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Yes, the Customer is Still King

As a matter of fact, what the customer wants has very quickly become one of the main drivers for what happens in many Contact Centers. Customer needs and expectations reshape how interactions are structured and handled, which interaction channels are offered, and what constitutes acceptable customer service.

Let’s start our travel into the customer’s kingdom by looking into the reasons for this type of thinking.

Personalized Customer Service

More than ever before, customers today actually have the means to voice their pleasure (or displeasure) with the service you provide. They certainly did this in the past as well – but in a somewhat limited way. What’s new today is that a customer may reach an audience that is many times larger than ever before, with just a click of the mouse. In the days of social media, a post or a tweet can reach hundreds, even thousands of people within minutes.

For better or for worse, we know that customers will broadcast how they feel about the customer service they receive. The information is out there. But to which degree does that information actually impact what other potential or existing customers will end up doing? It’s an intriguing question, so we worked on a study with Harris Poll to find out more.  

The Harris Poll study, conducted online on behalf of inContact, provided key insights into consumers placing orders over $25 via phone or online in the six months preceding the study, including the type of products/services ordered, total value of all orders, and interactions with a company representative at various stages of the purchase journey. In an online survey we asked over 2,000 adults in the US and UK to which degree their decision to do or not to do business with a company is influenced by Social Media content.

The results were not entirely unexpected: 60% of respondents indicated that if they read about negative customer service (in a review or on a social site), they would not do business with that company. Furthermore, one in five consumers agreed that they actually use social media sites to make purchase decisions (and at 38%, this percentage is even higher in the age group between 18 and 34).

Customer service that leaves room for improvement is a problem for customers; that has always been the case. However, did you know that 86% of customers today say that they are very likely to switch companies if they have a bad customer service experience? If you are not in a market where there is no competition (and there’s not too many of those out there), then you might want to keep the old saying in mind: "If we don't take care of our customers, then someone else will."

All this clearly shows that excellence in customer service is still considered a competitive differentiator. We therefore need to understand what customers nowadays expect from customer service. There are some established facts that constitute general truths: they seem to apply to customer service across different markets, verticals or locations and hold true for most, if not all customer groups, regardless of factors such as age, gender or location.

Those three general truths are the need for interaction with a person, in particular when things don’t go stellar; the demand for choice of interaction channels; and the importance of personalization.

Our research has found that while many customers will gladly accept and use self-service channels in particular for standard interactions, self-service is not enough when things don’t go as expected. Over 80% of consumers in the Harris study indicated that if they are dissatisfied with an order, they would prefer to get assistance from a live representative. It is worthwhile noting that the preferred channel for live interaction will differ based on the customer’s current situation or preference. However, real-time channels such as a phone call or chat interaction are preferred over email or online self-service. Giving your customers access to those live channels in situations where they need it can go a long way towards excellence in customer service.

We have seen that, almost universally, customers expect to have choices. In particular, they want a choice of channels – reactive or proactive, self-service or personal, real-time or offline. Ideally, your customers expect you to meet them where they are. They want to be able to choose the interaction channel they prefer and that is most appropriate in their current situation. That holds true for all customers, but there are differences in the media of choice based on who your customers are: if the majority of your customer base is Gen Y, they likely prefer Social Media, text or chat over interactions on the phone or via email. Conversely, phone and email top the list of channels if your customer base consists largely of Baby Boomers. Make sure understand who your customers are, and determine their preferences before you set out to add channels to your mix.

Lastly, personalization is another generic requirement that is high on the customer wish list. Almost two thirds of customers expect to be able to speak to the same representative on the phone that they previously had a live chat interaction with. And even more customers (67%) want a follow-up interaction on the phone to be with the same agent they spoke with the last time they interacted with you. Fulfilling this requirement is likely not viable for all customers, as it creates staffing issues and requires fairly complex routing. But you might want to consider it for some, such as a VIP group. Or you might want to partially comply by reserving an incoming contact for the last active agent for a limited amount of time, before opening it up to be handled by another agent. And really, in the end the need to speak to the same representative may simply originate in the need to not have to repeat myself. As a customer, I want the person that handles my interaction to know who I am, and have insight into my current situation. I need the interaction to be painless, streamlined and easy. So look into how to provide your agents with the information that will help them to personalize interactions – it will go a long way to fulfill customer expectations!

So the customer is king; and quickly turning into an emperor. Does that mean you should serve everything on a silver platter? Probably not. But it certainly does make sense to see what you can do to fulfill growing customer expectations.

Need to know more? Information on the Harris Poll study is available on the inContact website! Or take a look at a recent webinar on the topic with ICMI earlier in October.