The rise of digital channels has fundamentally changed consumer expectations when it comes to customer service and customer experience. People expect faster responses to their queries, across an even greater number of channels – and they want more detailed, personalised answers if they are to remain loyal to brands in ever-more competitive markets.
How are companies responding? The 2017 Eptica Multichannel Customer Conversation Study evaluated how 100 top brands in 10 sectors performed across the web, email, chat and social media channels, replicating consumer behaviour to provide a real-world picture of UK CX.
Overall the picture shows that many companies – and even whole industry sectors - are struggling to cope with the sheer volume of customer contacts and queries, with brands only able to answer 44% of routine questions asked on the web, email, Twitter and Facebook, down from 49% in 2016. But this masks significant differences in performance between channels and sectors.
Here are the key insights from the study for each of the channels that were analysed:
On average, company websites analysed in the study answered 67% of questions (up 1% from 2016). And nearly half (46%) of the sites improved their scores compared to last year, with 18% remaining the same.
On the face of it these findings underline that brands have got the message: as a key part of most buyer journeys - used for researching and making purchases - websites have to give visitors all the essential information they are likely to need.
Underneath the improved numbers however, there are a several negatives. Fewer brands are scoring 100%, and some are lagging behind with 15% scoring 4 out of 10 or less for the information they provide on their websites.
There are big differences between sectors – bank websites continue to be the top performers with an average of score of 82%, while entertainment sites remain at the bottom with 49%. Telecoms sites improved most, scoring 17% higher than in 2016.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 82% of British consumers say email is their most common online activity. Even though it’s been around for a long time, people still like email because it’s easy to use, creates a built-in audit trail and because you can send messages of any length at any time.
However, the study suggests that while more brands now offer email (65% compared to 64% in 2016) with more of them responding to emails and doing it faster, overall just 40% of all brands answer the query satisfactorily. Overall 25% of brands are either not responding, or are not responding accurately via email.
While more brands are present on Twitter and Facebook now compared to 2016, response rates have dropped - by 15% on Twitter and 5% on Facebook. And accuracy has also gone down. On Facebook, 35% of brands provided a success response this year compared with 45% in 2016; and on Twitter it was 24% down from 48% in 2016.
Generally if you do get a response on social media it is likely to be faster than other channels, but accuracy is low, with email a better choice if you want a satisfactory answer.
Part of the challenge is probably the sheer increase in customer service tweets and messages via social media; over 66% of Facebook users log on every day, and there are 800 million daily Likes, while over 4.5 million tweets are sent every month to B2C brands.
Chat was the fastest and most accurate channel evaluated, with an average response time of 2 minutes 14 seconds and an 82% success rate when it came to answering customer queries. What’s more, with nearly half (49%) of brands advertising it on their websites, up from 44% meaning it can now be considered a mainstream channel.
Despite this, the problem with chat remains one of under-resourcing. Only 22% of brands had their chat facility working when tested, with many switching chat off presumably to save resources at busy times.
Meeting the challenge of rising consumer expectations
When it comes to customer experience, consumer expectations are rising, with the volume of queries and their complexity increasing. While many brands are coping with the challenge, The 2017 Eptica Multichannel Customer Conversation Study suggests others still need to work harder.
On social media in particular brands seem to be over whelmed by the volume of incoming customer service tweets and messages, and are unable to respond quickly or accurately enough. Other channels, such as chat and the web have shown improvements, but there are still downsides in terms of accuracy of answers and lack of resources.
Companies cannot afford to be left behind. Speed and relevance are becoming just the basics of what customers expect now. Brands need to build on these to start providing meaningful conversations, based on understanding, empathy and personalisation. To do this they’ll need to ensure channels are integrated, with knowledge and resources shared between them. And to bring in artificial intelligence to automate basic transactions while empowering agents to use their human skills to meet make a difference by showing empathy and understanding.
About Neil Titcomb
An experienced customer service and CX leader, Neil has over 20 years experience of helping organisations to transform how they interact with customers, improving satisfaction and bottom line revenues.