Published: May 20, 2014 | Comments
Today’s customers expect 24/7 service via their tablet and cell, and access from their couch, desk, bed or beach. Fail to meet their demands and they simply migrate elsewhere, writes Richard McCann
In the beginning there was the big corporation. Size meant power, influence and safety, and individual customers felt that they occupied a pretty insignificant place within the corporate machine. Who could blame them? A business with many thousands of customers meant that an individual customer’s opinion was about as important as a grain of sand in the composition of a beach, and some firms treated customers accordingly.
In fairness, how was the big corporation supposed to engage with an individual customer? There was simply insufficient time and resource for dealing with thousands of people one-at-a-time.
The two initial drivers of change were the Internet and Generation Y – a group which cared nothing for call-queues and letter writing but understood and took for granted the convenience of instant communications.
For the first time, customers had at their disposal the ability to scale up their importance and magnify their influence by engagement with others. That meant a massive threat to corporations that failed to appreciate the mindset of this new generation of customers.
Recognizing the opportunity beyond the threat, several global banks have lead the way, often forming novel partnerships to bring fresh thinking and capabilities into their businesses to accelerate innovation. Vodafone Global Enterprise is one such partner, that has helped several banks seize opportunities in relation to mobile technology and customer experience improvement, that may have been harder for their clients to address on their own.
Crime and Punishment
Social media makes customers powerful advocates if they like what a business does – but formidable enemies if they are unhappy with the service they receive. People are still talking about the day when a United Airlines traveler saw his guitar damaged by luggage handlers, and found his protest ignored by customer service staff. Before social media his complaint would have counted for nothing – that tiny voice, that grain of sand.
The mistake United Airlines made was to ignore an opportunity to secure a customer as an advocate, by improving his experience. UA saw him as a lone-voiced… insignificant; but he was certainly not a lone voice for long. His YouTube video went viral and he was soon joined by eleven million supporters attacking United Airlines’ poor customer service. UA’s failure to understand customer relationships cost its shareholders a reported $180 million.
Build – or destroy
Some marketers say that everything a firm does involving customer interaction is either a relationship builder or a relationship destroyer. News travels fast, and failing to embrace business simplification tools for process management and customer service can trigger a PR nightmare.
Clearly, getting better at putting out “PR fires” isn’t the answer. Instead companies need to get better and more agile at improving customer-facing processes. Easily said, but not easy to do when customers now interact across multiple channels – traditional, web, mobile and social.
When Netflix announced a new pricing structure, some customers spotted that bills could rise by as much as 60 per cent. Were customers left muttering to themselves in isolated frustration? Hardly - within six hours of the announcement Facebook was buzzing with more than 9,000 comments! By the time Netflix woke up to the significance of the protest a remarkable 805,000 customers had cancelled their subscriptions.
The dream ticket
But it’s not all bad news. Creating a personalised customer experience while reducing costs is achievable. Ask the people who have done it. Pioneers such as Santander, Nationwide, Barclaycard and RBS have rolled-out agile connected communications to deliver a great online experience by providing a consistent real-time multi channel service – SMS, email, web and social - to a population that is plugged in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
These firms are streamlining, adding simplification and transparency whilst reducing operating costs. Some are reporting customer chase calls down by 65% and complaints down by 90%.
That’s good news since the very latest C-Level opinion surveys tell us that improving customer experience is the number one priority for business process improvement initiatives. But providing outstanding customer experiences across multiple channels is a significant challenge for any organisation.
The quest to combine web-self-service, phone, email, chat and in-person forms of interaction into joined-up processes that delight customers is often hampered by legacy systems that are hard to integrate, and organizational silos that impede the collaboration needed for cross-channel process improvement.
Organizations have a strong incentive to offload expensive people-intensive interactions to self-service methods of engagement. However the results are often underwhelming, with 57% of online consumers reporting dissatisfaction with such interactions during the past year. The consequence is channel hopping, meaning that customers switch from web, to chat, to phone, to email – all at high cost to the business! Even worse, customers may just take their business elsewhere.
“52% of online consumers will abandon their online purchase if they cannot find quick answers”
“71% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good service”
"Customer retention has become a prime concern for businesses across the globe," says Martin Scovell, CEO of BPM experts MatsSoft, “for example in banking, checking account switching has recently leapt 54%. Customer experience improvement is top priority, and Business Process Management is at the heart of these initiatives. From my perspective there’s a hierarchy of needs that is forcing organizations to focus on new channels and improved processes. This starts with addressing the challenge of delivering superior customer experience. To do that they need to offer a good service. They know they need to leverage all the channels available to them. For most businesses digital is the most powerful and potentially the most disruptive channel. To fully exploit the digital channel they need good processes or else service levels will be poor. This puts BPM at the heart of all customer experience initiatives. If organizations neglect process improvement, investments in automation may prove wasteful and unsuccessful.”
A recent study by global research and advisory firm, Forrester says 52% of online consumers will abandon their online purchase if they cannot find quick answers. Of those surveyed, 71% said the most important thing a company could do in order to provide good service was to value individual consumer’s time.
Companies must develop “a single customer journey map across touch points,” says Forrester, by requiring that all stakeholders across channels coordinate and prioritise technology enhancements, optimisation of processes and training of contact center agents. Any organization that serves customers through multiple channels is faced with a number of challenges to provide outstanding customer experience.
Forrester asserts that customer experience technology will overtake all other IT spend by 2018 in what they call a ‘seismic shift’ to the ‘new Age of the Customer’, where enterprises are shifting tech investment toward applications that deliver digital customer experiences and enable key constituents to interact with businesses in new, more self-directed and context-aware ways.
This focus on process improvement that transcends multiple customer service channels is certainly a priority in the insurance and financial services sector. “Research tells us that more than 90% of financial services businesses believe their ‘future growth depends on making customer experience special’ and are ‘planning to invest more in customer management’” says Mr Scovell, whose clients include major multinationals banks and insurers as well as large businesses from other sectors like logistics, manufacturing and utilities. According to Mr Scovell, BPM technology is particularly suited to the quest of improving customer experience. “What we’re seeing is more and more operational departments need the agility to innovate without the restraints and long lead times typically involved with centralized IT. It’s not about ripping out legacy systems and rebelling against IT. Far from it, integration with legacy systems is essential. Today’s BPM platforms are ideally suited to this paradigm, particularly if like MATS they adopt a Cloud deployment approach, which enables operational teams to get started, without waiting for IT to provision servers and install software. So, it’s about keeping technology business friendly, starting from a process perspective, and leveraging the integration, communication and web-deployment capabilities that modern BPM platforms such as MATS provide.”
Scovell cites the following examples of how financial services firms are deploying BPM solutions to improve customer experience. “Many of our clients come from the financial services sector, and typically we’re working with them to improve customer experience. For example, automated email or text alerts that put customers more in control of their bank accounts; or streamlining the account opening process to accelerate customer on-boarding; or providing call center agents and brokers complete transparency of how mortgage applications are progressing.
“The no-brainer is that if you offer better service you will get more work. It doesn't matter what industry you're in, that's a fact. And if you don’t, your customers will punish you. Pre-digital, an unhappy customer might tell four people; through social media a single customer could easily tell 4,000 or many more.”
Never before has customer service delivery been so polarised – unlocking enormous potential for adopters, while simultaneously exposing the risk of dinosaur-like extinction for the complacent.