Archives : March 2007

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)