From the invention of the telephone in 1876 through to today’s reliance on smart technologies, the way that customers interact with companies and brands has changed beyond recognition. However, while adopting and keeping up with these new methods is vital, many still neglect the basic components of what makes an amazing customer experience.
Coined in the 1900s by pioneering retailers Harry Gordan Selfridge, Jon Wanamaker and Marshall Field, the popular phrase, "the customer is always right" has been drilled into those who deal with customers - and for good reason. A lot has changed since then, to the point where, in some cases, a customer will never have a direct interaction with another human. Look at banking for example – the rise in online banking and applications has made it easier for consumers to manage their money, leading to a direct decrease in branch visits – with figures predicting that the number of times the average consumer will visit a branch will more than half.
This level of speed and convenience means that the customer of today is impatient and has high expectations. That said, there is no excuse to forget the basic rules of customer service; technology can be used to enhance this – not replace. So, what are these rules - and how can businesses get them right?
Whether you step into a store, or order your shopping online, you expect a level of personalisation. No individual, or customer, is the same and should not be treated with the same manner, temperament and style of service. 66 per cent of all consumers say they’re extremely or somewhat likely to switch brands if they feel like they’re treated like a number rather than an individual. With the explosion of data and digital interactions, customers now expect a more tailored service. One example of a company that aims to deliver this highly personal experience is Atom Bank, which lets customers design their own user interface when signing up to an account – whether that’s a brand logo, colour scheme or name. Speaking of this strategy, the bank has stated that “no one should have exactly the same experience of Atom”. This example, combined with plans to let customers access accounts through biometrics, perfectly showcases how some brands are making completely digital interactions as personal as if you were dealing with them face to face.
Consistency of service:
There may well be times when a customer has to interact with a business on several different occasions about the same query or topic – and more often than not will have to speak with several different people at that business (that’s if they can actually get through). During this process, customers highly value consistency of service, and don’t expect to repeat themselves. Just think how frustrating it is when you ring your energy provider, explain your problem to someone and then get transferred to another agent who hasn’t been relayed any of this information – this remains one of the biggest customer pain points.
Customers today have more channels than ever with which to connect to a business. For instance, they can engage on the company website, via mobile app on the go, through social media, over the telephone and, in the case of traditional retailers, in store. While the multi-channel approach brings plenty of opportunity for businesses to engage with new customers, it also presents challenges in achieving consistency of service.
In the past it was easier to create a uniform approach to customer services through staff training in processes and delivery. Today customers can have a completely different experience of a business depending on the channel they use. As we have seen, consumers are particularly averse to being treated like a number and are more likely to disengage if a business fails to remember their name and need. Whether the customer is making a query over the phone, via text message or email, it is crucial that their information is registered and shared in the same way to generate a solution as quickly as possible. A lack of integration in terms of how customer data is recorded and analysed can totally undermine consistency when engaging with customers across multiple channels.
Customers must feel confident in using their channel of preference and believe they will be dealt with in the same way regardless of how they get in touch. It is also vital for businesses to realise that all channels have value in terms of guaranteeing a quality customer services experience and capturing valuable data to gain essential customer insights.
While consumers are more impatient today then they may have been 100 years ago, it’s important to recognise that efficiency is far more valued than sheer speed. Customers want to know that any query or problem they have is dealt with correctly, and accurately depending on the situation. If you were calling up your bank about suspicious activity on your card, then you would rather that call be one that actually answered your question and dealt with your problem as opposed to being dealt with in record-breaking time.
Of course, there are instances where efficiency just simply is not possible – but there are examples of forward thinking companies implementing different behaviour management techniques to ensure the customer remains content. Take Disney for example. For one of its most popular theme park rides The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which can have up to a three-hour waiting time – it has made the queues an interactive experience. With three themed waiting areas, a waiting room that looks like a 1920s hotel lobby with costumed cast members offering guests fans and mist to cool them down, this has changed what could be a very negative experience into a positive part of the experience itself.
Nailing this level of service is not easy, but just as much as technology has created higher expectations it has also created solutions to help. The blend of technologies such as data analytics, cloud telephony solutions and AI combined with human interaction can help any business deliver a personalised, consistent and efficient customer service in keeping with the vision laid down over a century ago. Keeping true to the core values of customer service whilst innovating and investing in new technology will ensure businesses keep customers satisfied over the next 100 years of change.
Neil Hammerton is CEO and co-founder of Natterbox
Image source: Shutterstock/Jirsak