The relationship between companies and consumers has been radically transformed in recent years in line with the escalating number of communications channels.
From the growth of social media to the latest smartphones, a multitude of technological advancements has raised both consumers’ expectations and the demands on businesses to produce the highest levels of customer service excellence.
Year-on-year, the world of customer service is changing. A new breed of customer has emerged – one that has a loud voice and a number of public platforms on which to make it heard. Customers are becoming more empowered by technology and driven by the immediacy it provides, and anticipate that same sense of urgency from their interactions with businesses. Whether it is to resolve a complaint, answer a query or request information, they want the quickest and most efficient resolution.
In fact, in a recent global survey, commissioned by Interactive Intelligence and administered by independent research firm, Actionable Research, a timely response was ranked as the most important part of a customer service interaction. The study, which was a follow-on to a similar survey conducted in 2013, addressed two key areas, ‘what do customers want in a great service experience?’, and ‘what do customers and companies want from the technology behind that great customer experience?’. A group of global consumers were questioned, alongside a group of professionals, which included IT professionals and customer care leaders, about their customer service and technology expectations and preferences.
Evidently, for consumers around the world, the customer experience continues to gain importance and, for companies, it provides the gateway to new business and higher levels of customer loyalty. Customer service excellence directly improves sales and this sentiment was echoed in the 2014 study – with nearly half of consumers’ surveyed (45 per cent) saying they “always” or “usually” make their products or services purchasing decisions based solely on the organization’s customer service reputation.
Another key finding, perhaps unsurprising given the pace of today’s fast moving technology, is that speed is the top priority when it comes to customer service interactions. Opinions have changed in the last year regarding what each group values most in a customer service interaction, as the results from the 2013 study differed, indicating that consumers rated a ‘knowledgeable agent’ as the vital element of an interaction.
However, in terms of specific methods of communication, a phone call with an agent is still by far the most preferred channel, despite the prolific growth in availability of other methods. The results did show that although alternate channels are definitely making inroads, 61% of consumers and 56% of professionals still prefer the telephone. The 2014 study showed that there is also an increased preference for live agent web chat and this is slowly taking over customers using email, which dropped by 4 per cent for consumers and 7 per cent for professionals compared to the previous year’s figures.
The immediacy and very public nature of social media make it an ideal target as an alternative communications method for consumers. During the past few years, businesses have been made well aware of its ramifications, and many customer service strategies have had to evolve and incorporate an element of social media. Given the global popularity of social media, the study uncovered a somewhat surprising result, as only one per cent of consumers prefer to use these social sites to interact with a company. Although, in perhaps a nod towards more people starting to adopt this as their chosen method, the findings from the group of professionals showed they were more common users of social media, using social channels at a four per cent rate to interact with businesses. In addition, more than half of the consumers surveyed (53%) said they have used, or would use, Facebook to interact with a company for customer service.
Clearly, many businesses are meeting the high requirements of their customer base, as 64% of consumers reported having an exceptional, positive customer experience. The study demonstrated that word of mouth remains as strong as ever as the majority also stated that they would tell others about their positive experience, in fact, 70 per cent of them said they referred the company they had their positive experience with to their family and friends. This percentage increased in nearly every country in which the survey took place from 2013 to 2014.
When it comes to frustrations during a customer service interaction, the main annoyance reported by customers involved the agent they were speaking too. The most noted examples were not being able to understand the agent when speaking on the phone, and dealing with an agent who is condescending or demeaning, or both. Similar kinds of unprofessional behaviour had been reported during last year’s survey, and this was reflected in the 2014 study, as having a competent agent still remains the highest priority. The majority of consumers actually said they would likely seek an alternate vendor if an agent was condescending or demeaning.
Customers place a high value on their interaction with agents, particularly those who contact businesses or service providers regularly. Specific aspects of customer service rated the most important included agents who have access to the individual’s previous transaction details. This leads to speed of service, more efficient transactions and removes the need to repeat information during an interaction.
The overall results from the study suggest that the most successful contact centre operations are those that reflect the continually evolving needs of their customers. Today’s consumers take a multi-pronged approach when communicating with companies and the use of social media channels have had a dramatic impact on both the speed of the response and the way contact centres deal with customer enquiries.
One of the latest emerging trends capable of addressing many of the issues brought up in the study, with the ability to take customer service to its highest level is social routing. The new method of social routing provides the next step that contact centres need to more accurately meet their customers’ requirements with a specific and tailored approach.
As the number of alternative channels widens, social media, web chat and video chat will start to catch up with the popularity of traditional communication methods. The survey showed the increase in customer expectations, who are looking for the same level of functionality, service and interactivity for their product and service related query that they receive when buying online. One of the biggest problems is the gap between the buying experience and the support experience, and social routing could be the answer to meet this demand.
In simple terms, social routing effectively channels the customer to the most appropriate service representative in the contact centre. The consumer will be presented with agent options and will, in effect, select the best, most suitable customer service advisor themselves to address their query, complaint or information request. The power is once again handed back to the consumer.
“Whatever customer service path businesses take, the focus for the future has to mirror the behavior and opinion of its target consumers. The overall findings from the 2014 survey provide a framework of what consumers believe a superior customer experience should entail, they provide answers to many vital questions which could be used to ensure that every potential company interaction is carried out in the most intelligent way,” says Dave Paulding, Regional Sales Director, UK & Middle East, Interactive Intelligence.
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