The adage “the customer is always right” has evolved – now it’s “the digital customer is always right”, reflecting that organisations must provide excellent service in whichever channel a customer chooses.
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Today, less than 15% of customer support happens on a mobile device, but by 2017, 35% will take place on a mobile, according to analyst Gartner. However, the human touch will still be important, with one-third of all customer service interactions still requiring the support of a human intermediary.
Organisations that fail to ensure a seamless customer experience in this multi-channel environment risk destroying customer loyalty, damaging their brand and losing business. Digital customers are sharing their bad experiences via social media, blogs and reviews. A negative tweet can go viral – and deter thousands of other potential customers.
“Generation D is coming. Digital is changing everything and the next generation don’t question technology – they have grown up with it and they expect everything to be instantaneous and use platforms such as Twitter to express their views,” says Sheila Malone, an expert in consumer psychology at Lancaster University Management School.
Organisations are already interacting with technology-enabled customers who carry powerful gadgets, such as iPads and smartphones, with which they can instantly share their experiences. Ofcom figures reveal that over eight in 10 (83%) adults go online using any type of device in any location.
“We are now in the sharing economy where consumers collaborate with each other and on the platforms they use there is little governance. Consumers have a lot of power and can voice their opinions instantly and expect an instant response,” says Malone.
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This is a challenge for companies as the traditional customer service approach of relationship management has died. Power is now with the customers who want to interact when and how they choose and from whatever device, on their own terms.
“In the 1990s, organisations strove to attract, attain and maintain customers and focused on developing and holding onto relationships with customers, but in the digital era the rules are changing, with a shift in power to the consumer,” says Malone.
Digital customers are mobile and expect digital customer service to be as good as its traditional face-to-face equivalent. But Gartner predicts that by 2018, the lack of in-line contextual knowledge or support in mobile applications will reduce customer satisfaction by 5%. There are still gaps in knowledge within organisations, which affect their ability to ensure positive customer engagement.
For example, Gartner found that 90% of IT leaders did not know if the mobile applications used by their customers had adequate levels of customer support built in – yet an estimated 60% of internet users would prefer mobile customer service applications as their first option.
A cultural shift
To deliver a customer-centric experience in the digital world, organisations should involve all departments, because this is a cultural as well as a technological shift.
“The entire organisation should act collectively as everyone should understand the strength and power shift to the consumer – this should be a guiding philosophy,” says Malone.
Companies that deliver great service in-store and at every touchpoint reap rewards when customers spread a positive message through online communities.
“Look at Apple. Organisations can turn their customers into advocates, not just customers, because they have a strong affiliation with the brand,” she says.
Social media tracking tools can help monitor and manage what is being said – the aim should be to track trends in real time to respond quickly. A disgruntled tweet about poor customer service vents instant frustration, without the cooling-off period involved in going home and writing a letter of complaint. This new dynamic means organisations need to reciprocate and engage effectively and rapidly.
“Companies that can respond to this phenomenon will do very well. For example, a Virgin Trains passenger tweeted he needed toilet roll and an employee delivered it. That really is the definition of personal customer service,” says Malone.
Sheila Malone, Lancaster University Management School
But it is not advisable to jump into every channel and adopt all the tools without knowing which are likely to work and how customers may respond, says Ian Campbell, an experienced interim CIO, who has worked at the Highways Agency, Value Retail, TUI Travel and Transport for London.
“Customer expectations are based on where they had the best experience. Look how First Direct did telephone banking. It was a roaring success because there was always someone to pick up the phone. The principle is often lost because too many companies will launch a new channel, such as putting up a website, but fail to estimate the volume of interactions they will receive. Get a prototype out early and test it. If you don’t get it right, the customer is only one click away from a competitor,” says Campbell.
He agrees with Malone that any approach must be company-wide: “This is too big to just hand over to the marketing department; the board should be talking about customer service.”
Seamless omni-channel focus
Campbell says that even if an organisation offers self-service, as many banks have done with online banking, other channels cannot be dropped. Customers require live agents for urgent enquiries such as fraud, or they might want face-to-face reassurance about a major transaction.
“The next generation will not think of queuing in a branch to do their banking, but many people still value branches. The focus has to be on omni-channel and making it seamless,” he says.
Different channels are suited to different transactions and a consumer is likely to use them all, but they expect the organisation to know who they are at every touchpoint. Organisations need an accurate knowledge base where companies can link information from other channels, including peer-to-peer interactions, web self-service and communities, to share with customer service agents.
“If a consumer buys online and is not recognised when they contact the call centre, they are going to be dissatisfied. Back-end integration is fundamental,” says Campbell.
Customers want to move between channels while retaining context, which requires a connected strategy to link processes so data is accurate and easily located, says Malone: “Getting customer service right is very dependent on knowing exactly who your customer base is and thinking about how they want to communicate, but the experience across channels has to be holistic. Organisations can’t afford to take their eyes off any one mode; they need to integrate every touchpoint with their customers.”
Computer Weekly buyer's guide to customer experience management
In this 13-page buyer's guide, Computer Weekly looks at the challenge facing organisations in delivering an online experience to customers that goes far beyond just a website; critical actions CIOs should undertake to improve customer experience; and whether customer experience management is the new customer relationship management.
- Digital customer experience: Beyond the website
- Five critical actions CIOs should take to improve customer experience
- Is customer experience management the new CRM?