Technology with the human touch

Technology has the power to transform how we communicate with each other, and has made huge advances over the last twenty years. We’ve seen the growth of email, the rise of social media and the emergence of web chat all provide new ways to interact with friends, families and organizations. In turn, this has revolutionized customer service, adding new channels and new expectations when individuals want to speak to brands.eptica_human_touch_technology_blog

However, technology alone is never enough, as the recent issues suffered by Microsoft’s chatbot Tay illustrate. Launched on Twitter, Microsoft said its researchers created Tay as an experiment to learn more about computers and human conversation. However, the artificial intelligence within Tay was designed to learn from the interactions it had – something that many Twitter users quickly realized was open to abuse. Pretty quickly she had been taught to give inappropriate racist, sexist and otherwise offensive responses, leading Microsoft to remove her account from Twitter.

In many ways the problems with Tay mirror those that the first wave of customer service chatbots on websites suffered. Normally represented by a female avatar, they tried to respond to any remark made by the public with a coherent answer, but were often targets for rude or irrelevant questions. Most have now disappeared, and while artificial intelligence technology has improved massively – as shown by the responses provided by Apple’s Siri for example, they still don’t deliver the personal experience that consumers are asking for.

At a time when individuals want to have meaningful, two way conversations with brands, organizations need to balance the use of technology with human input. This way they can maximize efficiency, while still providing an engaging, human face to their customer experience. After all, most people are still more comfortable having conversations with other people, rather than machines. From my experience I see three areas where advanced technology, such as linguistics can help underpin better, more productive conversations:

1. Deflecting incoming queries
There are times when consumers don’t want to interact deeply with an organization – they just want an answer to a simple question, and they want it now. Self-service technology can be deployed on channels such as the web in order to help consumers better serve themselves, freeing up human agents to deal with more complex queries where they can use their emotional understanding to improve the customer experience.

2. Empower agents
Whatever the channel a consumer uses, their query is likely to be routed to an agent in the contact center. To ensure that the conversation delivers the right result it is vital to empower these agents with the tools and information they need. Technology can help. For example, provide agents with access to a centralized knowledge base that is constantly updated with the latest answers, in order to give them the information they need to respond confidently to customers over the phone.

You can also use workflow that analyzes incoming queries and automatically routes them to the best available person within the organization, along with a suggested template answers. Agents can then personalize the response and provide an efficient, helpful reply to the query.

3. Understand emotion
Imagine having a conversation where you had no idea whether the person you were speaking to was happy, angry or sad, and there was no way of finding this out. Essentially, this is the case for most digital interactions, as channels such as email lack the verbal or physical context that makes face to face or phone conversations easily understood. However by using linguistic technology, companies can analyze incoming interactions and get an idea of the tone of the conversation. This means they can respond accordingly, without the risk of misinterpreting what is being said at the other end. Linguistics can also allow you to prioritize messages according to tone or language – with angry customers threatening to leave routed to specialist teams trained to empathize with their complaints for example.

It is easy to be seduced by the potential of technology, particularly artificial intelligence. However, as the case of Tay shows, it is vital not to forget the importance of humans to having meaningful conversations if you want to engage and retain customers moving forward.

Where are the UK’s Chief Customer Officers?

The combination of growing competition and more demanding consumers means that customer experience is now recognized by businesses everywhere as crucial for success. Analyst reports back this up – research from Forrester found that companies with superior customer experience demonstrate improved revenue growth, while Gartner analysis predicted that by 2016 89% of companies expect to compete on the experience they offer.eptica_uk_cco_blog

Given their importance, customer experience programs have to be led from the top, with senior management heavily involved and setting a strong strategy for the whole organization to follow.

Therefore more and more global organizations are turning to Chief Customer Officers (CCO) to lead this part of their business. Defined by the Chief Customer Officer Council as “an executive that provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability,” the CCO role is different from other jobs such as Customer Service Director or VP of Service for three key reasons:

  1. They are independent and not part of any one department or division
  2. They are senior, with a seat on the board and a direct reporting line to the CEO
  3. They have the skills, responsibility and understanding to make them the ultimate authority on a company’s customers, coming up with strategies not just to retain existing business, but to drive new revenues.

The UK picture
Yet new research shows that few leading UK companies have a CCO, or equivalent, on their boards. Analysis by PeopleTECH found that just 1% of FTSE 100 companies had a CCO, while none of the FTSE AIM 100 index of fast-growth businesses employed one. 15% of FTSE 100 companies did have someone on the board with a specific customer-focused remit as part of their role, but not as a CCO. Indeed, most CCOs seem to be at a lower level – 11% of FTSE 100 companies had a Chief Customer Officer on their senior management teams or executive committees, meaning they are not involved in board level discussions.

At a time when more and more markets are becoming global, this means that the UK’s biggest businesses risk lagging behind their counterparts in other countries. For example, according to Forrester in the US 75% of CCOs are part of their company’s senior management team.

What can UK organizations do to fill this gap? The key is to focus on two main areass:

1. Skills
One of the issues holding back the rise of CCOs globally has been the wide range of skills the role requires. They need to be able to understand all parts of the customer journey, so have to be experienced in a wide range of disciplines, from marketing and sales to customer service and digital, while having the seniority and strategic knowledge to drive major change. Companies therefore need to ensure they are putting in place the necessary training to fill in any knowledge gaps in their senior customer experience leaders, enabling them to make the jump to the CCO role.

As the PeopleTECH analysis shows, very few organizations have a CCO in place. Obviously, not every company is big enough to afford to employ one, but larger businesses should look at the benefits they bring, and see how they can reshape their organizational structure in order to attract and retain a CCO. At the very least they should look at who has responsibility for customers and their needs at board level.

The benefits of a CCO, including growing the customer base, enhancing profitability, increasing loyalty and turning the customer base into a business asset, are all vital to success in today’s markets. Organizations therefore need explore how a CCO could help them win and retain customers, and boost revenues going forward.

Websites lead the way for UK customer service

With an increasing amount of our time spent online, company websites are now more often than not the first port of call for consumers looking for information from brands. Being able to find answers to their questions quickly is therefore a vital part of the customer experience.eptica_websites_lead_way_blog

According to the latest Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, the good news is that most companies understand this, with the web remaining the strongest channel for providing accurate answers to consumer queries. However, the study also highlights that accuracy varies hugely between sectors and companies, ranging from 100% down to just 5%. In turn, the study found that this has led to an average of 66% of questions successfully answered, meaning a third of consumers are left disappointed.

Since 2001 Eptica has evaluated 100 leading UK companies on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine questions via the web as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to emails, Twitter, Facebook and web chat. The web, in the form of help and self service has remained on top throughout that time and continued to improve between 2015 and 2016.

Average performance becomes the norm?
However, when looking at individual companies and sectors, there’s a growing gap separating the top performers from the others; with the bulk of companies sitting in the middle. So for example 11% of the brands evaluated scored a maximum 100% by answering all questions successfully, while 10% of those surveyed managed to answer only 40% or less. Over half (53%) of the companies were stuck between 40-70% successfully delivered answers.

The difference in performance within individual sectors is also worth highlighting – one entertainment retailer scored 100% and another 5% (failing to fully answer any questions at all). In competitive markets such as entertainment, with multiple companies selling the same or similar products failing to deliver accurate, responsive customer service will quickly hit the bottom line as consumers opt to purchase products from brands that deliver a far superior experience.

The Study also found that some sectors are clearly way ahead of others in terms of the web experience they deliver. For example, even the worst performing companies in banking and fashion scored 70%, still significantly better than the top performers in insurance who managed to successfully answer only 60% of questions.

Banking tops the table
In 2015, the study highlighted the big improvement made by banking sector websites (an overall online score of 91% for the sector), overtaking sites operated by fashion retailers. Banking held on to its top spot this year, but its score slipped to 84%, narrowly beating fashion (83.5%). The biggest positive strides this year came from utility companies for whom the average score jumped 15%, from 66% to 81% quite possibly due to recent press about poor customer service in this sector.

On the negative side, five out of ten sectors performed worse than in 2015, with the average score for consumer electronics manufacturers slipping 10%. Entertainment retailers propped up the bottom of the table, dropping 8% since 2015, to a score of just 57%.

The power of self-service
Interestingly, this year we saw a big jump in number of companies offering web self-service -available on 68% of websites, up from 56% surveyed in 2015. In fact the presence of web self-service closely correlates to improved scores in the study when looking at the different sectors. For example all the banks and utilities offer web self-service, but just 30% of entertainment retailers provided this service to their customers.

Self-service is an attractive channel to both the public and businesses. Consumers can find answers easily during their web journey on a site without having to pick up the phone or send an email, while businesses increase efficiency as queries answered via self-service reduce costs by deflecting calls or emails to the contact center. Demonstrating this trend, research from Forrester found that more people are now using self-service than are calling an organization.

The rise of the mobile web, the growing buying power of new ‘internet native’ generations, as well as older demographics spending more time online, means company websites are becoming ever more important. So it’s essential that brands continually invest in improving self-service functionality and experience they offer in order to satisfy and retain customers moving forward.

Bridging the gap between purchase and service

March 23, 2016 Leave a comment

For the majority of us, buying something that we really want gives us an emotional buzz. Whether it is a car, TV, clothes or even something as small as a book or new headphones, getting our hands on a new purchase makes us happy. Consequently, companies across all industries try extremely hard to make the buying process as simple, straightforward and engaging as possible. As we know, success can sometimes be difficult – we’ve all faced surly salespeople or online glitches on ecommerce sites, but organizations understand the impact of poor processes on their bottom line revenues.eptica_bridging_gaps_blog

However, a new study by Bruce Temkin of the Temkin Group shows that this focus on service doesn’t transfer across to subsequent customer service interactions. The research asked 10,000 consumers to rate their recent purchases and customer service interactions, based on a scale of 1 (upset) to 7 (delighted), across 11 different industries. It then calculated an average for each industry, based on subtracting the percentage of those that gave ratings of 1,2 or 3 from those that gave a 6 or 7.

The figures highlight some staggering gaps between purchase and service. Buying something, whatever the industry, provides a much more positive emotional response than interacting with customer service. The gap ranges from 11 points (health plans) to an enormous 49 (TV/internet service). Even those that score highly for emotional satisfaction in the purchase process, lose this goodwill when it comes to customer service. Buying a car is the perfect example. It scored the highest satisfaction rating (69%) for purchase, but just 34% for subsequent service. You can read the full results here at the Temkin Group site.

In my opinion, this failure to take a holistic view of post-sales service has two main causes:

1. Disconnected processes
In many organizations, sales and service are dealt with by separate departments, which could provide a less than seamless process for the customer. In some cases, customer service agents may not even be able to access the same IT systems or may have out of date customer records. Particular requests or information (such as don’t try and install my broadband on a Tuesday), may not be passed on, forcing customers to repeat themselves, adding to their frustrations.

2. Failure to think like a customer
This is linked to taking a departmental, rather than a holistic view of the customer and essentially means the company has not anticipated what a consumer will do post-purchase or the common issues they may have. Keeping with the TV/cable example, has the install/switchover process been explained clearly, including how they can get their service up and running? Ironing out bumps in the journey, such as by analyzing what consumers are calling your service desk about, should help redesign processes to make everything more seamless.

Whatever the cause, poor service has the potential to ruin the emotional engagement that the company has spent time and resources building around a sale. It damages the company’s reputation and means that the consumer is less likely to consider buying from them in the future, no matter how happy they were when they actually made the purchase. Customers are less likely to recommend a company, and may actively complain to friends, family and via social media. If they are buying something that could be purchased elsewhere, reset assured they won’t be shopping with you next time.

In many industries, service is becoming a bigger part of the transaction than the physical purchase. For example, many people don’t download music, but simply sign-up to a streaming service, or travel by the likes of Uber rather than invest in buying an automobile. Fail to provide strong, emotionally engaging service and customers will leave and switch to the competition. In other cases, auto dealers will make higher margins servicing a car on an ongoing basis than on the sale itself – poor customer service will cut off this revenue stream.

For all these reasons, companies need to bridge the disconnect between sales and service and ensure they have the resources in place to help customers get the most out of their purchase. By keeping engagement high, they’ll not only protect their reputation, but will help safeguard future revenues, benefiting the bottom line.

UK retail customer service failing to move forward

Retail is one of the most competitive sectors in the economy. Transformed by the internet, new entrants and ever more demanding consumers, retailers cannot afford to rest on their laurels.eptica_uk_retail_customer_service_failing_forward_blog

Customers are pushing retailers to innovate and deliver new services, improved experiences at lower prices. Loyalty is a thing of the past, with consumers are now able to choose from an enormous range of suppliers at the click of a mouse, or, increasingly, a tap on a smartphone screen. Essentially shoppers want a seamless, easy to use experience that values their time and is personalized to their needs. These factors increase the focus on the customer experience as the key point of differentiation for retailers.

Therefore, you’d expect customer service to be continually improving, but the 2016 Eptica Retail Multichannel Customer Experience Study found that this isn’t the case. The performance of many companies and channels remains static, while in other areas it is deteriorating, rather than improving.

Replicating research carried out since 2011, the Study evaluated 40 leading UK retailers, split between 4 sectors (food & wine, consumer electronics, entertainment and fashion) 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, Facebook and chat.

Static performance
Overall, the UK research found minor changes in performance since 2015, with the total number of questions answered on the web, email and Twitter remaining static at 55%.

Your best chance of getting a response to a routine query sent to a retailer is to use Facebook, which was evaluated for the first time in 2016. UK retailers successfully answered 59% of questions asked on Facebook, compared to 55% on email (down from 58% in 2015), and 45% (up 2% year on year) on Twitter. However, performance varied. Just one food and wine retailer replied on Facebook, despite 90% offering the channel and even then it failed to provide a helpful answer.

What is the fastest channel for answers?
For those looking for responses in a hurry, company websites provided the best option, successfully answering 66% of questions, up 1% from last year. However, this still means a third of questions are simply not being covered.

Speed on other channels varied wildly. Twitter was the fastest, taking an average of 5 hours 40 minutes to reply. Facebook followed on 6 hours 36 minutes, with email trailing in behind with an average of 32 hours 53 minutes. These averages also masked big differences in response times. One retailer emailed a response in 3 minutes, yet another took over 6 days! An entertainment retailer took 152 hours to answer an email, then responded to the same question on Facebook in 6 minutes.

Consistently uni-channel
Perhaps due to the increasing volume of questions they are receiving, many retailers seem to be struggling to cope across multiple channels. No company provided successful answers across the four channels of email, Facebook, Twitter and chat, and just 10% were consistent across three of these channels. 68% of retailers (including all ten food and wine companies) did not provide any consistent answers at all on more than one channel, either because the responses did not match or due to lack of accurate replies at all. 10% fewer companies allowed non-customers to email them compared to 2015.

This move to reduce the available channels means that consumers are less likely to receive an answer on their channel of choice, forcing them to switch – or driving them into the arms of the competition. The resource squeeze was also evident when it came to chat. While 43% of retailers claimed to offer it, only 13% of companies had it operational when tested, potentially due to not having the personnel to staff it, as they were occupied on other channels. The performance of those retailers offering chat has actually deteriorated since last year, from 100% successfully answering the question, down to 60% in 2016. The average time to answer nearly doubled from 5 minutes 30 seconds to 9 minutes 40 seconds.

Entertainment lags behind
Comparing the performance of different retail sectors, entertainment remained bottom (answering 38% of questions on the web, email and Twitter), followed by food and wine (60%), consumer electronics retailers (55%) and fashion (68%). With retailers increasingly offering more products, and expanding into new areas, consumers have a much wider choice of who to buy from, whatever the sector, so will gravitate to those that offer the best level of service. This spells potential problems for entertainment retailers that are falling behind their peers in other sectors.

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

The importance of emotion to successful customer experiences

March 16, 2016 Leave a comment

At heart, humans are social beings. This has a major impact on every interaction we have with the people around us. Think of the most basic transactions – the ones you remember most are those where you either had an extremely positive or negative emotional experience. Take visiting the grocery store, if the cashier was extremely helpful, asked about your day and took time to show that they cared then the engagement with that brand is dramatically increased. On the flipside, discourteous or unhelpful staff will decrease engagement and may even lead you to leave the store, or vow never to go back.eptica_importance_emotion_cx_blog

The problem for brands is that traditional customer experience metrics tend to ignore the emotional part of a transaction. They focus on the rational side of our brains and measure factors such as speed of dealing with a query or accuracy of an answer. However, they don’t include the emotional impact of an interaction. All the targets could have been met in terms of conventional metrics but poor employee attitude or lack of understanding mean that from a customer point of view the transaction was a complete failure.

Measuring emotion is now much more difficult than before, due to two key reasons:

1.The majority of interactions for many businesses are now digital, so there are few verbal or visual clues to what a customer is feeling when they are dealing with you.

2.The sheer volume of digital interactions threatens to overwhelm businesses. Customers don’t care if you receive 1,000 emails per day – the one that matters to them is their own. So getting 999 of them right and 1 wrong, still fails to deliver emotional engagement to all customers. Being able to scale the experience is therefore critical if it is to be delivered both successfully and efficiently.

So, how can brands ensure they are taking emotion into account? In a recent Forrester blog and podcast, analyst Maxie Schmidt-Subramanian outlines three ways that companies can introduce emotion-based metrics – and convince senior managers that emotion has an impact on the bottom line:

1.Define metrics at critical points of the journey
Measuring emotions is complex, so rather than trying to roll out metrics across the customer journey, focus on critical parts of it. Define metrics, and create a benchmark linked to your key business objectives. Even if you need to measure retrospectively rather than in real-time, you can still gain value. Using techniques such as linguistics (the scientific study of language), to analyze incoming interactions and responses for their emotions can give a guide to positive and negative sentiment around your brand, as well as to highlight particular pain points voiced by customers.

2.Adapt your metrics
You can’t simply switch from measuring ‘hard’ metrics to focusing on emotion – you need to do both. Therefore build on your current measurement tools and see if you are asking about how customers feel as well as how they score you for traditional metrics such as speed and satisfaction. Again, linguistic analysis can be used to pick out and group themes in unstructured feedback, enabling you to spot areas where you can improve emotional engagement.

3.Prove the value of emotion
Senior managers are used to seeing metrics that link directly to business objectives, whether that is customer retention, sales or efficiency. They can naturally be suspicious of factors they see as less concrete, such as emotion. So ensure that you prove the value of measuring emotional metrics by linking your findings directly back to CX improvement. What are the key pain points that need solving? Show how emotion relates to these and how measuring it will change how you operate. Maxie Schmidt-Subramanian gives the example of Emotient (recently acquired by Apple), which used video-based facial-expression analysis to determine when fast-food customers and employees became stressed during a face to face interaction.

Psychologists increasingly realize that our emotional side has a major impact on our actions. Therefore for brands to successfully engage with their customers they need to take a holistic approach to measurement, including emotion alongside traditional metrics if they want to thrive.

How good are UK brands at email customer service?

March 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Forrester recently reported that 69% of people still want to contact companies through email. However, UK brands are struggling to cope with the emails they receive, with performance overall worsening according to the latest Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study.eptica_uk_brands_email_customer_service_blog

Email volumes are increasing year-on-year, and in some sectors (such as retail), email makes up 30% of customer service interactions, with even mid-sized organizations receiving hundreds of emails every day. There are over 4.35 billion email accounts worldwide, a figure expected to increase by 26% by 2019. 122,500,453,020 emails are sent every hour, with a growing number coming from mobile devices. Additionally, as more basic queries are dealt with through the web, those raised on the email and voice channels are becoming more complex and time-consuming to answer.

All of these facts demonstrate that email is still a vital part of how every business interacts with consumers and delivers customer service. As part of the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, researchers attempted to contact 100 leading UK companies via email with a routine customer service question, and then evaluated them on the speed and accuracy of their response. This highlighted five key trends:

1.Email is being switched off
Many companies are simply giving up in the face of a growing deluge of emails. Just 64% of companies let non-customers contact them through email or text-based web forms on their sites. This was down from 74% in 2015, and was well below 2012’s total of 87%. Those that did offer email often made it difficult to locate, forcing customers to go through FAQ pages or hunt around to find details hidden in obscure corners of their websites. This ignores the potential revenues non-customers could bring and risks future profits by turning away new business. If email is the workhorse of customer service, too many companies are putting it out to pasture.

2.Email response rates are down
Even those companies that offer email, are less likely to provide an accurate answer. Just over half (52%) of companies responded to emails with 38% successfully replying to the query. The corresponding figures for 2015 were a 58% response, and 39% success, rate, showing drops in both metrics. This means that consumers contacting brands on Twitter, and Facebook, are more likely to receive an accurate response. Eight sectors worsened or stayed the same when it came to email accuracy.

3.Email is being deprioritized
Overall, many organizations gave the impression that they had given up on the battle to stay on top of email. The email address listed by one consumer electronics manufacturer on its website bounced, while the web form provided by a telecoms company brought up an error message when submitted. Only 34% of companies took the trouble to send an acknowledgement email with an expected timescale for a reply. 35% of these didn’t bother to give a time, just stating they would respond ‘ASAP’, ‘soon’ or ‘in due course’. Just 50% of these organizations then met their own deadlines – one that said ASAP took over 52 hours to reply.

4.Email is getting slower
In 2015 the average successful response time was 29 hours 27 minutes. In 2016 this had extended to 34 hours 15 minutes, although this masked considerable differences in speed. One consumer electronics retailer answered in 3 minutes, yet another company took 6 days and 8 minutes to respond. The utility sector was the most sluggish, taking over 64 hours on average. Overall, just 10% of companies responded to email within 2 hours, despite separate Eptica research finding that 58% of consumers would like to receive a reply within this timeframe.

5.Sector performance varies wildly
Amidst all the gloom, insurance stood out as a real success story on email. Not only did 90% of companies in the sector offer email, but all of them responded. Moreover all bar one successfully answered the question. This score of 80% (up from 50% in 2015) put the sector top for accuracy, ahead of electronics retailers (70%). In contrast, just 10% of banks and telecoms companies responded on email – and neither of the two consumer electronics manufacturers that provided an email address actually answered the question sent to them.

Email was just one of the channels evaluated by the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study – do download our management report to see the full findings of the research.

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