New research from Oracle reveals a significant gap between customers' expectations of customer service and the reality of what they receive. No surprises there. But does the research also reveal how to remedy the problem?
By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor
UK customers are the ones who suffer most from the inadequacies of call centres, according to new research commissioned by Oracle.
The study, which surveyed 1,500 consumers and 250 contact centre managers across Europe, exposed a hefty gap between customers' expectations of customer service they hope to receive from call centres and the reality of what they do receive.
Many of the findings echo similar studies by other firms and organisations. They key findings include the hardly surprising finding that more than half of all European consumers are unhappy with the level of customer service they receive. UK customers are the most unhappy and complain about the most ineffective service levels in Europe.
When asked which industries were getting customer service right and which were getting it wrong, four out of ten (37%) thought financial services companies provided the best level of service, with a similar number (39%) viewing telecommunications companies providing the worst.
David Mills, VP of CRM sales, Oracle
Respondents complain about such standard gripes as having to endure long call queues, having to continually repeat their queries to different members of staff, and receiving inconsistent answers from the different agents they end up talking to.
But on the other side of the fence, call centre managers reckons that keeping the customer happy is top of their list of things to do. The research revealed that the key objectives for European customer service operations are very much focused on keeping the customer happy. More than eight out of ten (83%) viewed dealing with customers to their satisfaction as highly important while two thirds (66%) say they view keeping customers for as little time as possible as important. Of particular concern was that forty-three percent of contact centre respondents maintained that customers never have to repeat queries, which serves to highlight the size of the gap between their aspirations and their actual delivery on customer expectations.
So the good intentions are there, they're just not translating into action. More than half of European respondents did not judge customer service to be effective – a quarter viewed them as ineffective with a further 29% judging them to be neither effective nor ineffective. The UK public was even more critical with four in ten British consumers (40%) rating contact centres as ineffective.
Responses from the contact centre managers revealed that staff are being let down by inadequate tools, training and processes. When asked what would most improve levels of service, almost six out of ten (58%) said providing better quality of information to customer service staff, half (52%) said more staff training, 45% highlighted improved customer service procedures, 44% said effective call routing, 38 percent said empowering staff with more responsibility to make decisions while 35% recommended advising callers - while they are waiting - of alternative ways of resolving their queries, such as email and the internet.
Failing to capitalise on the internet
Oracle argues that the findings indicate the direction businesses should be taking with their customer management strategies so that the entire organisation, and the systems supporting it, need to be connected in their focus on the customer. In particular it notes that businesses are failing to capitalise on the internet as an efficient and cost-effective means of serving customers.
European consumers viewed the internet as by far the most popular means of dealing with a business with just under half of respondents (47%) naming it as their preferred option and 71% placing it in their top two. Email was the second most popular channel. In stark contrast, 48% disliked call centres and 49% disliked visiting a local branch. The UK was again out of synch, rating a branch visit as second to the internet in their preferred methods of dealing with business.
David Mills, VP of CRM sales, Oracle
But despite there seemingly being a clear appetite among consumers for using the internet to resolve queries, more than half of contact centre operations said they had no plans to implement a self-service customer portal.
“Companies are missing a trick here,” argues David Mills, Oracle vice president of CRM sales. “Contact centre staff are not able to deliver a good service because they are not able to get a 360 degree view of the customer. Organisations need to provide the technology that join up the parts of the business where the information about customers is held.
“A lot of customers seem to be indicating that the internet is an acceptable, if not a preferred route to get customer service information. They seem to be saying that they will use this method, but the internet is still underused by companies. Companies need to have the confidence to put customer service information up on self-service tools.
“Call centres were established to provide a level of service that hadn't been there before. People's expectation of the service levels they should have are now higher and that makes a huge demand on contact centres. Much of the demand could be satisfied if customers could get information themselves.
“Organisations need greater amounts of systems and processes which can joint up the feeder systems. Ultimately customers will choose the channel that they want to use, but companies need to have the confidence to provide information through channels like the internet. It's all about having quality information systems.”