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Moving from monologue to dialogue with customers

September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Organisations need to radically change how they interact with their customers proclaimed Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) in a recent speech.  In her state of the nation address, she highlighted how the balance of power has shifted dramatically from companies to their customers. While many organisations see this swing as a threat, it can actually deliver benefits to those companies that embrace and improve the customer experience.eptica_dialogue

Driven by better access to information and new channels such as the internet and social media, consumers can now share their feedback and views more widely than ever before. These developments have transformed the traditional, one-way conversation which was typified by companies pushing their carefully planned messages to customers. Now, customers want a two-way dialogue, not a monologue – companies can no longer control the conversation. This has a real impact on how organisations interact with consumers and, ultimately, whether they succeed or fail as businesses.

Changing from the traditional top down model to a more conversational way of engaging might seem challenging but it can deliver real benefits in 3 areas:

1. Co-creation: Capturing and acting on feedback and insights can help companies create products and services that better match customer needs, helping to boost sales and revenues.

2. Improved customer relationships: Engaging positively with customers in a dialogue increases loyalty and leads to an increase in referrals, both directly and via social media.

3. Differentiation: Organisations that value customers and interact conversationally with customers can differentiate themselves, and consequently transform the service they deliver.

While some companies are embracing the idea of customer dialogues, there is clearly a long way to go. For example, the ICS UK Customer Satisfaction Index, which tracks customer happiness with the service they receive from brands, fell in July 2014 for the third consecutive time. Over half of organisations experienced a drop of at least one point in their ratings, while satisfaction levels fell in 12 out of the 13 sectors surveyed. Just 28 out of 197 organisations saw their scores rise.

These findings are supported by the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, which found that many companies are still providing average or worse service on some channels. Email customer service was often slow or unavailable, just 39% of companies responded successfully to questions on Twitter, and overall there were vast differences between the best and worst performers across sectors and channels.

So what should companies be doing to make the most of the changes the industry is experiencing? In her speech, Jo Causon of the ICS points to 5 key areas:

1. Invest in people with the right skills, including those that have a high level of emotional intelligence and commercial acumen. Then support them with the right technology and tools to do their jobs.

2. Report publicly on your customer service measures and satisfaction levels in order to motivate and spur the whole company on to continually improve.

3. Use insight from customer service to drive business change including amending your products and services and the way you deliver them to meet consumer needs.

4. Make customer service a boardroom issue so that it is top of mind in all business decision-making.

5. Use customer service and the insight you receive as a predictive tool to shape the direction of your future strategy.

We all know that the balance of power has shifted so that customers now have greater influence on the companies they buy from. Organisations can either start shaping the customer experience they offer in a way that increases two-way engagement with consumers – or stand still and invite failure. The rewards for transforming the experience are potentially huge in terms of winning new customers, retaining old ones, building your brand and increasing loyalty. The time to focus is now.

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.

A Shock to the System?

Figures released this week by the Energy Ombudsman show that complaints against energy companies in the UK are at their highest ever level. They more than doubled, from 10,598 in the first six months of 2013 to 22,671 in the same period of 2014. 84% of complaints related to billing and this news follows previous large fines for misselling for a number of utilities.

Driven by a desire to open up the market to greater competition industryEptica Utility Customer Service regulator Ofgem has introduced new measures to make it easier to switch supplier and to simplify tariffs for customers. This includes the ability to move utility within three days by the end of 2014 – while next day switching will be in place by the end of 2018. Currently it can take five weeks to switch, including a two week cooling-off period where customers can change their minds.

All of these developments, along with consumer dissatisfaction at rising bills, put the spotlight on customer service. Making it easier to switch increases the power of customers, and they are likely to demand a better service to win and retain their business.

So, how is the utility industry faring, when it comes to the customer experience? The picture is mixed, according to the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, which evaluated 10 leading UK utilities. It replicated consumer behaviour by measuring them on their ability to provide answers to ten routine questions via the web as well as their speed, accuracy and consistency when responding to email, Twitter and web chat.

The headline findings show a real difference between channels:

  • Utilities answered an average of 66% of routine questions on their websites, although this varied between companies. Three companies scored 80%, while two only answered three out of ten questions.
  • Email performance worsened. Just 40% of companies answered a question emailed to them, down from 70% in 2012.
  • The time taken to respond to email also deteriorated. One company took over 317 hours to reply – hardly helpful for next day switching. The fastest response was 6 hours 22 minutes.
  • Twitter was more promising, with 50% of companies successfully answered a tweeted question. The fastest took just 20 minutes, but the slowest replied in 95 hours 15 minutes.
  • At the time of the research no utility offered web chat, which is a proven way of delivering fast, personalised service to customers.
  • Consistency was also an issue. Two companies provided the same answer on two channels – others either failed to respond or gave different responses.
  • Channel choice was patchy. For example, one utility didn’t offer email to non-customers or have a Twitter handle, meaning that if consumers couldn’t find an answer on their website, they were forced to call the company to get an answer to their question.

The rising tide of consumer dissatisfaction and increasing legislation mean that customer service will be crucial to utilities in winning and retaining business moving forward. While some utilities are already providing fast, helpful service, there is a great variation between different channels and different companies. Utilities need to benchmark themselves against market leaders and ensure they are on the channels that their customers want to use – the time to act is now, before faster switching changes the competitive landscape forever.

Delivering patchy performance – UK retailers and customer service

July 2, 2014 1 comment

The UK retail landscape has changed radically in the last ten years. The rise of the internet, new competition, increasingly demanding consumers and the slowdown caused by the recession have triggered the demise of many long-standing players, transforming the sector.

How are the UK’s top retailers coping with these challenges? To find out, the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study evaluated 40 leading UK retailers, spread across four sectors, food & wine, consumer electronics, entertainment and fashion. It measured them on their ability to provide answers to ten routine questions via the web as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email, Twitter and web chat. Sample questions included:

  • Can I add items to an order before it is delivered?
  • Can I order online and pick up instore?
  • Do you have an ethical sourcing policy? If so, where can I find details?

The Study found wide variations between different sectors, channels and individual companies. These meant that while some retailers scored highly, the overall performance was patchy, with over a third of questions going unanswered online, via email or through Twitter. On a channel by channel basis, performance varied as follows:

  • On the web: Retailers topped the overall study (which also looked at the insurance, travel, consumer electronics manufacturers, utility, telecoms and banking sectors) when it came to answering questions on the web – but also brought up the rear. Fashion retailers scored an average of 79%, while entertainment and electronics retailers only managed 52%.10% of retailers scored 9 or 10, while 17.5% were only able to answer 3 or fewer questions. This means that whilst the overall average for retailers was 60% (up from 53% last year) – 4 out of ten questions are simply not being answered online.
  • Twitter: Over eight in ten (83%) of retailers are on Twitter, but just 33% responded successfully to tweeted questions and the average response time was slow at 13 hours 10 minutes. The fact that there was a 30% difference in performance between email and Twitter, even though the same question was asked on both, shows that the sector needs to share knowledge better between the two channels.
  • Email: Overall, 63% of retailers successfully answered a question emailed to them, a 10% improvement on the same study last year. Speed of email response had also improved dramatically – with an average time of 35 hours and 43 minutes (versus 67 hours last year) but this does mask enormous differences – one electronics retailer responded in 7 minutes, yet another in the same sector, took nearly ten days.
  • Web chat: When the research took place just three companies (8%) had web chat deployed, although others advertised on their web site and simply did not have it working at the time or have introduced it subsequently. Those that did offer chat, principally electronics retailers, benefited from its speed and flexibility – 83% of interactions received satisfactory answers in an average time of 4 minutes.

In an increasingly competitive market retailers should look at the following five key areas if they are to continue to meet rising customer expectations:

  1. Increase efficiency across channels: Retailers need to invest to improve efficiency by centralising customer service and automating as much as possible. Technology such as web self-service can deflect simple interactions to online channels, while advanced linguistic analysis can better understand incoming emails or tweets and suggest more relevant answers based on an understanding of language and context.
  2. Value customers’ time: Retailers need to deliver a multichannel response, answering questions quickly, on the customer’s channel of choice, powered by consistent, centralised knowledge. Retailers are advised to investigate new channels and devices such as mobile and social and ensure they have a presence on them that meets customer needs.
  3. Engage: To build loyalty and a deep relationship retailers need to engage with customers. Understand the customer journey and consumer expectations. Use linguistics to analyse and understand the questions people ask so that you can fine tune the experience to best meet their needs. Proactive web chat not only helps customers by quickly answering their queries but also increases engagement and drives additional sales.
  4. Benchmark the best: In a world where the internet increases competition and makes it easy for new entrants to launch, retailers need to be constantly improving. As a first step, companies should therefore benchmark their performance against immediate competitors. But they should also look further afield and review the wider market to spot new ideas that can be adapted and incorporated into operations, to increase differentiation and efficiency.
  5. Integrate with the business: Everyone is involved in the customer experience, from those working in shops to delivery drivers and senior management. Retailers are advised to work across departments to share information and link systems together to give an end-to-end view of the customer relationship. In the longer term linguistics can become part of the customer experience and information shared as part of a retailer’s big data strategy.

To download the study in full, including a sector-by-sector breakdown and to access further recommendations from Eptica please visit: http://www.eptica.com/Retail-Multichannel-Study-2014.html.

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.

The UK versus France – the five key customer experience differences

June 6, 2014 1 comment

As part of a global company I see the increasing importance of the customer experience to businesses in different sectors, all around the world. However, there are also major differences when it comes to preferred local channels, specific requirements and, in some cases, technology.

2014-06-06 15_38_02-The new MCST.pdf - Adobe ReaderThese differences are visible even between two mature markets such as the UK and France. Following the release of the UK Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study earlier in the year, we’ve repeated the research exercise in France, which enables us to draw some interesting conclusions.

In both studies we evaluated leading companies on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine questions via the web as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email, Twitter and web chat. For the UK we surveyed 100 companies in ten sectors, while in France we expanded this to 110 organisations in 11 sectors.

So how do they compare? The Eptica research found five key differences:

1. The web customer experience is moving in opposite directions
UK websites could provide answers to 63% of questions asked online, compared to just over half (51%) of sites in France. Looking back one year and we can see that UK sites are improving (up from 53% last year), whereas the web customer experience in France is getting worse, falling from 58% to 51%.

2. The UK is ahead when it comes to web self-service
Web self-service systems that make it easier for customers to receive fast, consistent answers to their questions are increasing being implemented on both sides of the channel. However, the UK does appear to be leading the way, with over half (53%) of companies using web self-service, against around a third (34%) in France. In contrast, web chat is offered by an almost identical number of companies – 7.3% in France compared to 7% in the UK.

3. The UK is falling behind on email responses
The number of UK companies allowing non-customers to email them has been falling over the past two years, dropping to 71% in our last study. In contrast, 81% of French companies provided the ability to email them, up from 74% in previous research. French companies also led the way in response rates – only 41% of British companies successfully answered an emailed question, compared to 59% in France.

4. The French embrace Twitter customer service
While over three quarters of companies in both countries are now on Twitter, French brands are using it more effectively. 80% of French companies are on Twitter and successfully responded to 52% of Tweets. In contrast, 76% of UK brands are on the channel, but could only answer 39% of questions tweeted.

5. Consistency is poor on both sides of the Channel
Our research compared answers given across multiple channels (email, Twitter and web chat) to check their consistency. In France 10% of companies provided consistent answers on two channels, with 1% successfully delivering similar responses on three. The results were slightly better in the UK, with 12% of companies providing consistent answers on two channels, though none of the three companies that offered three channels responded consistently on all of them.

We live in an increasingly global economy, where consumers expect the same high standards from organisations, wherever they are located and whatever sector they are in. Therefore, companies in France and The UK – in fact everywhere – need to learn from each other when it comes to the customer experience – or risk losing revenues as consumers take their business elsewhere.

To find out more download the UK Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study here, or the French version here.

 

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Web Chat: Time for UK brands to reap the benefits  

A chat window in Gmail

Web chat is growing rapidly in popularity with studies consistently showing that this service is highly valued by customers. For example, a 2013 survey by eConsultancy found that web chat had the highest satisfaction levels for any customer service channel, scoring 73%, compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone. Speed (79%) and efficiency (46%) were the top reasons given for its popularity. A separate survey by eMarketer found that 63% of customers are more likely to return to a site that offers web chat.

The business benefits
Equally, chat delivers competitive advantage. Proactive web chat enables agents to help at key points on the customer journey, improving the experience, reducing abandoned transactions and offering opportunities for upselling. Think of web chat as the online equivalent of a helpful shop assistant that makes the buying process easier, providing advice and suggestions that improve the customer experience and turns browsers into buyers. It is also cost-effective as an agent can manage multiple chats simultaneously. No wonder that proactive chat has a return on investment of 105%, according to Forrester.

Web chat – the picture on the ground
Yet despite these benefits to customers and businesses, few companies actually offer chat. The most recent Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study found that its use in the UK’s top companies is still in its infancy. We tested the channel by asking a single question through a chat session. Key findings included:

  • Overall just 13% of companies claimed to offer reactive web chat, a figure that is actually down from 15% last year.
  • The picture worsened when we revisited sites. We then found that just 7% of organisations had reactive web chat operational (so a drop of nearly half) – possibly because companies were switching agent resources to other channels at particular times.
  • On the other hand the benefits were immediately apparent. 93.5% of queries were answered satisfactorily– the highest score of any digital channel, and way above the 41% of email and 39% of Twitter.
  • It was also blisteringly fast. The average chat session took just 4 minutes and 29 seconds. This makes it the quickest channel to receive an online answer from an agent – in comparison the Twitter average response time was 8 hours 37 minutes.

Companies need to deal with a growing number of interactions, across a widening range of channels, often with static or shrinking budgets. However, as both industry studies and the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study show, chat brings significant benefits. Customers understand the channel and value the immediacy, simplicity and personal service that it enables, leading to greater loyalty and recommendations to their peers. It is time to invest in chat and reap the benefits it brings.

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