Winning Customers and Influencing Loyalty

Customer engagement and loyalty was voted as the number one priority by 92 percent of organizations, according to a recent International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) study conducted with Avaya. According to ICMI, being accountable to your customers, gaining their trust, and implementing new technology should be on the front burner when it comes to providing stellar customer service.   

Sarah Stealey Reed, content director at ICMI, spoke with SmartCustomerService about the survey results.


SmartCustomerService: Does customer loyalty still exist, or do customers care more about the experience they receive?

Stealey Reed: At this time of the year, companies are evaluating what they need to do in 2014 and how to truly create loyalty. I believe that customer loyalty does still exist, but it is so much more about the experience now. Switching costs are significantly less than they used to be and it’s much easier for a customer to move from one brand to another, from one product to another.

SmartCustomerService: What are you seeing as far as customer experience and loyalty?  

Stealey Reed: Customer experience is not comprised of one singular thing. Three-quarters of our survey respondents also agree with this. Customer experience management needs to be collected and measured and looked at across many different facets. That includes things like customer satisfaction, experience, engagement, loyalty, and sentiment.

People may build up a loyalty to an airline, for example, because they’ve built an experience time and time again. They are asking, “Are you getting me somewhere on time?”; “Are you giving me self-service tools?”; “When I have to call, am I reaching an agent in a timely fashion?” These are what the CMO of InContact [Mariann McDonagh] calls karmic service points. Every single time a customer interacts with an organization, [she’s] creating service points with you and they build up. But if you mess it up, you basically blow out those karmic service points and you have to start at ground zero.

SmartCustomerService: Do you think the contact center has to work harder or smarter for customer loyalty than other business departments?

Stealey Reed: I don’t know that they have to work smarter or harder, but they do need to be consistent, and they need to be much more aware that everything that they do and say is [what I call] deliberate. Every interaction that happens with a customer is meaningful or should be meaningful. We all know that these days, even one phone interaction is no longer truly just between an agent and a customer. Every experience that happens now is either recorded, easily retweeted, posted on Facebook, or emailed to masses. The contact center needs to be more deliberate with interactions because a bad interaction can make its way out to hundreds of thousands of people in a relatively short time.    

Organizations are realizing that their agents have to be more accountable to the customer. Those companies are the ones who are seeing greater success.

SmartCustomerService: When the survey asked contact center leaders what their top challenge will be for 2014, the highest-rated items were implementing new technologies, controlling operating costs, maintaining/improving customer engagement scores, employee training, and increasing agent productivity and efficiency.  Why are companies focused more on technology than the agent?

Stealey Reed: There’s a couple of different ways to look at this. Contact center leaders are really investing in new technologies, but a lot of those technologies are about assisting the agent. One of the big things that we’re seeing is the move to the cloud; that is a very robust infrastructure change for contact centers. Moving to the cloud can mean a significantly large number of things, but very often it’s in the routing of calls and the routing of contacts in general. Once contact centers have moved over to a cloud infrastructure, it opens them up to a lot more efficiency and a lot more opportunity to streamline how their contacts come into the center. All of this ultimately does impact the agent.

SmartCustomerService: What other technologies are you seeing emerge this year?

Stealey Reed: We’re seeing contact centers using simplified desktop systems. Right now, the average agent uses five different screens or applications in order to assist one customer. As we continue to add new channels, they complicate the contact center even more and complicate the role of the agent. Contact centers are revamping their CRM systems, simplifying desktop systems, and putting in things like CTI in order to aid the agent in getting customer information quicker, more efficiently, and more accurately.     

SmartCustomerService: What can contact centers do to improve?

Stealey Reed: We very much believe [that] from a customer experience standpoint point, it can’t just be about the contact center. It needs to be an organizational-wide shift. One thing that the contact center can do to improve is to get its information from the overall organization. It’s not just about the contact center or just about the agent. The entire company needs to rally behind the customer experience and be consistent in its messaging to the customer. It also needs to be consistent in its investment in the contact center. We highly recommend that contact center leaders start to partner with other groups in the organization and break down silos. Partner with marketing or product development, etc.; make sure they have an equal seat at the table.       

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Posted February 20, 2014