By Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO and Co-Founder at Content Guru
Consumer behaviour is constantly evolving. While many businesses were already grappling with heightened customer expectations pre-pandemic, the rapid shift to digital communication channels over the last 18 months has raised those expectation levels into the sky – via the cloud.
In the last year, as more customers have interacted with organisations through digital mechanisms – either through choice or necessity – huge pressure has been piled on those organisations to deliver a new type of customer experience.
In fact, the most recent UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) – a key national barometer of customer satisfaction published twice a year by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) – has revealed that, for first time, the number of digital experiences recorded is now the same as the number registered through in person, phone and in writing put together.
As the world passes this digital tipping point, the ease and speed with which customers can change providers of almost any service means the experience a brand affords its customers is now its key competitive advantage, or impediment. Key to gaining advantage is developing brand trust, as it has always been. But while most organisations have spent years honing how they build trust during human-to-human interactions, many have had relatively little time to optimise their digital customer experience.
In particular, customer service teams are looking to offer customers DIY, self-service processes as a route to improved efficiency. But, to maximise the value of each channel of engagement, business leaders should be focusing on four key foundational points:
- Simplifying customer journeys so that customers can self-serve effectively for routine queries and transactions
There’s no doubt that today’s digital-savvy customers value convenience and accessibility more than ever before. When contacting any organisation, from a public sector service to a bank or consumer brand, customers expect to be able to use the channel they prefer on the device they choose in the moment. For many people, being in control of their journey as a customer is up there with getting the quick and accurate information and responses they demand.
What people often find frustrating, however, are customer service dead-ends or an inability to escalate if their needs aren’t being met via the first channel they try. In focusing on a digital-first customer services strategy, organisations must be confident in their ability to address the full range of customer questions, concerns or complaints with as much simplicity as possible. Failure to provide a simple and intuitive experience across all channels can quickly erode trust, create reputational damage and test the crumbling limits of customer loyalty.
- Using technology to enable routine transactions, access to additional services and transparency of information
In recent years, there have been huge advances in the technologies powering customer service. A great example is the explosion in the use of chatbots, whose widespread adoption is now helping customers to complete a huge range of routine transactions on demand. By 2024, for instance, it is predicted that consumer retail spend via chatbots worldwide will reach $142 billion – up from a mere $2.8 billion in 2019.
But bald figures only tell part of the chatbot story, because today, chatbots’ growing conversational capabilities are being rolled out across ever more complex requirements, services and situations. As a result, the acceptance of chatbots as a useful customer service channel is accelerating – research carried out in 2020 revealed that approximately 40% of people actually prefer to use chatbots when shopping online.
- Integrating customer data to deliver appropriate and relevant personalisation of messaging and offers
For any customer-centric organisation, delivering excellent customer experience must also be accompanied by insight into how they can drive efficiency. For instance, contact centre managers on the front line of customer service should have data-driven insights at their fingertips. To effectively manage their workforce, they should also be able to automatically route incoming contacts to the most appropriate on-duty service agents for each enquiry type.
Advanced analytics and machine learning also deliver data-driven insight into key drivers that stimulate customer contact. Leveraging these insights, front-line contact centre managers can instantly refresh and update multiple self-service information sources such as FAQs, apps, forums and websites to improve how they help customers get what they need, fast. These same insights can be applied to enhance personalisation for each individual customer, based on previous interaction and purchasing history.
- Enabling easy access to speak to a person when it is needed
Despite all of the advantages that today’s tech-led customer service processes bring, there remain a wide variety of situations where people simply need – or prefer – to have the option of speaking with a human on the other end of the phone.
For many, this remains the ideal (and often only) solution, especially when the customer feels a situation is serious. As a result, organisations should strike a balance between maximising access to effective DIY customer service experiences and making available ‘traditional’ human channels that people trust. Failure to bring in the human element when needed can quickly turn a routine enquiry into a frustrating and time-consuming nightmare, likely to send an impatient consumer running for the door, whilst complaining loudly and visibly on social media. In contrast, organisations that retain easy access to their service teams will enhance their reputation for all-round customer care.
Choosing the moment to usher in human help is itself now a machine-controlled process, with pattern monitoring and sentiment analysis triggering the change in service flow at just the right time.
DIY service clearly has a huge role to play in developing effective and lasting customer relationships. By giving service teams the tools they need to meet the heightened expectations of their customers across every available channel of engagement, forward-looking organisations can deliver business efficiency and benefit from the huge dividend that customer trust generates.