Last month the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) announced the results of its UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) which surveyed nearly 10,000 consumers, revealing that again the country’s perception of customer service levels have fallen since 2011. For someone that has worked in a customer-facing industry for many years, I find it somewhat baffling that businesses are still failing to match up to expectations after all this time.
So are businesses really to blame or are customers just becoming more demanding? It’s a conundrum, because as the Index reveals, some companies are actually improving, such as the likes of Amazon and John Lewis whose service levels continue to be revered by rivals. Is it possible then to pinpoint why the majority though are still falling short of the grade? As Jo Causon from the ICS intimated in her recent interview on BBC Radio 4 there could be a number of causal factors such as rising customer expectations and changing needs. Indeed, it appears that it is the younger ‘Millennial’ and ‘Y’ generations that are calling the shots when it comes to shaping exactly what today’s and existing customers want from brands.
How then can companies make up the shortfall in service, so they can stop disappointing customers and instead attract and retain them? Here are a few tips that will help to re-focus:
Measure up – Do you actually know what kind of customer experience you are delivering? If you have no metrics then how can you tell? Measuring customer sentiment is vital, particularly just after an interaction, whether it’s on the phone, face-to-face or via a social media channel. Listening to and assessing the good and the bad feedback will give you all the vital information that will determine what your customer strategy should be. What’s essential though is to measure what’s important. In the past, for example, contact centres have used benchmarks such as ‘first time resolution’ or AHT (average handling time) to judge how they were performing. However, these goals are often more about reducing costs and saving time, than really addressing a customer query. Instead, you need to rely more heavily on collecting and acting on customer insight, so that satisfaction is the number one priority in everything you do.
Walk a mile in their shoes – Empathy has always been a cornerstone of good service, but many organisations are often deaf to what the customer is saying or feeling. By instilling a ‘listening’ culture across your business, whether it’s in the sales office or the returns department will enable you to offer a degree of flexibility and personalisation that will be highly valued by the customer. According to the ICS research, 60% of those polled wanted a balance of price and service, whereas only 15% were influenced by price alone. This shows that many customers clearly differentiate between suppliers that offer better service, so the more understanding you can demonstrate the more likely you will stand out from the competition.
Offer choice, but keep it simple – Acknowledging the diversity of today’s customer means that you also need to build in a broad range of choices in terms of how they can communicate with you. Some people will naturally prefer to communicate on-line whereas others would really appreciate speaking to someone in person or on the phone. According to Gartner by 2020, 70% of customer service will take place via web chat or social media channels, so you need to adapt your offering according to your target audiences. Is it really acceptable to keep customers on hold for more than five minutes? Could some more complex enquiries be handled through the likes of more immediate channels such as web chat? Do you need to review the response times on email from say the standard 24-48 hours to less than 4? These are all questions that you need to ask yourself as a business, because if you don’t, your competitors surely will. At the same time, it goes without saying that like other successful ‘self-service’ operations, setting up the right processes that make it easy and convenient for customers to interact, whether it’s purchasing a product or exchanging it, will deliver a better experience and fewer support problems.
Be sociable - As now over half of the UK population uses social media, we know it’s here to stay and should not be ignored, particularly by those targeting the younger generation. To them, FaceBook and Twitter are second nature and whatever platform is set to dominate in the future, you need to have a presence now. And it isn’t just about promoting your brand, you also need to tune into conversations that are relevant, so you can respond to any customers that have questions or grievances in real-time rather than letting them go viral. Being sociable not only can help you resolve any customer issues quickly but it also provides an endless supply of ‘Big Data’ on your target audiences, which in turn you can use to profile and segment your existing and prospective buyers better.
Staying Power - As prosperity returns to the UK, customer numbers are likely to rise, at least certainly in the short-term. However, this isn’t a time to remain complacent. As the ICS recently commented, “The UK is now a genuine relationship economy, where an organisation’s long-term success is determined by the quality of interactions between customers, partners and organisations.” Therefore, to sustain long-term growth you need to formulate a top-down, on-going ‘customer experience’ strategy that is embedded throughout your culture and continually being reviewed and refined. As expectations continue to rise, the challenge will always be to surpass these. If you can get this balance right, then you can keep the customer satisfied indefinitely.
Dino Forte is MD, entrepreneur and founder of Ventrica.