Have we created a monster? Hand a customer a smartphone and they have the power of the social, located internet in the palm of their hand. They use more rather than less channels – as they move from apps, to the web, to the physical store or branch, ring the contact centre and then tweet their dissatisfaction on social media.
As we get more and more people armed with these technologies, the way that we consume things starts to change. We aren’t really omnichannel, we are goal-directed – and we use the tools at our fingertips to get us to our goals. We are no longer loyal to many brands – we just want things to be easy, personalised and seamless.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that why people shop hasn’t really changed, it’s just how they shop that has. Busy “autonomous customers” — as we refer to this new breed of shopper, super-charged by smartphones and social media — still want what people have always wanted.
‘Ease’ and ‘convenience’ top consumers’ wish lists according to the ‘Autonomous Customer’ research we did in partnership with Avaya earlier this year. This research sampled 5,500 customers across ten global markets. They felt that they were having to work very hard when dealing with organisations. 88% said they would willingly do business with a company that made things easy for them and there was a 30 per cent increase in the last two years in consumers valuing convenience above price (in both the UK & US).
Customers dream of an easy life
Whether they are online or in-store, customers want retailers to make life easy for them. Online, this is about ensuring that the website is user friendly and they can easily get their stuff; something easier said than done around the busiest shopping days of the year. During Christmas 2014, a surge in online traffic due to flash sales left some high-profile retailers unable to cope. Whilst these sales rushes can be hugely profitable, many retailers experienced damage to their reputation after their infrastructure buckled under the pressure, resulting in online crashes and unmet orders. The hype about “Black Friday” in the UK has been tainted by website crashes and product unavailability. If these are to be embraced by the British public, retailers need to ensure that their network infrastructure can flex up and down to meet the demand.
Easy and convenient shopping is created by a complicated mix of store location, stock availability, employees, delivery options and range. It is undoubtedly easy to shop online, unconstrained by opening hours and parking restrictions, but you can’t touch, feel and try stuff, or ask staff for advice or get the instant gratification of the High Street. The challenge is to start to marry the ease of online with the ability to deliver the physical experiences that the High Street can create.
Basic things, such as knowing whether a local store has the dress you want in your colour and size – enabled by technologies like digital tagging – and the ability to see if my behind looks big in this in a virtual fitting room. Ensuring staff have access to information on the shop floor so that they can create better and more personalised experiences can start to blur the lines between the digital and physical channels.
Real-time response is a reality with social media
Service is still a critical factor driving loyalty online and off. And where it is increasingly open to scrutiny is in the realms of social media. According to the ‘Autonomous Customer’ research, some 45% of shoppers globally, have commented on social media via their smartphone about customer service they have just received.
Our ‘Serving the Social Customer’ research done earlier this year (a snapshot across 13 brands in 6 vertical sectors) also found that retail was, by a very long way, the biggest sector for customer engagement on social media. Static social platforms like forums once dominated consumer interaction with retailers. When we did the same research five years ago, we found that forums accounted for 84% of total social media interactions with companies. These now make up just 2%. There are still some notable and very active exceptions like TripAdvisor for the travel sector, retailer technical help sites and community sites like Mumsnet and NetMums. But consumers are moving on platforms that deliver more instant responses and real-time customer service such as Facebook and Twitter.
According to the ‘Autonomous Customer’ research, one in four customers engages with brands through these channels, and one in six has already used them to make a complaint. 70% of consumers said they would expect a response to a social media comment made to an organisation within 15 minutes – which is a challenging service level agreement to meet and requires customer service teams to have the resourcing, escalation, service level agreements and back end system integration that it requires.
Businesses must adapt to the omnichannel customer
The rise of social media is just part of the trend towards ‘fragvergence’. As we open up more channels through more devices, we potentially also increase complexity. The more doors we open into our organisations, the more corridors there need to be to connect them all together. 81% of autonomous customers feel that organisations should always offer different channels to meet their needs, with many wanting the option to switch between phone, email, web chat and social media when dealing with customer service agents.
Our research also highlights that as video culture continues to grow and video becomes more part of our daily lives, there is growing interest in video-chat for customer service and engagement. In fact, 63% would like to use Skype to contact organisations, and half of UK consumers would like to video-chat with organisations to discuss queries and services.
However, less than one in three autonomous customer currently agree that organisations make it easy to switch between different channels. Channel blindness is still a significant issue as the store and digital channels are still often run as separate unconnected entities. Worse still, the social media team probably don’t take phone calls or link into webchat.
Consumers don’t see channels, they see brands – how do we make their experience journey as connected as they are?
Dr Nicola Millard is customer experience futurologist at BT Global Services.