Is your ability to influence your customers slipping out of your hands? According to a recent white paper for leading communications specialists Avaya, 51% of customers trust the advice of contributors to forums and review sites over an organisation’s official website.
The research, by technology analysts Davies Hickman, shows the wisdom of crowds is eroding the power of the brand as a key purchasing influence. And the current wisdom is that good service is more important than ever – to the extent that figures from BT suggest over 80% of customers will go elsewhere on the basis of a poor customer experience.
Technology has made it easier for customers to research, review and discuss online. These changes are driving the emergence of customers who are termed ‘shopper swots.’ They account for 78% of customers and they use the Internet to plan and research before they buy, reading product reviews and taking up self-service options. As a result, they’re more knowledgeable than ever before. So when they do turn to your business for answers they’re often at a far more advanced stage of the process, which puts pressure on you to be more adept at handling their issues (particularly if those issues are negative).
Demanding customers are also potential advocates for your business. If you can give them the service they demand you will harness their willingness to contribute positive stories for your brand.
The challenge for businesses is to understand the new behaviour and adapt the way they service the new expectations. How can ICT help you change the way you work to give customers the service they’re looking for?
The Davies Hickman research identifies two key areas where ICT can make a real difference:
1. Make it easier to get in touch.
By improving the way businesses manage calls and by opening up the number of channels customers can use to get in touch. Also by improving the quality of the response offered by the business. 83% of respondents agreed they will buy more from companies that make it easier for them to do business with them.
2. Integrate service across channels.
60% of respondents continually change their preferred contact channel depending on where they are and what they are doing. Customers want a consistent experience whenever they come into contact with a business. A comprehensive database that everyone and every channel in your business can draw on and contribute to, can help improve service.
But what does this look like in practice? How can businesses make this a reality? And what exactly are the technologies that are going to keep customers loyal to your business?
When 83% of customers surveyed by Davies Hickman say they buy more from companies that make it easier for them to do business with, it’s clear that focusing on service is more important than ever. It’s easy to underestimate the impact that technology has had on customer expectation. The traditional idea that brand, or reputation is the key influence is waning as the same research shows 46% regard customer loyalty as a thing of the past.
The white paper for Avaya describes the new customer as ‘autonomous’ that is: ‘independent, well-informed, and turning away from your business as a source of trust and advice.’ The modern consumer is highly networked, very demanding, time poor, looking for value and turning to fellow consumers for advice on your products and services. Customers are changing; an important characteristic of the autonomous customer is a preference for using a range of channels to contact organisations. In the last 6 months, 42% of respondents had used Wi-Fi in shops, 18% had used iPhones, 15% had used other smartphones, 15% had used BlackBerry and 6% iPads. This was in addition to using more traditional technologies such as mobile, landlines and home PCs.
Customers like being able to ‘self-serve’. It puts them in control, and means no one tries to sell them anything. Being empowered doesn’t mean simply doing some research online before they shop. They’re using online advice forums, blogs and review sites to solve their own product or service issues. Traditional FAQ pages have been superseded by social media; customers use them as a guide, but 51% say they trust unknown contributors ahead of the official FAQ page.
Often the conversation is positive, and many businesses such as Amazon make a virtue of the power of reviews to boost sales (over a third surveyed by Davies Hickman said they contributed to online reviews like Trip Advisor). However the web and increasing smartphone adoption also offer customers the chance to post negative reviews through forums, review sites, youtube or twitter. Celebrity endorsements that traditionally carried so much influence, are now matched by the same celebrities complaining about bad service - in an environment that businesses no longer control.
More informed customers expect better answers and faster service. Having ‘Googled’ the problem and found some answers online, customers expect a higher standard of answer by the time they get to the call centre. They expect an expert to take their query further – and can get easily frustrated if the centre can’t deal quickly with their request.
Gary Bennet, Global Account Director at Avaya, says,
Businesses need to focus their resources on giving customers a higher standard of response. They can do this with developments in call centre technology. For example, interactive voice recognition is a call centre tool that sends customers to the right kind of expert for their query far faster than the ‘press 1 for this, press 2 for the other’ approach.
By taking a certain number of standard queries out of the conversation, interactive voice can get customers to that all important higher degree of support more efficiently.
By managing up to 40% of calls with automated services, businesses can not only cut costs but improve service by focusing the savings on a higher standard of call centre representative who can do more to help the customer.
All Fancy Dress rely on excellent customer service along with high quality products to differentiate itself in a competitive industry. This focus on fast, reliable service led its customer base to grow rapidly. But the increase placed too big a demand on their old communications system. Overloaded with the extra calls, the staff soon came under pressure and the quality of customer service quickly declined. Subsequently, the company lost business through unanswered calls. All Fancy Dress recognised the impact the right call centre could have on their business and on their ability to deliver customer service. The introduction of a new system and call centre technology has seen their ability to handle calls improve significantly. The number of missed calls has reduced by 92%, from 100 to just 8 per month. Customer enquiries are managed and responded to effectively, improving customer service.
Customers can communicate with us in whatever way they please and can rest assured their queries will be answered quickly and reliably.
Mark Heaton, Director, All Fancy Dress.
Providing more varied channels of communication is one aspect of improving customer service, but you also need to make sure they have a good experience whenever they make contact. To give your customers the higher rate of first time resolution they demand, call centre staff need to be armed with a better standard of information. Investing in a more service orientated approach will only work if call agents have the knowledge to respond at the right level.
A unified communications solution for instance, can help call centre staff put callers through to the right experts internally. Using unified communications technologies such as presence, staff can see exactly where other members of staff are and how best to contact them. They can reach the most appropriate employee from within preset groups by phone, video, instant messaging, teleconference, whiteboard on the Web, or even a videoconference. This means the complex query can be solved efficiently and effectively, resulting in a faster first time resolution.
Gary Bennet explains how developments in call centre technology can also help businesses source more knowledgeable staff by allowing them to cast their recruitment net wider: “Remote workers can enjoy the same access to call management tools as their centrally based colleagues.”
For instance, the NHS in Wales faced a dilemma due to a lack of sufficiently skilled call centre staff with the right medical knowledge who also spoke welsh. They were able to source the right staff from a much wider geographic area thanks to remote worker call centre technology. It can also be more cost-effective to source staff from regions where wage bills are lower – without affecting the level of service offered.
The second key role the Davies Hickman research identifies for ICT is providing a consistent customer experience across all channels. Through increasingly sophisticated Customer Relationship Manager tools, ICT helps businesses take control of the relationship with their customers by enabling them to share knowledge more widely and more easily.
A well-organised database is vital for the collection, retrieval and sharing of knowledge. The potential inputs can vary from existing written knowledge to informal insights from employees, to customer contributions on social media. What’s important is that employees across all channels have access to the latest ways to improve their customers’ experience.
Xabier Ormazabal, Director of Product Marketing at leading CRM and collaboration company, Salesforce, says,
We designed ServiceCloud to help employees build a knowledge database that can be used across all channels – not just for phone calls but also for ‘live agent’ messaging services and more. By collating and editing the information in ServiceCloud, businesses can help their customer service staff offer a much better standard of response.
How much of the database is shared with customers can be governed by your business. It may be that some material in the knowledge base deals with negative comments or product issues and is only used internally. Other aspects of knowledge can be fielded out to websites or forums. The benefit to the business is that they are able to put their version of the story into the online conversation and in a tone of voice that fits with the brand.
Banking software giant Misys have used Salesforce to build a knowledge base that allows customers to search 2,000 solutions to support self-resolution. If customers can’t resolve the problem using this method, they log their issue online so that it’s escalated to the appropriate work queue.
Peter Middleton, Customer Services Director, anticipates 90% of support enquiries will be channelled through the self-service system,
Customers have typically used email to submit requests, but this approach will always be unstructured, and each email was lacking accuracy and completeness. With this new system, we reach the root cause of the problem much more quickly and minimise business disruption.
To build a successful knowledge base it helps to make it as easy as possible for employees to contribute. Often this means lowering the level of formality, which can be a barrier. By making the process more of a conversation, the database builds quickly through a faster exchange of information. Using a secure private enterprise social network lowers the formality and makes it easy for people to pitch in with ‘try this’ or ‘ this works for me’. Ormazabal describes this as the ‘formalising of informal knowledge’.
As well as embracing contributions and suggestions made internally, it’s possible for a well-managed database to take in material from outside the business. A thread that begins on a forum can be taken into the database and added to or improved by staff. CRM software now has the ability to import tweets and comments from Facebook and manage the image of your business within social media.
The Davies Hickman research shows there is an increasing opportunity to respond to customers who want to contact organisations using social media.
But efficiently sharing information applies to much more than just social media. 60% of customers say they continually change their preferred contact channel depending on where they are and what they’re doing. Having a comprehensive, easily shared knowledge base makes it possible to give customers a consistent experience across those different sales channels.
Customers expect and are demanding an improved, consistent experience. 74% of respondents voiced frustration at having to repeat details to organisations whilst 82% were frustrated at speaking to employees that struggled to answer their queries.
Once they’ve started to build a good knowledge base, businesses can use editorial processes to make the data as open or restricted as they choose. All they have to be mindful of is that any imported information conforms to their own tone of voice for consistent branding.
ICT can help businesses capitalise on new customer behaviours by giving them the service they demand. Businesses that get their service right will find satisfied customers become very powerful advocates for their brand. Gary Bennet at Avaya is clear about what businesses needs to do:
Embrace the change and you can control the environment.
Taking control of the conversation and offering customers a higher level of expertise and better first time resolution are key factors in keeping customers and creating a positive reputation.
A crucial step is to review your current ICT infrastructure and look for opportunities to transform customer service.
By answering these questions and more, ICT can transform the way you serve customers and help you win and retain business. With the development of today’s autonomous customer, businesses either adapt to meet their new expectations and demands, or risk being left behind by those businesses that do.
This report presents the findings from research commissioned by BT and Avaya and carried out by Davies Hickman Partners (www.davieshickman.com).
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