Investing in technology to improve business processes and outcomes is of course a laudable practice. Across sectors many firms are confirming their commitment to growth by putting capital into new technologies and automation tools to manage everything from accounting, to production right through to management of customer experience. Technology applied to all these areas promises to reduce costs, increase speed of operations and avoid expensive mistakes, but when it comes to customer service, can total automation really provide the type of experience customers demand?
Latest research by Yonder Digital Group, investigating the role of live agent interaction and speed of response in customer experience, has found that in order to keep customers coming back and to increase their custom it is vital to provide some level of human interaction. The original research canvassed the opinions of 1000 UK consumers asking them to align loyalty and increase in business outcomes with different standards of customer experience and found that having access to the full range of communications channels – automated and human – to resolve their queries, encourages customers to stay loyal and even increase their spending (84 per cent). Conversely, more than two thirds say they will walk away if left unsatisfied.
The vast majority of companies tend to coast along presuming their customer experience is well managed until an issue arises, a few are actually able to provide evidence of having a systematic approach to customer experience and an even smaller group can show that their approach is based on hard commercial metrics. Only a handful are actually able to prove that their starting point was a detailed analysis of customer behaviour and segments.
Understanding the customer journey
The minority of best-practice customer experience providers, though, should be able to show that they have an analytics-based understanding of the customer journey, a rigorous approach, a clear methodology and measurable KPI structure which systematically tracks, measures and manages the customer experience.
Customer experience is directly linked to the bottom-line and can positively affect sales and revenues- or damage them enormously. One analyst finds that 60 per cent of consumers have not completed an intended purchase based on a poor customer service experience ; and another notes that 52 per cent of consumers have switched providers in the last year due to a poor customer experience . Unfortunately, without a robust method for analysing customer behaviour and outcomes of customer experience it is difficult to provide an accurate demonstration of the success of customer experience initiatives. In addition to this, far too many top board members wish to believe that the whole process of customer experience management can be automated.
These company directors chose to hold on to the silver-bullet solution notion that automated methods – chatbots, artificial intelligence, etc. – will provide the perfect customer experience in isolation from any human agent interaction. Although these solutions are valuable, this latest research confirms that at key stages of the customer journey such as at the point of making a complaint, a non-standard enquiry or an escalation of a query, being able to reach a real person is absolutely necessary.
Fully 87 per cent of UK consumers in fact report that they are loyal and more likely to buy again from a company that is able to provide live agent interaction when they need it. Similarly, 69 per cent will actually defect if a company is unable to put them through to a real person when they have a query. Clearly the financial impact of these customer preferences cannot be ignored.
Respondents further confirmed that speed and efficiency in responding to a query increased loyalty (92 per cent), while lack of rapid response and resolution can cause defection (81 per cent). It is in fact at these critical stages, where resolution or response to a query is demanded, that a live agent, equipped with a full and up-to-the-minute view of customer behaviour across channels, can provide a truly satisfactory and speedy outcome.
The research also revealed that, contrary to common perceptions, younger generations are just as likely to demand interaction with a human being at key stages of the customer journey as their seniors. Although much has been said about the tendency of younger age groups to relate to businesses via social media, this research clearly shows that when there is a problem or an issue that needs clarification, all age bands require live agent interaction.
Finally, although automation and the use of technology in customer experience management has an important role to play by offering access to the business via a range of channels, recording, tracking and understanding customer behaviour on multiple platforms and helping analyse and interpret that data, it cannot stand in isolation. Live interaction at key stages of the customer experience journey, especially when informed with all the relevant customer intelligence, can be the real make-or-break of the customer relationship turning a defection into repeat custom.
Graham Ede, Yonder Digital Group
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