Nobody can deny that we are now in the age of the customer. Through online and mobile channels, customers are well-informed, and this information allows them to compare and choose the most convenient provider/vendor. If they are not happy, they can easily change. Today, customers have control, and companies are changing their strategies to be customer-centric.
For this reason, now more than ever, the experience that a customer has with a company is more differentiating than the product or service itself. Transforming and changing the customer experience takes time. It means that the top management of the company has to be really committed and have customer experience as one of its top priorities. Customer experience, after all, touches all areas within the organization, but there is one that has an even greater impact on customer experience, and that is customer service.
The biggest change today in customer service is the sheer number of channels through which people can contact your business. Instead of just phone calls and snail mail, consumers can now reach you by email, social media, text message, video call, and live chat. Mobile technology has also enabled constant connectivity, giving customers 24/7 access to public forums in which they can talk or complain about your company. Only organizations that are willing to adapt and respond to this shift in business-consumer dynamics will survive.
The emergence of all these new channels add some complexity to the company, as it is obliged to incorporate them to the customer journey and, hence, more touch points. These can be classified in two types: assisted (needs human interaction) and non-assisted, or self-service.
One of the first questions that companies need to ask is: What are the channels/touch points that I need to have to engage with my customers? The answer is very simple: attend to your customers in their preferred channels. A survey conducted by IDC on customer care business process outsourcing found that the majority of consumers were unable to get a response from customer support using their channel of preference. Businesses need to know their customers, segment them properly, and understand what their preferred channels are, how they want to access them, at what time, how often, and for which kinds of transactions.
Most likely you will chance upon a clear trend of customer service, which you are probably not addressing properly: Most customers prefer self-service, which promises effortless interactions. But it is also true that every day more people do not want to make any kind of transaction in person. Customers want to control their time, they do not want to queue and wait for something that they can do easily online. Interaction with advanced companies has taught customers what is possible online, and as a result, they now compare companies' service levels regularly.
Self-service is about automation, where customers can make all the normal transactions through online channels, either via Web site or mobile app, without human intervention. This requires technological effort and investment, but that can be amortized very quickly through per-call cost reductions and improved customer experiences.
Having multichannel and self-service capabilities is a big step, but it is not enough to ensure a great customer experience. Today, most consumers use more than one channel in each individual transaction. This means that you cannot afford to have a channel-siloed vision of the customer transaction. You need to have a single view of customers and their transactions and provide a seamless experience through all the touch points. This is known as omnichannel experience, and it is the next step to ensure your customer service is excellent.
Finally, the next step is about personalization and proactive engagement. How can a business anticipate customers' needs, even before they can contact the business or tell the business what they want? This is where big data and analytics come into play. Having all the information about the customer, including his preferences, purchase history, and previous interactions through all the channels, is needed to offer the right product at the right time in the right context. For example, a mobile operator automatically analyses the Internet usage of a user with a one-gigabyte data bundle and detects that he has been consuming the bundle for the last three months and paying more for the extra-bundle usage. The mobile operator suggests an upgrade to the three-gigabyte data bundle, allowing him to use more bandwidth while saving money.
In the age of fierce competitiveness, companies that deliver great end-to-end experiences that make them stand out from the clutter will attract and retain customers. This is a universal truth no matter the industry, and businesses that choose to make superior customer experience their core business strategy will continue to thrive.
Juan Bezón is chief commercial officer at PCCI Group, a multinational business process outsourcing company based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.