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Deliver on your customer promises, or else…

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Customer confidence in companies can be fragile; one mistake and consumers are ready to move their business elsewhere (and complain about it on social media). Often problems occur because companies don’t deliver on what they say they will do. In other words, they fail to keep their promises.eptica_deliver_else

Customer service expert and blogger, Shep Hyken, articulated in a recent post that promises to customers can apply to many areas.  Do contact centre agents or account managers call back when they say they will? Are products delivered in good condition by the expected date? Are support calls answered within the time period specified in the service level agreement?

All of these may seem like basic things to get right. But the American Management Association and Institute for Corporate Productivity surveyed more than 1,300 business leaders and found that 33% of companies admit they don’t keep promises made to customers.

This is reflected in our own Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study which reveals that many companies aren’t meeting customer expectations when it comes to customer service. Just 16% of companies responded to emails within the timeframe they themselves set – breaking the promise they’d made to customers. And despite 76% of the companies in the study having a presence on Twitter, only 39% actually answered tweets sent to their Twitter handle.

So while companies often aspire to deliver world class customer experience, many could do well to make sure they are doing the basics right by delivering on their promises. This can start by just meeting the customer’s expectations.  However, it’s worth remembering that customers will have different expectations dependent on the brand. For example, the service they expect from a fast food chain will not be the same as from an upmarket gourmet restaurant. But in each case they want these expectations – and any promises made – to be kept.

Going beyond the basics
If you really want to impress your customers and win their long term loyalty, then take things further; instead of just meeting their expectations, try to go beyond them. Aim to provide service which is better than average, and is superior to other companies in your sector.

So how do you keep meeting customers’ expectations and even exceed them?  Here are five considerations to bear in mind:

1. Remove roadblocks
Think like a customer. Test your systems and processes regularly to find out where the pain points are. Look at how you can you redesign your processes to ensure they meet or surpass customer requirements. Customer expectations are continually growing, so repeat tests to ensure you are always improving.

2. Analyse customer queries
What questions are being asked most frequently – and does this vary across different service delivery channels? Is the right information being provided direct to customers and agents answering queries? Use analytics to explore what customers are asking, and then steps to ensure that any gaps are plugged.

3. Include the Silent Sufferers
What about the people who you don’t hear from?  Those that try to buy from you but give up and go elsewhere?  Expand your listening posts to cover all interactions. With an advanced linguistics engine you can pick out negative tonality at any stage in the customer journey and not miss out on this vital segment.

4. Under promise and over deliver
Don’t make promises you know you can’t keep but at the same time be realistic.  In the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience study we came across one travel company that promised to respond to emails within 28 days. This is way too long in today’s hypercompetitive markets.

5. Benchmark
Look at your competitors and further afield at other companies that are seen as leaders in customer service. Make sure you are delivering more than the competition and remember customers expect great service from every company – people like Amazon have raised the bar for interactions with any organisation.

Customers are increasingly fickle these days. The internet and social media means people are ever more aware when companies fail to deliver on their promises – and can easily research and switch to alternative suppliers. If you want your business to thrive it is therefore essential to make sure it delivers on customer expectations – and even surpasses them.

Social customer service: the benefits and challenges

October 31, 2014 1 comment

As multiple studies show, social media is now a key channel for customer service. A J.D. Power study found that two thirds of customers who contacted a company on social media did so for customer service. Businesses understand this, but delivering the right level of service can be a challenge, particularly when it comes to integrating with other channels and scaling to meet demand. So, what are customers looking for and how can their needs be best met?eptica_social_customer_service

The growth in social customer service is not happening in isolation. It is part of a trend in which customers are becoming ever more demanding. They are much more likely to complain about, and to switch from, a particular provider if they are unhappy with their experience. At the same time they are more vocal about the service they receive – and social media offers an easy, convenient channel to share their experiences, good and bad.

The benefits
At the outset it’s worth emphasizing that social media gives companies an opportunity to directly engage with customers, help resolve customer problems and build stronger relationships. And it also boosts the bottom line – research by American Express has found that consumers who have received customer service on social media are willing to pay 21% more for excellent service,

In fact the American Express study found that people who have received customer service on social media tell an average of 42 people about good experiences and 53 people about bad experiences (while someone in the general population tells only 15 and 24 people respectively). That provides a huge opportunity to create advocates for your company and products.

Meeting the challenges
However, delivering social customer service is not easy, with customers insisting on immediate, consistent responses. For example, Edison Research found that 32% of people who have asked a customer service question on social media, expect a reply within 30 minutes – with 42% wanting an answer within an hour. Worryingly for 9-5 contact centres nearly 6 in 10 (57%) demand “the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours”. Consumers view response times as an indicator of how highly a company values their business, and act accordingly.

Similarly, customers expect a consistent level of service across all digital touch points, including social media. This can be challenging because companies will often have more than one presence on social media, with it being used for marketing and PR as well as service. Additionally the CEO and other company executives may also have profiles that consumers will try and interact with to make their issues known. This means customer service requests can easily end up being directed at the ‘wrong’ company department or employee, and without very good internal collaboration to pass on incoming requests, there can easily be long delays or no response to the customer.

Our own Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study also found that many companies aren’t meeting customer expectations when it comes to social customer service. Despite 76% of the companies in the study having a presence on Twitter, just 39% answered customer service questions received through the channel. And those who did respond to were slow in doing so: the average successful response on Twitter was 8 hours and 37 minutes. This is obviously well outside Edison Research’s hour deadline, taking over a working day before an answer is received.

What should companies do to make the most of the social customer service opportunity? Hootsuite’s White Paper, ‘Social Customer Service: The Future of Customer Satisfaction’, highlights five key areas:

1. Make sure you listen
By listening to multiple social channels, companies can capture and resolve an increasing number of service inquiries that would otherwise be missed. You can only do this if you are on the same social networks as your customers, so research your key demographics and structure your strategy accordingly.

2. Embrace negative social media comments
Many companies dread negative social comments from dissatisfied customers, but these messages are powerful opportunities to convert detractors into loyal customers. A study conducted by Harris Interactive found that when retailers replied to negative reviews on social media and online ratings sites, a third of customers either deleted their original negative review or replaced it with a positive review. Nearly a fifth went on to become loyal customers and made another purchase. O2’s response to negative feedback when it had a network outage back in 2012 is a classic example of using empathy and humour to disarm negative feedback.

3. Use social media to nurture brand advocates
Capitalise on positive service experiences by nurturing thankful customers and turning them into dedicated brand advocates. Among consumers who received customer service on social media, 48% have praised a company for a great service experience. Social media allows an organisation to quickly recognise potential advocates, thank them publicly, and spread their positive feedback to a wider audience via social channels.

4. Deliver customer service proactively
Monitoring social media can often identify customers who are experiencing challenges with a company’s products or services before they request help from an official customer service channel. In such circumstances, providing proactive advice via social channels even before an explicit request for help is made, can help companies delight customers, cultivate brand loyalty, and reduce customer turnover. It also serves as an early warning system – if enough people are complaining on social media, you may well have a wider issue that is affecting your company or products.

5. Better understand the customer service experience
Social media allows you to listen to customers in real time and on a massive scale. Using linguistic technology, it is possible to deepen your understanding of the customer service experience and proactively recognise trends, customer perceptions and sentiment around specific products and services. These insights can inform customer service strategy, training and resource allocation.

With social media increasingly central to our lives, the need for smart social customer service is only going to increase in importance. Companies therefore need to invest in the channel and integrate it with wider operations in order to deliver the service that customers are demanding.

Flying high? The state of customer experience in the airline industry

September 19, 2014 1 comment

Like many industries, the internet has radically changed the airline industry. It has altered the role of travel agents and led to an elimination of analogue, paper-based processes as it has moved to a digital-led model. At the same time competition has increased exponentially, with newer airlines with lower cost-bases further disrupting the sector.

Avoiding the social media #faileptica_flying
Consequently, the customer experience is increasingly vital. The rise of social media means that customers will immediately share poor experiences – even if (like weather delays) they are outside the airline’s control. The YouTube video and campaign, started by musician Dave Carroll after his guitar was damaged during transit by United Airlines wiped 10% off its share price, while other airlines have come under fire for tardy responses to social media complaints.

The rise of mobile devices is also changing the overall travel experience with 47% of UK travellers browsing the web using mobile devices during their break, and 34% posting updates on social networks while on holiday.

Improving the airline customer experience
To meet these challenges, many airlines are looking to adopt customer experience management (CEM). This aims to drive loyalty and satisfaction by achieving a complete understanding of the customer. Using this they can then be offered customised services and relevant communication at all touch points in real-time through their journey. The vision depends on two elements:

  • Recognising and understanding individual customers throughout the process, from buying a ticket onwards.
  • The ability to gather, share and act on this information at every touch point, in real-time.

Given the scale and complexity of airline operations, this is potentially difficult to achieve. According to specialist research organisation Travel Tech Consulting it will take an estimated 5 to 7 years for the first large scale, successful customer experience management implementations. It points to six critical factors which will ensure the success of CEM:

1. The content provided to customers, which needs to be relevant and appropriate

2. Context: information must be relevant to a situation, for instance communicating a gate change via SMS rather than email.

3. Location: being able to precisely locate travellers (such a via beacons or Bluetooth) within airports.

4. Timeliness: information needs to be real-time so passengers can alter journey plans if necessary.

5. Control: passengers must feel that they’re in control and see the benefits if they share personal information (such as their location) with airlines.

6. Personalisation: airlines must understand the customer to a sufficient degree that they can personalise every experience. For example, they can differentiate when a regular business traveller is on a family trip.

Getting the basics right
So how are airlines performing today? The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study researched how they respond on channels such as email, Twitter, chat and web self-service. As part of the study of 100 organisations, the research looked at five airlines, and found a mixed picture:

  • Email performance was poor:
    • Just 60% (3 out of 5) airlines let non-customers email them – though one said that if the answer could be found online they wouldn’t respond to the email.
    • One airline gave 28 days as the deadline for replying via email – which it then failed to meet.
    • Only 40% of airlines answered a question emailed to them. The fastest responded in a hour, but failed to provide a successful answer, while the other took 121 hours to provide a more comprehensive response.
  • Twitter is patchy
    • 60% of airlines are on Twitter, and 50% successfully answered a question tweeted to them
    • The fastest responded within just 8 minutes. However, another took a day to answer and asked to be emailed – somewhat defeating the purpose of interacting via social media channel
  • No airline surveyed offered web chat, missing out on its benefits of speed, consistency and real-time interaction.

The combination of increased competition, ubiquitous mobile devices and the rise of social media is driving customer experience up the agenda for airlines. However, as the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study has found, if the CEM vision is ever to be realised, airlines need to first focus on the basics, if they are gain trust and retain passenger loyalty.

Moving from monologue to dialogue with customers

September 10, 2014 1 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

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.

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.

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