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Customer service

How should you serve digital customers in 2018?

3rd Jan 2018
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With digital technology evolving at breakneck speed, what’s the effect on how customers contact companies? BT’s head of customer insights and futures, Dr Nicola Millard explores the answer.

Our 2017 CEO research revealed that most senior executives think they already have ‘good’ (42%) or ‘excellent’ (38%) customer experience. But do their digital customers agree?

At BT we’ve studied what customers want over a number of years. Many things don’t change: customers always want products and services that work, offer value for money, and, when things go wrong, they want to be able to resolve them easily and quickly. Some things do change, though: as customers become super-powered by the new technologies and channels that they have access to, they want immediacy, transparency, control, connectedness, personalisation and proactivity.

Our new digital customer research takes a look at some of the key things that consumers across ten key markets are looking for from organisations.

The research paints a slightly different picture to the CEO survey.

Customers like the control of self-service, but still want easy access to help

Although 73% of our respondents liked the control that digital self-service tools gave them, 92% experienced problems using these tools. Difficulties ranged from basic design issues (inability to find the information that they needed or find the back button) to having to wait too long to speak to someone who could help. 66% found dealing with customer service issues exhausting (depressingly, up 3% from our previous survey in 2015).

Customers are mobile first

The smartphone has accelerated into the top spot and is now the customers’ window to the world — with laptop and tablet usage declining. Although the instinct of many organisations is to ‘build an app for that’, customers don’t tend to download apps that they won’t use regularly. They don’t have infinite capacity on their phone and probably prioritise photo and video storage over multiple apps. The more pressing priority is to ensure that digital self-service is optimised for mobile use.

Customers are more omnichannel than ever, but they don’t think they are

Omnichannel is an industry buzzword, but it isn’t one that customers use. They are goal-directed, rather than obsessed with channels. 61% will change how they contact an organisation depending on their situation. 81% want organisations to offer a choice of channels to meet their needs. In moments of crisis, 52% want fast access to a well-trained human employee over the phone. 81% of people want organisations to clearly display a phone number on every web page or on every app.

Chat is where it’s at, but don’t neglect the phone

Chat has experienced a massive growth in preference from 45% in 2015 to 65% in 2017. The instantaneous nature of chat was seen to be one of its key strengths. The other was the ability to have a written record of the conversation. However, the phone is still dominant in terms of taking on the more complex issues that the self-service tools can’t. For older customers, the phone is still a key contact channel. For younger ones, it’s an escalation point when digital channels fail. The perception was that the phone channel tended to come up short due to a lack of strategic attention or investment, as newer, sexier channels steal the limelight. New channels don’t necessarily replace old ones but supplement and complement them.

Chatbots are also where it’s at   

With the growth in chat, there was also a favourable growth in customers’ acceptance of chatbots — another rise since 2015. Increasing familiarity with technologies like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana seems to have created a belief, from 73% of customers, that chatbots would help organisations enhance their customer service. Bots are currently in their honeymoon period. But badly designed bots that lead customers to dead ends, or don’t give them the ability to access a real human being could give them the same bad reputation that interactive voice response (IVR) experienced. If they are designed well, bots could solve simple queries without human intervention. If they fail, they can better triage the customer to the agent with the right skills. This frees up human agents to do the complex and emotive queries, and allows them to train and upskill.

Keep me secure

Security is still very high on the customer agenda. This is not entirely surprising, with all of the high-profile hack attacks which have been in the press recently. Yet customer identification and verification is still an issue. As someone who forgets at least five passwords a week, it is sometimes less than easy to verify that I am me. I have currently locked myself out of two of my bank accounts because I have forgotten my password/code/special fact/favourite vegetable, but I can now get into my computer by just looking at it. When my password is my face, my thumb, or any other part of my body I can present to my smartphone, things can become both easy and secure.

Show me the solution

Video is another growth channel, with increasing numbers of customers using video conferencing in their work and personal lives, and a ‘YouTube generation’ searching video content to resolve issues with products and services (47% admitted to this).

Create a ‘me’conomy

Another upward trend from 2015 is customers’ willingness to share data about themselves. The appetite for sharing location information has increased by 12% since 2015 to 57% in 2017. Similarly, positive attitudes toward sharing social media information went up 18% to 48%. Sharing comes at a price though — customers want free things, special offers, or access to better, faster, easier, more personalised, or proactive service. If there isn’t a compelling proposition for sharing, they probably won’t — and, in an age of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), they are unlikely to agree to share their data unless they know what the advantages are.

The quest for excellent customer experience is an elusive one. ‘Digital’ creates an expectation of quick, easy, and connected experiences. What was cutting edge service yesterday isn’t necessarily today. CEOs can’t become complacent about customer experience. If they want to know how they are doing, they need to keep listening to their customers and quickly adapt.

Replies (3)

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By Neha Gupta
06th Jan 2018 09:40

Your article is really valuable Nicola. I believe that chatbots are rapidly incorporated by the businesses to avoid the costs of resources. But they should understand that the bots are not able to provide all answers to the customer queries. It only depends on the design of the bots. If they are designed and tested at the high level, only then businesses can rely on them. Otherwise, they are going to lose their customers.

Thanks (1)
Shaurya Sinha
By shauryasinha
08th Jan 2018 06:41

Does having human chat agents really work these days? You do see companies in food delivery or services industry depend hugely in chat as you directly interacting with users, but its highly automated now I feel.
Still its a highly recommended article where you suggest all ways to go digital and there intricacies as well.

Shaurya Sinha

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By PaulineAshenden
15th Jan 2018 09:18

As the research shows, connected customers want a seamless, fast and high quality experience, however they make contact. And their expectations are always rising.

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