CEO Confidential

Taking Back the Customer Service Experience

Customer service experience strategies vary from business to business. Regardless of industry, customer service orbits around a singular expectation – businesses should meet and exceed the needs of their customers. This customer-centric philosophy is obvious, but according to a recent study from The Northridge Group of more than 1,000 respondents, consumers felt that while most companies are meeting basic customer service expectations, they are falling short of delivering a consistent and seamless omni-channel customer service experience and exceeding expectations are rare.

With the rise of omni-channel marketing and technological advancements, consumers’ expectations for what customer service is, and what customer service looks like, have changed. Consumers are holding companies to a higher standard and expect them to address their specific need, regardless of the channel they choose – phone, email, online chat, social media and more. However, Northridge’s research confirms that the customer’s path to resolution is far from effortless. In fact, 61 percent of consumers use more than one channel to resolve their customer service inquiries and one-fifth have to contact a company on three or more channels.

To meet the needs of their increasingly omni-channel customers, businesses must create a customer service experience that is accessible, responsive, effortless, seamless and consistent. In developing these improved customer service experience strategies, businesses can leverage their customer service systems as a critical differentiator in the marketplace and as a source of long-term competitive advantage. It is everyone’s responsibility in the organization to ensure that customers’ expectations are met to keep the gap between their expectations and experiences in check.

The Growth of Social Media

As companies work to improve their omni-channel customer service experience strategies, many struggle to flawlessly execute and fully integrate social media. One-third of consumers who use social media for customer service say that the channel does not meet expectations. This is particularly important as 47 percent of respondents plan to use social media as a customer service channel next year the same or more than they currently do.

Social media customer service’s struggle is twofold. The channel is neither delivering on its hype, nor matching the expectations that may have attracted consumers to it in the first place. When consumers contact companies on social media, they anticipate benefiting from the characteristics of the channel that they value most – speed, efficiency, responsiveness, etc. However, few businesses successfully furnish this type of real-time, first-class customer service.

Social media is also challenging for many brands because of its public nature, and brands do have to be mindful about how they interact with customers. Although it’s a newer channel for customer service, social media is a channel that brands cannot simply ignore. Rather, social media efforts should complement a broader omni-channel customer service experience strategy.

Elevate Your Customer Service Experience: In addition to optimizing their end-to-end omni-channel strategies, it’s imperative that brands begin to leverage the strengths of social media customer service. Consumers indicate that they will continue to use social media as a channel of communication, and companies need to develop strategies to handle this changing customer service experience landscape. To do so, brands should strive for the following:

  • Meet Consumers on Their Channel of Choice: As technology develops, so does the omni-channel customer service experience. Customers want to contact companies on any channel, and their omni-channel preferences are of increasing importance. Social media as a customer service channel is a perfect example.

    Customers should have a consistent customer service experience on any channel. The nature of their inquiry and the channel that they choose should not impact their service experience. The onus is on companies to create that seamless customer experience within and across channels.

  • Set Expectations for Excellence: As consumers turn to customer service channels, they expect prompt response times. For example, phone inquiries should be answered within 30 to 60 seconds, and emails should be acknowledged within the hour if personalized, or within minutes if automated. Senior executives must set the right expectations, leverage best practices and insist on attainment of meaningful service experience metrics for their teams.

    According to the survey, expectation gaps for social media response times are very real. More than 40 percent of consumers expect resolution within one hour when using social media as a customer service channel, but about two-thirds of respondents have to engage with a brand two or more times before a customer service inquiry or issue is resolved on social media. Knowing where customer expectations lie allows companies to set goals to meet and exceed those expectations.

  • Note Industry Standards: Companies should be aware of how their industry handles customer service and the type of service experience that consumers have come to expect. For example, companies within the financial services industry exceed customer expectations (22 percent) as compared with other industries (14 to 17 percent), according to our survey. This indicates that the financial services industry’s focus on a seamless omni-channel experience is making an impact.

    Armed with this type of knowledge, brands can do a better job of exceeding their industry’s expectations. Companies can use this information to make more informed customer decisions – like creating seamless cross-channel movement or self-service capabilities as necessary – and debunk negative customer expectations.

  • Cultivate a Best-in-Class Team: The best way to improve the customer service experience is to have highly qualified and talented employees on the customer service team, particularly as it relates to social media. The public and cross-functional nature of customer interactions on social media requires companies to dedicate the right team of experienced employees to social customer service.

    Since twice as many consumers use social media as the primary channel for comments, questions and complaints over problem resolution, social media customer service teams can expect these to be the most common inquiries. However, these teams also need to be able to address any customer service issue or inquiry that comes their way. Additionally, many customer service interactions on social media are escalations – a quarter of consumers use social media because they can’t reach representatives on another channel. These representatives must juggle personalization, the ability to speak with authority and proper attention paid given the public forum.

Thinking about the customer service experience, I always remember that, regardless of role within an organization, we are also consumers. We want the same great customer service experience as every other consumer. Throughout the entire customer lifecycle, brands are responsible for attracting, maintaining and ultimately converting positive customer experiences into profitable relationships. These customer service interactions drive the unique level of brand loyalty that serves as a key differentiator in the marketplace. Creating a seamless omni-channel customer service experience is critical to long-term business success. Given that, all executives should prioritize the customer service experience and view it as a source of long-term competitive advantage.

Written by Daren Moore.

Daren Moore, President of Enterprise and Government Services at The Northridge Group, a leading management consulting firm specializing in customer experience and business process transformation. You can follow Northridge Group on Twitter @northridgegroup.

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Featured Columnists at the CEOWORLD Magazine is a team of experts led by Camilla O'Donnell, James Reed, Amarendra Bhushan, and Amanda Millar. The CEOWORLD Magazine is the worlds leading business and technology magazine for CEOs (chief executives) and top-level management professionals.
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