What we’ve learned about delivering a superior customer experience in the past year is well worth building upon in the coming year. Here are ten tips gleaned from our proprietary research on the customer experience, and our customer management work with Fortune 500 companies in the communications, technology, banking and financial services, retail and e-commerce, and health care industries.
#1: Focus on the quality of your customer service and the quality of your product or offering. Don’t let price be your key/only differentiator.
Despite recessionary financial constraints, consumer emphasis on price has decreased since 2008 and 2009. Consumers indicate an increased desire for value: they want the best possible combination of product and service at the “right” price.
#2: Listen to the voice of the customer and amplify it throughout your organization. Your employees need to be as sensitive to the current state of service as are your customers.
77% of customers say that in the past year the quality of customer service provided by companies has stayed the same or gotten worse, while 50% of employees at those companies providing the experience think service has improved.
#3: Communicate the ease and accessibility of reaching live agents in channels of the customer’s choosing, and prepare and empower your employees to provide first-contact resolution.
62% of customers who said it was “hard” to deal with a company said it was because their issue was not resolved the first time they contacted them for service. 43% also said they found it difficult to reach a service representative.
#4: If great service is a focus don’t give in to temptations to cut, cut and cut costs. Service is an investment in your company and customers.
Customer service employees reported an 8% decline in their preparedness to deliver the right customer service experience. Most notably, employees were 11% less likely to say they had the necessary tools to solve customer’s issues, compared to results captured in 2009.
In response to the recession, most organizations have reduced their investment in their customer care operations, as reported both by executives and employees. Customers express a correlated sense of decline in service in the form of: more bad experiences, fewer resolutions, and registering greater defection rates. The adage of “penny wise, but pound foolish” is very relevant here – customers are placing significantly more emphasis on customer care. If care erodes so too does a company’s customer base; the two are more linked now than ever before. Companies looking to strategically cut costs should think twice before making across-the-board investment reductions in their customer care operations, along with their service representatives and the tools and systems that support them.
#5: Make sure you are listening to all the contact channels you’ve deployed or “intended” to support.
Two-thirds (66%) of customers are taking the initiative to contact a company after a bad experience, effectively seeking a resolution before they decide whether or not to take their business elsewhere. Today’s consumer has become more vocal (58% reported their bad experience in 2009) as they feel greater empowerment and duress from the economy. The vast majority (71%) are contacting live agents on the phone or in-person, but a meaningful 23% are using email and text messaging to vent. And, customers using indirect channels expect a response as much as those who call, and are just as likely to defect if they don’t get a response and/or resolution of their issue. This is no small issue, as 20% of the customers who reported their bad experience said they did not even get a response from the company. Ultimately, 57% of them decided to take their business elsewhere. Not responding, or slowly responding to these channels can be especially disruptive. Every channel matters and needs tightly defined resolution processes; the customers who use these channels have high expectations on the offered channels being useful, effective, and closed looped.
#6: Aggressively promote the fact that you want feedback. You want to know when you get it wrong. And, make it easy for customers to contact you and get immediate access to empowered and empathetic agents.
41% of customers who did not bother to report their bad experience (34% defected without saying a word) said they did not bother because there was no convenient way to report it to the offending company.
#7: Listen to and engage customers on social media.
80% of customers who had a bad experience took their story to the court of public opinion, and 12% used social media to amplify their voice. On average, an individual using social media reached 45 people with their individual tweets or postings. And, for those customers who could recall reading about a friend or colleague’s bad experience, 62% said they avoided doing business with or stopped doing business with that company. Social media will play a greater role in customer care as the Millennial generation and those who follow it increasingly gravitate to this communication medium to create communities, share their experiences, and express their opinions.
#8: Avoid the temptation to put too many eggs in the self-service basket.
Self-service certainly has its time and place, but when issues are complex or frustrating, customers want (and demand) access to live agents. In fact, preference for live web chat has grown 33% in the last year, and preference for email by 50%.
#9: Use proactive communication to get the conversation started with (transferred to) an agent.
100% of customers said it is appropriate for a company they do business with to proactively contact them. However, companies must be sensitive to the reasons and channels they employ, as the vast majority of customers are not open to anything and everything. Companies can manage both the customer experience and call volumes by controlling what types of messages go out to whom, and when, and prompting customers to call.
#10: Invest in the experience and don’t lose customers, because you likely won’t ever get them back.
Only 16% of customers who left a company after a bad experience said they would be willing to do business with that company again if some effort were made to win them back. Don’t burn the bridge by not providing the best agent-based experiences, and don’t focus so much on diverting your customers from agents that you damage the relationship. Millennials are the most forgiving (40% willing to reconsider), while Gen-Xers (16%) present some opportunity and offended Boomers (4%) and Seniors (2%) are nearly impossible to sway and incentivize.
Mike Cholak is a consulting practice executive in the Customer Management line of business at Convergys. He leads a team dedicated to delivering a full suite of consulting services to the Company’s clients that help leverage customer intelligence and feedback to optimize long- term customer loyalty and profitability.