By Rob Lee
Does your company treat delivering an excellent customer experience as a business discipline? According to Forrester Research, that’s what it takes to satisfy today’s empowered customer. We are now in what Forrester calls “The Age of the Customer” – a time when digital advances have empowered customers with instant information and a strong voice. Social media serves as a megaphone for that customer voice – widely spreading the news about both good and bad experiences.
However, even if you approach customer experience in a disciplined, comprehensive way, you may not be delivering the experience your customers expect. Forrester, in its annual Customer Experience Index, found that only 3 percent of companies delivered a great customer experience: Only four out of 160 brands represented in the survey achieved an “excellent” score.
To identify the pain points affecting customer experience, my company recently conducted a study to help companies understand what customers do, what they want to do, and how their journey affects your business. Here’s what we learned.
We Need to Do Better: When it comes to a customer’s quest for resolution, the path taken has evolved significantly over the years. However, one constant remains: The 800 number often is the first stop in the journey. Upon scrutiny an interesting trend emerges: Self-service maturation has made online options a close second. Despite many consumers gravitating toward call centers as their first-choice channel, there is an inherent willingness to use online and other self-service options.
What drives channel selection? The complexity of the customer’s issue. Customers make an educated – and deliberate – decision to use one service channel over another. This behavior is likely motivated by an unspoken belief that one channel is better suited to quickly resolve a specific issue. Customers gravitate to the channel of least resistance, depending on their need.
The Agent Experience Is Personal: One in three consumers prefer to speak to contact center agents over other channels. While complex issues tend to send customers to agents more than anything else, the number one reason customers preferred agent assistance over other channels was that it is more personal.
How can you improve the customer experience in the contact center, given that many customers are calling with complex issues? Consider creating a new service road map to help address increased complexity with skills-based routing, intelligent and personalized interactive voice response (IVR), and staged development of your agents.
Skills-based routing, when done right, ensures that a customer connects with an appropriately skilled and knowledgeable agent who can assist them. An intelligent IVR uses policies and valuable customer data to personalize the interaction to the customer’s unique needs while ensuring that only the truly complex transactions go to an agent. This helps contain costs, free up agents to handle more complex issues, and maximize customer satisfaction. Finally, staged development is a management technique that supports skills-based routing while building knowledge and confidence in agents before they are confronted with complex issues. The combination of specialized technology and agent training can deliver a better experience for customers when they call.
Channel Switching Can Signal Frustration: For some customers the first channel attempted is not the last. One in four customers visited multiple channels seeking resolution, and of these, 71 percent began in self-service (Web or IVR). This tells us that customers jump between channels because they can’t get their problem solved in another channel. Developing an effective cross-channel delivery model requires a clear view into the underlying causes of cross-channel behavior. A primary culprit may be the website. More than half of those that reported using multiple channels also stated they first attempted online self-service but failed. While this can have a negative impact on customer satisfaction, it also can increase your service costs.
Fifty percent said the desired information was unavailable or lacking in detail on the website. Thirteen percent said the website lacked the functionality necessary to address the issue. Pointing out the viability of chat, another 13 percent said they needed live support to complete their task. It’s best to keep consumers on your website and solve their issues before they move on to more costly channels – or take their business elsewhere.
The Advantages of Chat: One way to minimize channel switching and resolve a customer’s issue is to use chat (both proactive and reactive), while keeping support costs down at the same time. Chat can help fill the service gap between phone support and a company’s Web-based self-service help sections, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and site searches. Chat requires less effort than self-service, is more responsive than email, and provides the “human touch” that consumers enjoy with phone support.
Chat has many qualities that make it a desirable option for both companies and customers. Chat interactions can increase online sales by reassuring or redirecting wavering prospects at their moment of doubt, saving online sales and reducing abandoned shopping carts. Chat can also contribute to increased customer satisfaction by providing an immediate opportunity to answer a customer’s question, clear up confusion, or fix a frustrating situation, leading to an overall reduction in customer effort. In addition, chat provides a written record, which can be helpful for both the consumer and the company.
Companies can gain insight into channel deficiencies by creating a journey map to understand flow and process of the customer experience across channels. This understanding can be combined with channel and customer experience analytics to help understand where focus is needed, whether it’s improving self-service capabilities for higher in-channel resolution, adjusting channel allocations and investments, or implementing proactive communications.
Reaching Out with Proactive Notification: For some companies, proactive outreach is an untapped opportunity. Nearly all consumers (92 percent) are open to receiving a proactive communication from the businesses they use. Proactive notifications can avert problems, encourage purchases, and foster relationships between the customer and the company. Sending automated, proactive messages to customers about items such as suspicious account activity, billing issues, or renewal deadlines allows customers to act before a serious problem develops; this can head off additional effort or an unpleasant experience later. Also, as more companies communicate with their customers proactively, customers will come to expect these communications, raising the bar for how hard companies have to work to ensure customer satisfaction.
Getting proactive notification right is important because it can help reduce effort for customers while allowing companies to cut down on the expense of incoming calls. Proactive notification messages need to be relevant to the customer as individuals, as opposed to generic, blanket communications. Use analytics to drive tailored, proactive messages to help ensure that they are right for specific customers. The most commonly cited topics of interest were information about unusual activity on accounts, special offers or discounts, and payment reminders. Customers overwhelmingly preferred email, but about half were open to proactive notifications via phone or letter.
Unifying the Customer Experience: Today, many interactions with customers happen digitally, with 54 percent of customers starting with a company’s website to try to solve their issue. Mobile applications and text messaging for customer service are also gaining customer acceptance.
Many companies look at customer satisfaction using a “siloed” channel approach, without regard for the upstream and downstream obstacles within the organization that cause extra effort on the part of the customer. When agents can’t quickly pick up where automated channels leave off, the customer often has to repeat information, start over, or try to make sense of differing responses from different channels. It is important to look at the channels holistically—to integrate channels so that consumers can experience a unified, consistent, seamless experience across all channels. A disconnect between channels makes companies and brands look bad and frustrates customers. Without a disciplined approach, the result is what several pundits have dubbed the “Splinternet experience.”
Again, it’s helpful to create a roadmap that defines the seamless customer experience you want to create. You can then prioritize which channels to target first, based on customer value and return on investment, determining which systems and data need integration to ensure a consistently excellent experience. Based on customer surveys, feedback, testing, or other measurements, you are able to focus the majority of energy on the aspects of the customer experience that need the most improvement, such as reducing customer effort or delivering improved assistance with complex issues. Setting goals is imperative, but reaching them requires an in-depth understanding of upstream and downstream obstacles, in tandem with a continued dedication to driving positive change. Those who make this investment position themselves to become industry leaders.
Rob Lee is senior vice president at Convergys Specialty Services. These findings were presented at a recent meeting of the Convergys Technology Council.
[From Connection Magazine – May 2013]