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How to deliver a perfect personalised service experience: The experts’ advice

15th Sep 2014
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Automation may have added much valued speed and efficiency to many disciplines, but when it comes to customer service, nothing can quite replace the personal touch. A service agent that is knowledgeable about a customer’s history and understanding of their specific predicament can turn even disgruntled callers into brand advocates.

But this cuts both ways. If customers have to repeat their problem to a succession of agents and are subjected to scripted service dialogue, it can leave them feeling like the company doesn’t want to understand them and doesn’t care about them.

“If you ask a group of people to each name one brand they love and one brand they loathe, you may be surprised at the answers,” says Carolyn Blunt, founder of Real Results Training. “Every time I’ve done this exercise the same brands tend to show up on both sides. People usually have very personal reason why they like or dislike a brand, and it is usually based on a customer experience. What this highlights is that customer experience can define how people see your business.

“A bad customer experience could be very damaging. A good customer experience can build customer loyalty and retention. It can help your business save thousands on marketing efforts if you are retaining customers and getting positive reviews from them.”

Simon Towner, divisional director of retail at Omnico Group, adds: “Shoppers are people and as such have a number of emotional needs. These include acknowledgement, appreciation, being cared about, being important, listened to, getting noticed and being valued. Personalisation recognises these emotional needs and differentiates your company from competitors that don’t provide such a great level of service.”

Personalisation problems

Yet delivering personalised service experience is not as straightforward as it would seem, and indeed has become increasingly complex.

“It started with your local shopkeeper who knew your name, your family, what was important to you and why you shopped at their store. So what has changed?” notes Jo Causon, the CEO of The Institute of Customer Service. “The fundamentals are still the same but what is different is the medium we use to build the picture we have of our customers, the number of customers and their level of engagement and involvement with the organisation, particularly how they choose to interact with us.”

As a result, efforts to drive personalisation back into service face an uphill struggle for many brands, particularly when they are attempting to deliver service at scale. And this can lead to mistakes.

“I think the most basic mistake is thinking personalisation means you get to know someone by name but not by what motivates and engages them, information that can be gleaned from their shopping habits,” suggests Towner. “Starbucks’ recent ‘tell us your name’ in-store campaign, to make the brand appear more personal is a case in point, that  has led to anything from mild hilarity at point of sale as people strive to invent more creative and honestly unfeasible monikers to a full blown online movement of complaint.”

Anand Subramaniam, VP of worldwide marketing at eGain, adds: “A common problem we see is uncoordinated customer engagement across business units and communication channels, whether it is inconsistent answers to customer questions or inconsistent offers. The business needs to take a unified approach to personalization across customer touchpoints.”

And in an era when access to customer data is increasing, and service technology is maturing, it is also easy to underestimate the importance of the person in personalisation.

“One potential issue when delivering a personalised service experience, is the lack of training and skills from those within the organisation,” says Causon. “Customer-facing staff need to have the appropriate soft skills and emotional intelligence needed to provide the best customer service. It would be a mistake for those working on the customer service team to make assumptions of the preferences of customers and force an overtly personalised service on them. It takes an employee with the right sensitivities to judge how best to deal with these situations and learn from any mistakes they make.”

So how can brands ensure that they deliver a successful personalised service experience? Carolyn Blunt has the following tips from her eMasterclass at that can help you deliver a more personalised customer experience:

Develop customer profiles

Select a few agents to sit with the marketing department and profile some of the customer groups. The marketing department should already have some demographics and customer information available. The contact centre agents can provide more detailed insights from their personal experiences in dealing with customers. They can share how customers responded to certain questions or prompts. They can also share stories on some of the different customer personalities they’ve dealt with.

Encourage flexibility

Not every customer is the same and they usually don’t want to feel ‘processed’ like a robot. If a customer has a concern or query, they want to be heard. Train agents how to listen, and then interpret and evaluate before responding. This is really important. Most people listen and respond, but don’t take the time to interpret or evaluate what is being said before they respond.

A customer’s tone is one of the first clues to offering a personalised customer experience. Someone who is angry or upset doesn’t want to hear an agent reciting a script, they want to be listened to and they want their problem resolved. Train and empower agents to be able to respond to calls in a way that is personal, empathetic and that engages with the customer.

Give customers choices

People are happier if they can make their own choices. This is where technology can play a huge role in personalising the customer experience.

For example, if a customer is being forced to stay on the line or lose their place in the queue they can become resentful. But if they are given an option to leave a message so someone can call them back or wait, and they made the choice to wait for themselves, they feel happier about it. Does your routing system give your customer simple and clear choices that send them to the right agent who can help them with their query? It can be frustrating for both customers and agents if their calls keep ending up in the wrong place.

Do your agents have the option to give customers a choice? Choosing whether to pay in a lump sum or by instalments for example? Deciding whether to hold or be called back while the agent investigates is another simple choice, or choosing to have the information sent in an email – it all personalises the experience because it means the customer is choosing the next steps and exerting some control over the experience. However, if your agents can’t make outbound calls or use other channels then this is going to limit the options.

Empower agents

A well-integrated CRM system can help agents provide a more personalised customer experience. For example, if customers key in some personal details while they hold, agents can pull up their call or purchase history. This will help agents prepare for the call and serve customers better, they won’t have to repeat themselves. Asking how they enjoyed past purchases is a great way to build loyalty but it can’t be done if your agents can’t see the data.

Give your top performers a budget they can use to creatively solve customer queries. This will enable them to organise small gifts or gestures that customers will appreciate. A personalised card, some flowers or something else the customer might like. Thoughtful personalised gestures are rare in the corporate world and can really bind customer’s loyalty to your business.

Evaluate the corporate culture of the contact centre

Is the primary focus on targets and metrics? Or are agents encouraged to focus on the customers first? Certainly targets need to be met, but only focusing on the numbers can take the joy out of the job. Focusing on customers makes the job more exciting because there so many more dimensions to people.

Even training on identifying the types of customers calling in according to group profiles can be a fun exercise. Learning how to identify tone of voice in the first 10 seconds of a call is another way to help agents tune into being customer focused.

A personalised customer experience is about making the person feel valued. They may exhibit positive behaviour or negative behaviour. That shouldn’t influence how agents respond to them. Instead of labelling some customers as difficult to deal with, replace that with the word different. Just by changing how you think about a customer can help you have a more positive approach or response to them.

Further tips

Causon adds: “Every customer is unique, which means that they require and expect different things during their journey as a customer. It is therefore vitally important to gain insight about your customers, but not just their buying behaviours and preferences but also about how they wish to be communicated with and the preferred mode of communication. As this develops we are seeing the rise of collaboration and co-creation and an increase in the choices available for customers, in terms of who they deal with and how they interact with them.”

Peters highlights the following final tips:

  • Get to know your customer. Leverage all the data at your disposal to build a complete profile of them and their habits.
  • Act upon this customer profile, and do it in as near real-time as you can. Use it to offer relevance and value.
  • Ensure best practice. Don’t push the boundaries of interaction frequency, avoid offer fatigue and ensure your communications are tightly aligned to both customer preferences and campaign objectives.
  • Continue to learn. Keep building your knowledge and use the personalised interactions to go even deeper, establishing clear preferences.

Summarising the advice above, Causon suggests: “The key is the ability to combine genuine insight with emotional intelligence.”

This, in a nutshell, is the essence of a personalised service experience. And for any that doubt its power, Causon points to recent research by the ICS that demonstrates how this combination is key to developing closer customer relationships and improving trust - which in turn delivers real business benefits.

“By delivering an increase of 10% in its customer satisfaction score, an organisation can expect on average an increase of 12% in the trust ratings from its customers. This in turn has a positive effect on the reputation of an organisation. Evidence from the UK Customer Satisfaction Index suggests that organisations which adapt and respond to customer expectations achieve sustainable success over the longer term and this is critical in a highly competitive environment.”

She concludes: “Companies are recognising the impact that the digital age can have on customer service and how a personalised service is increasingly expected by consumers. We are moving from monologue and mass marketing to dialogue and personalisation, the challenge is how we do this consistently.”

And this is challenge that we must all meet head on. 

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