How many channels do we really need?

I was recently posed the following question:

Do you really need to offer a million different channels of contact to customers?

and being an impulsive individual my instant reaction was ……

Absolutely not, you could limit your customers to a single congestion point that has both finite capacity and often limited availability.  However in doing this you would be ignoring the dramatic changes happening in society today, namely;

  • Our lower tolerance thresholds, especially whenever we have to wait in a queue now that the majority of us have become time precious
  • The twenty four hour society in which we now live
  • Our desire to self serve, when was the last time you queued in a bank to withdraw money?
  • The growing technology awareness of all generations, whether via computer or mobile devices.  Internet browsing is now cited by the BBC as the number one pastime for the retired, overtaking gardening.

Increasing commoditisation and globalisation often means that intangibles such as customer service are the only differentiators between organisations, planning and executing a multi-channel strategy could be the vital difference.

So, was I just being impulsive or do I reflect the increasing frustration that seems evident when trying to contact a large faceless organisation?

Author: Mark Chamberlain - Published: 18 May 2007 - | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Emperor's New Customer Service Mantra

As we enter the spring of 2007, we have all been exposed to ever increasing volumes of propaganda on matters such as 'striving for ever increasing service excellence', 'providing the optimum customer experience', 'putting our customers first' and so on and so forth. These all originate from those organisations seeking to serve us -either as an existing customer or as a new one.

Sadly in many cases, this is all window dressing carried out by organisations who feel they ought to make appropriate noises to be seen to be doing the right thing but who have no intention of changing their bad habits in the way that they 'look after' their customers. It is not small, low resourced companies who are to blame - the main offenders are those household names who have huge customer bases and don't care if they lose the odd one here or there because they feel they have their clients locked in as it's juts too much trouble to change.

I had an experience with an organisation earlier today who were representing my mobile phone service provider. Yes, representing my service provider i.e they couldn't be bothered to call me directly. Said representative left me a message suggesting that he could provide me with a free upgrade etc. So I called back, more for research purposes than anything else, and I wasn't disappointed. I spent the first five minutes explaining (to the person who'd originally contacted me) why I was calling. I then had another 5 minutes repeating myself and confirming my details and was then told I was out of contract - something I'm well aware of because I'd told my provider several months ago that I was not renewing my contract as I was dissatisfied and wanted the ability to move when I found a better option. I kept that information to myself, expecting the agent to be aware of this. Clearly he was not. I was subsequently offered a free upgrade or a loyalty cheque (a pittance for the pleasure of being overcharged for a further 12 months). I have a PDA and explained that if I could upgrade this, I'd happily consider an extension on the understanding that the constant data service overcharging I'd been experiencing was removed as an issue.

It will come as no surprise that PDAs were off the upgrade list for reason's unknown to the agent. I then explained that I was in the process of looking for another contract and was immediately informed that as the company dealing with me was not a division of my provider, they could give me contract options from other mobile companies!

I regularly pay over £100 per month and so when you consider the average revenue per user is around £38 a month, I would have thought I was worth keeping. However, my provider not only loses sight of me and my requirements, it will also lose my revenue. Also, they will suffer as they are being represented by a company that is happy to switch sell and support the move away from the company that is paying it to manage existing clients - astonishing!

I'm almost tempted to cancel my contract and then go back as a new user to see how I get treated - you can bet that it will be markedly better than I have been as a long term customer.

So, for all the hype and bluster, there really are very few organisations today that have mastered the art of looking after their clients in a consistent manner that is highly effective, personal and satisfying. Oh well, I live in constant hope that more will eventually get it right by adopting customer facing service strategies that are joined up and supported by good processes, excellent people where necessary and excellent technology that supports unified communications with clients in an intelligent personal manner.

Author: Tim Easton - Published: 25 April 2007 - | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Customer Service Standards = Big Impact on Business

Sadly, many companies still don’t think that their poor customer service record has an impact on their business but they need to think again because in customers’ eyes, it does., Nearly 50% of consumers said they have switched suppliers of goods or service in the past year due to poor customer service experiences. Of those, the largest percentage switched banks, home telephone service providers, Internet service providers, utility companies and mobile phone operators. Interestingly, two industry segments that are well-known for their customer service struggles – airlines and cable and satellite TV providers – were among those where customers had been less inclined to take their business elsewhere.

On the other hand, customers did praise those market sectors where they felt that companies were providing satisfactory and quality service. Banks led the way, followed by Internet service providers, retailers, airlines, cable/satellite television providers and home telephone service providers. Yet despite being among the “least-switched” type of companies due to poor customer service, mobile phone companies and hotels were named by only 30 percent and 35 percent of consumers respectively, as having satisfactory and quality service.

So what do customers really want from a company’s customer service function? Although most people didn’t have strong agreement on the most important aspect of a satisfying customer experience, one item – named by 34 percent of all survey participants – did stand out from the others: the ability for a customer service agent to assist with all needs, rather than forwarding a request to different representatives for help with each product or service. In the second tier of aspects critical to a good service experience are the following:

  • The ability to discuss problems with service agents;
  • The amount of time it takes to resolve a problem or query;
  • The quality of the customer service agents response;
  • The manner and approach of service agents.

Rounding out the list are aspects named by less than 10 percent of respondents, including speed of response, convenient payment options, benefits offered to compensate customers for their troubles, and bills that are easy to understand.

These responses suggest a number of steps that companies can take to improve their own customer service activities and hence provide the satisfying service experience that customers are constantly looking for. The first step should be boosting the ability to understand and predict customer behaviour – with the understanding that it is impossible for a company to provide customers with great service if it doesn’t know anything about them. To do so, a company must create a single view of the customer, which typically depends on having a data warehouse into which all relevant internal customer data – often widely dispersed throughout the organization – is fed. This data includes customer contact information, products or services purchased, mode of purchases (Web, store, call center, catalog) and the value of purchases. Importantly, this information must be augmented by external demographic data on customers. By combining a customer’s transaction history with key data such as number and ages of people in the customer’s household, median income of the customer’s neighborhood, and the customer’s heritage, a company can transcend the one-dimensional, internal picture of a customer that purchase history alone provides.

With a single view of it’s consumer base, a company is much better positioned to work with customers on the customers’ terms and therefore provide them with the help and information most relevant to individual consumer situations. A complete picture of customers’ histories and preferences enables a company to develop an overall customer experience blueprint: one that plans for the best customer experience along the entire customer service value chain. Whether for a low-value customer or a platinum account, the blueprint designs the right customer experience for each customer segment, making the design truly actionable and providing an underlying financial model to track operational improvements and bottom-line impact. The blueprint makes sure companies achieve the best possible balance between customer satisfaction and cost to achieve that satisfaction.

For example, the customer experience blueprint can help companies determine which customers prefer and merit service via automated, technology-based channels – email, sms, online chat and automated phone systems – and which should have their issues handled by a live representative. Such a determination ultimately will boost customers’ satisfaction with the service and the mode in which it was rendered.

For those issues that must be handled by a live person, a single view of the customer provides all customer service agents with complete customer information (including demographics and service and purchase history). This information reduces the number of questions agents must ask customers and minimises the amount of time it takes to resolve customers’ issues. When access to an integrated customer database is paired with new desktop applications and workflow management tools, agent productivity and responsiveness to customers is boosted even further. For instance, agents at some leading companies are more effective at serving customers because their tools give them access, through natural language query, to multiple knowledge sources to find the information they need regardless of the product or service in question. Customers, thus, do not have to be handed off to different representatives – thereby eliminating one of the principal sources of customers’ frustrations.

I think by now everybody should be under no illusion that providing great customer service is a critical factor in a company’s ability to compete in its market and grow profitably. In understanding what customers expect when dealing with service agents, and making the constant changes necessary to always and consistently accommodate customer needs and preferences, companies will be better positioned to achieve the best performance by offering the branded customer experience that is fundamental to building strong customer loyalty and higher lifetime customer value.

Author: Tim Easton - Published: 08 March 2007 - | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Facing the Truth – Customer Satisfaction Is Not as High as We Think! (Survey Part 2)

This is the  third in a series that looks at what today’s consumers really think of those who serve them and follows on from the posting made on 15th February.

Lots of consumer-facing businesses have spent millions on CRM solutions over the past eight years  in order to improve the way they service their customers. For many of these companies, the majority of that expenditure was directed toward new technologies that, in the interest of cutting customer service costs, largely removed the ‘human factor’ from the service experience. While such technologies generally achieved the goal of saving the company money, they’ve often done little to improve the service experience or quality. In fact, and most critically, in many cases, they’ve alienated customers altogether but often this has been spotted too late when revenue and profits have dropped alarmingly. The feedback from the consumer survey certainly supports this. Of our beleaguered consumers, only 5 percent strongly agreed and 33 percent somewhat agreed that the use of technology has improved the level of service quality significantly in the past five years – to be honest most people don’t care or focus on the technology unless it irritates or causes concern (thanks, IVR). A full 62 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed that technology has helped the cause. Companies spent too much time focusing on inward facing KPIs and congratulating themselves on the rare occasion that leviathan CRM implementations were installed on time and under budget. They haven’t been listening to those most important of people – those with money that want to spend in an appropriate and satisfying way.

Not all customer groups viewed the issue in the same way. 43 percent of US Customers were more likely to believe that technology has improved customer service than those in the UK (35 percent). In the same way, women were slightly more positive than men about technology’s impact on service. When things are boiled down to annual income, it seems that the more money you make, the less patience you have with customer service technology. 42 percent of lower-income respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that technology has improved service, compared with 39 percent of middle income customers and just 31 percent of high-income participants.

Unsurprisingly, the ‘game boy’ generation or our younger consumers were far more positive towards service technology, with just under half (47 percent) agreeing that technology has improved the way that they are looked after. This compares with 36 percent in the middle-age group and just 29 percent of those 55 years of age or older. Companies need to understand where the spending power is and maybe technology should be applied on a ‘horses for courses’ basis, which implies clever technology with regard to identifying individuals or demographic groups and then providing them with the most appropriate means of being looked after, technologically speaking.

The negative views of technology’s impact on service were further revealed by the answers that were given to questions about satisfaction with various types of customer service. Overall, customers were least satisfied with ‘service’ delivered via automated phone systems (or death by a thousand finger strokes), one of the more common results of companies’ focus on cost reduction without finding out their customers views on such systems first. Just fewer than 60 percent said they were not at all satisfied with how they were treated by such systems, while only 10 percent said they are satisfied or very satisfied.

Another service that relies heavily on technology is that which is driven by email based interactions. This method fared much better in the survey than automated phone systems, as 44 percent of customers said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with it and 38 percent noted being somewhat satisfied. In a similar ‘non-voice’ vein, the emerging concept of service via a live online chat function is beginning to gain favour with some customers, as just over half of survey respondents reported being somewhat satisfied, satisfied or very satisfied. However, unlike other service options, chat has a long way to go and still has to achieve widespread penetration among most customer groups, especially those in the Unitied Kingdom. A full 40 percent of all survey participants (47 percent in the UK and 32 percent in the US) said they couldn’t comment on their satisfaction with service via online chat because they hadn’t used it yet.

The big winner in most customers’ eyes is still being able to discuss their issues with a service agent face to face. 60 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with customer service when it was delivered in person. Again, a larger percentage of US customers (64 percent) compared to 56 percent of UK consumers, but there was little difference in the responses when viewed by gender, income or age. Human beings therefore still do and should always, in our opinion have a key part to play in delivering excellent customer service but in order to do this properly, appropriate processes and technology need to be deployed to release humans to carry out the high value, high return tasks in the customer service value chain

Author: Tim Easton - Published: 01 March 2007 - | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Customer Service Shortcomings Still Dominate – Survey Findings Part 1

Last time in the blog posted on 30th January, we talked about ensuring that you, as a provider of goods and services, understood the importance of the following ratio- People (i.e. Consumers): Processes: Technology – in the context of creating a great customer service experience. To that end, we described the importance of continually understanding how your customers feel about you plus how they feel about the treatment they receive from other players in your market place.

A survey in 2006 showed some revealing results. In general, responses from consumers who took part revealed many key opportunities for companies to improve the way in which they serve their customers. For instance, customers in the United States and the United Kingdom spend an average of six minutes on hold when seeking assistance via a telephone help line. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they typically wait between five and 10 minutes, while 14 percent said they wait for longer than 10 minutes before they can speak to a live person. Furthermore, 87 percent of participants said they speak to multiple representatives when calling customer service, with most speaking to two (37 percent) or three (32 percent) representatives to resolve their issue. Incredibly, 13 percent said they deal with four or five representatives, and an additional 2 percent actually must work through six to 10 people before they can declare victory and are no doubt left dazed , confused and exhausted by the experience.

It shouldn’t really be a huge shock to learn that the two most maddening aspects of dealing with customer service agents that most people identified are (1) Being kept on hold too long and (2) Being asked to repeat information to multiple representatives. Third on the frustration list is agents’ inability to answer customers’ questions, closely followed by their attempts to sell customers other services or products – especially when customers are contacting companies to resolve issues and problems!

If those latter issues are in the ‘Premier League’ of consumer irritants, then here comes the Championship promotion hopefuls. These include: service agents’ inflexibility, their slowness to respond and an unfriendly and abrupt nature nature, as well as the lack of tailored solutions being offered and the frequency of agents’ computer systems being inoperable when a customer calls.

Customers in the UK are more likely than their U.S. counterparts to find it frustrating when they are kept on hold too long, service agents are inflexible and slow to respond, and their computer systems are inoperable at the moment a customer contacts them. A greater percentage of respondents in the US than the UK reported being turned off by representatives’ cross-selling or up-selling but that’s probably down to the British problem of not wanting to be seen to complain! That said,UK consumers are more than likely to finish a call before the agent can finish the sales pitch.

Frustration also differs among other customer subgroups. For instance, a higher percentage of women than men reported being frustrated by nearly all of the customer service shortcomings just discussed. Younger people are more likely than middle-aged and older respondents to dislike cross-selling and up-selling. And high-income respondents are more likely than mid- and low-income customers to find representatives’ inability to answer questions and provide tailored solutions frustrating – but are less likely to be turned off by cross-selling or up-selling.

All in all, the indications are that the phone is a tool that people feel obliged to use in order to contact companies that supply them but the experiences are not often wonderful and a savvy company looking to ‘up’ it’s ability to serve it’s customers better will be looking to other communication methods to provide this.

Author: Tim Easton - Published: 15 February 2007 - | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Customer Service: How the Consumer REALLY feels

For some time now, in the notoriously non-service oriented UK, Customer service has finally been seen as the behaviour that can have the most significant impact on a company’s top and bottom line performance. In our own experience with existing clients and new customers, we’ve found that one of the key characteristics of consistently successful businesses is their willingness and ability to create and implement a set of brand defining, distinctive and hard-to-replicate capabilities – which are led by those related to customer service – that set them apart from other rivals in their chosen market places.

To those of us who have suffered continual poor service as consumers in the UK, it is no great surprise that recent research into the behaviour of top-performing companies shows that customer service is critical to developing and consistently delivering a strong, branded customer experience. In turn, this is a key contributor to creating strong customer loyalty and higher lifetime customer value. In short, the way you look after your customers – existing and new - often spells the difference between being a mediocre company with poor performance and being a market leader, whose customers come back to them time and again.

So now that we’ve finally accepted that providing great service is absolutely critical, there is bad news for those companies thinking that getting it right is a quick fix. The truth is that it is one of the most difficult things to achieve. This is reflected in the fact that what most companies often believe is “good” service may not be held in the same regard by their customers. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon for companies to spend huge sums on new customer service technology solutions and processes – believing they are improving their capabilities in this critical area, only to see customer complaints and defections rise – because they have forgotten to focus on customers first and then look at processes and technology to support an excellent customer service philosophy. To repeat that, because it is important, the priority and focus should be: People, Processes and Technology.

Hence when looking at how your customers feel about you, in order to understand how you can serve them better, perhaps the following areas should be looked at carefully

  • How satisfied are customers with the different methods of customer service that you use or could use?
  • What impact does technology and its’ deployment really have on service quality?
  • What do they find most frustrating aspects when they deal with customer service representatives?
  • How do they feel about the action you take when they have had a poor service experience?
  • As one of your customers, what do they feel are the most important aspects when providing a satisfying customer service experience?

Customer surveys should be run constantly but should be simple and unobtrusive. Above all, you must ensure that you do use the output to change our behaviour and ensure your customers know this – in it’s own way, this can provide a closer bond when consumers know they are making a difference. Responses from survey participants are always illuminating, and will suggest numerous opportunities for you to improve the way that you look after your consumers and how you handle and resolve customer issues. In this way, you can create some of the distinctive capabilities that are key factors in achieving high performance, at the same time as retaining and growing your customer base.

Next time, we’ll look at some of the output of such a survey and look at how it can change your business behaviour for the better.

Author: Tim Easton - Published: 30 January 2007 - | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Providing the Right Customer Experience

It's an age old problem and one that companies across all b2C sectors are increasingly facing: How can they deliver the most satisfying service experience,attract more customers, increase revenues from them at the same time as reducing costs? In the past, it's been a difficult objective to achieve but with the growth of multi-channel contact, coupled with an ever demanding and informed consumer, it's critical that companies aim for it today. If they don't, the consequences are stark. In our experience of markets such as Retail, Telco, Outsourcing etc, delivering a differentiated, branded customer experience plays a major role in improving customer satisfaction and all the benefits this brings: increased customer loyalty, which in turn drives high performance through better margins, revenue growth and shareholder value.

Sadly, in many companies, the traditional approach to managing customer contacts in a way that balances cost and satisfaction is not working because the primary focus is cost not the customer and the Contact Centre is seen as a necessary and costly evil, not a strategic weapon for the business. In the communications industry, for example, losing one-fourth of customers each year is fairly typical with Airlines losing about 40 percent of their customers and Insurance companies 30 percent.

So why is this and what is the fundamental problem? Companies are providing self-service solutions that cut costs, but which also alienate customers because they lack personalisation and intimacy and they also imply a degree of knowledge and effort from the customer. For example, they don't effectively identify those high-value customers who must be given special care and attention. Also while companies are implementing agent desktop tools, they miss the point by not preparing those agents who actually have to deliver a better experience to the customer and so in consequence make matters worse. Problems are increased when different departments in the business, crucial for providing input that assists the response to the customer, aren't or can't communicate with each other e.g marketing is going in one direction, operations another.

To combat these types of situations, companies need to build a complete customer experience master plan. This will aim to provide the foundation that allows a company to deliver a superior and ever improving customer experience across all channels of customer contact and their corresponding value chains. Whether a company is servicing a low-value customer or a platinum account, the master plan mandates the right customer experience for each customer type, makes the design of each experience achievable and provides an underlying financial model to track operational improvements and the impact the bottom-line impact. The master plan ensures that companies achieve the right balance between customer satisfaction and what it costs to serve the customer.

Author: Tim Easton - Published: 19 January 2007 - | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Have the eTailers survived

Back in November we suggested that in the run up to Christmas a failure to fulfil orders on time would lead to an avalanche of emails.  I must confess that so far all my online shopping experiences this last two weeks have been pretty good, with only one item going out of stock and expected to miss the Christmas delivery deadline.

Talking to friends however has illustrated that either I have been lucky, chosen unpopular presents that are in stock or are perhaps a little bit more experienced in online shopping by not leaving it till the last minute.  Tales of woe unfold as they have tried in vain to email without response leading to further desperation and I'm sure that this uncertainty will inevitably lead to them shopping elsewhere in the future.

But which companies are this seasons winners and losers in customer care ?

Author: Mark Chamberlain - Published: 22 December 2006 - | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)