Monday marked the start of National Consumer Week. Now in its 27th year, the week is the climax of an annual consumer education campaign run by the Consumer Protection Partnership, and aims to raise awareness on a range of consumer rights, including policy changes and quality of goods.
For brands, National Consumer Week also brings the importance of customer experience to the fore. Treating customers fairly – and handling their queries with knowledge and respect – is an integral part of consumer rights.
But, rather than doing the legal bare minimum, brands everywhere must be thinking about how can they can make their customers’ journeys as simple and frictionless as possible. The brands that do this will be those who are most successful at attracting and retaining their customers’ loyalty.
We’re already beginning to see a customer-focused change take root. Companies are increasingly putting consumers at the heart of their organisations, by hiring Chief Customer Officers and making customer experience a board-room topic, for example.
It’s easy to see why. Customer service is not only a key element of consumer rights, but also integral to good business. Today’s constantly-connected customers are demanding more and more from the brands they engage with, and quite rightly so. Eroding loyalty means consumers will quite simply go elsewhere if they’re dissatisfied – and they won’t be afraid to talk about it on social media, either.
Whatever the sector, then, it’s important that brands pay more than lip service to their customer experience guarantees, or face putting their reputation on the line. What can businesses do to improve client satisfaction?
Brands now face fierce competition, and businesses invest a huge amount of time, money and resources building brands customers love. It’s important not to throw this away when dealing with customers directly.
A crucial part of good customer experience is providing the right solutions at the right time, across a variety of platforms. Customers must feel supported by well designed, tailored processes that take into account their different journeys or needs – whether it’s over the phone, on web chat or social media.
It’s on these exact journeys where the battle for customer satisfaction and loyalty will be won or lost, and today’s businesses must make sure that all their customers receive the exceptional customer service they deserve.
Offering a range of channels that fit in with customers’ lifestyles and preferences is crucial. Context is everything: an office worker may want to talk to an agent over the phone in the evening, but web chat will have been a more appropriate channel earlier in the day in their work environment.
Brands can also use data to inform and improve customer service. Turning this data into actionable insight will help agents make informed decisions based on what is on a customer’s record, and play a rich role in building a more personalised customer experience.
Providing seamless and tailored journeys depends heavily on the agents on the frontline of customer interactions. Instead of focusing on the time spent “handling” a customer, agents must be encouraged to focus on finding a solution or answer to a query, no matter how long it takes.
Demonstrating empathy, skill and engagement will be key to pacifying already frustrated customers – and it’s crucial that agents are empowered to resolve a customer’s problem quickly and efficiently, no matter the channel. “Channel bouncing”, where a customer is shuttled from agent to agent and channel to channel, is a cardinal sin in customer experience. Key to reducing this is equipping agents with the tools they need to find solutions for each and every customer.
Digital customer-centric tools such as web chat and apps are now the norm, and our increasing reliance on technology means businesses are constantly innovating and integrating new methods of engagement into their strategy.
A trifecta of chat bots, messenger and artificial intelligence is set to revolutionise our everyday digital interactions, and for customer experience in particular, opens a new world of possibilities for digital self serve.
New technology is particularly useful to solve straightforward transactions and simple queries, or to shepherd customers on a relatively linear journey. But they also have their limitations: bots simply aren’t intelligent enough to understand tone, context or customer frustrations. This is particularly dangerous for non-linear journeys, and it’s important that businesses have the safety net of a human agent on the end of the line.
As a result, we urge businesses to see channels such as chat bots and messenger not as alternatives to more traditional methods, but as additional means of communication. Brands shouldn’t underestimate the need to invest and develop new communication methods – but it’s also important to keep tried and tested channels open.
Adapting to the new brand battleground of customer experience can be a challenge for many businesses, but it also presents a unique opportunity to increase customer satisfaction, gain the edge over competitors, and drive business growth. Brands can no longer afford to provide half-hearted customer service, but must constantly improve and refine their strategy to win the battle.
This is a call to arms – now, who will answer?