mobile, social), with the fastest growing channels being:

  • The web – up from 14% of contacts in 2013 to 18% in 2015
  • Mobile – more than doubling from 3% to 7%
  • Social networks – increasing from 4% to 7% over the same period

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In our experience the UK market is seeing similar trends. So, while digital will have the upper hand, traditional channels such as telephone, post and even face to face won’t be going away anytime soon. Organisations therefore need to be able to handle more interactions across more channels without impacting customer satisfaction or efficiency. They have to transform their operations to work cross-channel in an era where change is the only constant.

The good news is that 56% of those surveyed believed that their customer service budgets dedicated to digital would increase, although 38% weren’t able to predict whether budgets would go up or down.

To meet future needs, the decision makers interviewed by MARKESS were focusing their cross-channel strategies on four areas:

  1. Integration of all channels (digital and traditional) through a single strategy and team to drive efficiency and customer satisfaction.
  2. The establishment of a single, centralised contact process to ensure cross-channel consistency. This should span all customer interactions, including contact management, orders and logistics.
  3. The creation of metrics to measure the value of digital customer interactions so they can be compared to traditional channels.
  4. Strong involvement of the CIO in any mobile customer interaction projects to ensure their success.

While the MARKESS research focused on France, it uncovers similar issues and areas for focus as in the UK. At a time of unprecedented competition, organisations need to achieve a balance between channels – delivering the same high standards of customer experience however they are contacted.

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