Not everyone subscribes to the view that the “customer is always right”, as expressed by retail-magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge in the early twentieth century. Irish budget airline Ryanair, for example, continues to sell tickets defiantly in spite of being ranked the “worst airline” for the sixth time in a row in a survey of customers in 2019. For most organisations, however, customer satisfaction correlates directly to success. Put simply, people are more likely to recommend a company if they’ve had a positive experience and will complain on social media, or simply take their business elsewhere, if they haven’t. Unhappy customers and bad reviews can hit profits hard. A recent report from American Express found that “more than half of Americans have scrapped a planned purchase or transaction because of bad service, and 33 percent say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.” And in Europe, even Ryanair’s unabashed attitude has been a little premature – both its profits and its share price have been dropping along with its reputation.
Offering the Right Channels
So where to start with a winning customer service strategy? There are a number of customer service best practices and emerging trends to follow. Customers today expect personalization, ease of interaction, and they want to be able to use technology to make their lives easier. They also expect choice. So the first place to start is to look at how your customers can contact you. Whether or not you are funnelling all your customer communications through a contact centre, you need to consider the channels you have on offer. Can your customers get in touch via email, SMS, text and other messaging platforms, including social media? And what about interacting with a human, whether on the end of a phone or via live chat?
A recent survey from the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) demonstrated that no one channel is going to satisfy all of your customers. This report found that although social media is currently the most preferred customer support channel, placed at the top of the list by 34.5% of respondents, significant numbers favoured alternative methods. Website/live chat was ranked second (24.7%), followed by emails (19.4%) and traditional call centres (16.1%). It’s not a question of finding the correct channel for your customers – it’s about offering them a choice.
…and the Right People
Whether they are on the phone, at the end of an electronic communication or face-to-face with your customers, your service agents are the embodiment of your organisation. Many companies today are racing to automate as much of the customer interaction process as possible, from chatbots which respond to standard questions to Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems which attempt to recognize speech. However, there’s still no substitute for a good old-fashioned human conversation. A 2018 survey of US consumers from software vendor Aspect revealed that no fewer than 62 per cent of consumers said that engaging with a happy customer service agent would make them happy themselves! Even more (66 per cent) said that they would pay more for great service, while 72 per cent were prepared to spend longer on a transaction in exchange for a positive experience.
Yet in spite of this, many organisations are still not taking the training and welfare of their service agents seriously enough. Staff turnover in the customer service sector – particularly in contact centres – is notoriously high, indicating that job satisfaction is low. Part of the reason is that the role is often seen as a temporary, student-type job, but stringent security measures can also contribute to this. Most contact centre agents are good hard working and honest folk, however, some contact centres routinely search employees before and after their working day and prohibit agents from taking any personal effects with them to their workstations – including mobile phones. Being treated as a potential criminal is obviously no good for morale, and separation from a mobile phone can be difficult for the many part-time workers who have chosen the profession to fit round caring responsibilities.
According to the 2019 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report from Dimension Data, however, organisations are finally beginning to recognize this as a problem. The report suggests that more organisations are recognizing that agents play an important role in customer experience and are open to more employee-centric operating models. There’s still a long way to go, but whoever moves fastest in this area will be ahead of the pack – so make sure that means you.
…with the Right Technology
Managing a wide range of channels effectively means investing in a lot of tech. Ideally, you want a fully integrated system that will allow you to prioritize your customers’ queries regardless of how you receive them. Increasingly, contact centres are moving to the cloud to make unified communications easier, blurring the lines between email, social media, instant messages and even voice. A research paper published by the Cloud Industry Forum predicts that by 2020, 57 per cent of organisations will have implemented cloud within their contact centres,
With phone calls, however, it can be a little bit more difficult. If you are sorting your incoming calls by asking your callers to select menu options, be aware that the more buttons you make them press, the less likely they are to stay on the line. The same can apply to automated voice responders – we all know how frustrating it is to be shouting commands down the phone to a machine that doesn’t understand us. So don’t keep them hanging on the line for longer than you can help.
You may also want to think about how your customers may want to pay you. Unless you are using a solution like Semafone CardProtect, paying over the phone can require a great many security measures. In order to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) some companies have chosen to force their customers to visit their website for payments, even though they may have been talking to a service agent on the phone. This is a mistake – it’s just as important to offer your customers the choice to pay at their own convenience as it is to offer them the channels they prefer. If someone’s called you to enquire about a product, let them buy it there and then. Just as cafes, shops, and even the Church of England have found that offering contactless payments is now essential (the C of E found that takings increased by 97% when it introduced contactless plates), you need to make it easy for your customers to pay if they are on the phone – or even on live chat.
And Keep It Safe
According to Dimension Data’s report, one of the biggest factors that has held companies back from offering new channels is the fear of cyber security threats – the common perception is that new channels of communication will mean a greater risk. While 79.2 of respondents said that they feel that their current security technology systems are adequate, even more (81.2%) believe that these are not sufficient to meet future needs. For these organisations, the advantage of adding more channels needs to be balanced against the security investment that will inevitably be required alongside it. And don’t forget about customer service call recording laws—there are a number of which that contact centres must be sure to pay particular attention.
Striking the Right Balance
Customers everywhere are a lot savvier than they were in Mr Selfridge’s time. They know that there are a lot of fraudsters out there who want their data, and they expect you to protect them. Data privacy and security are no longer separate from customer service – if you’re investing in technology to give your customers the easy, personalized service that they want, you also need to invest in the technology that will keep their information safe and catalyse a customer service transformation at the same time.
To summarize, your customers want a first-class level of service, and they want a first-class level of security. And the customer is always right.