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Satisfied customers are those who’ve had good experiences with a company (i.e. a good “customer experience”). Satisfied customers are also mostly loyal to a brand. In a competitive environment where similar products barely differ in functionality, price and quality, a good customer experience translates into an important commercial differentiator. Customer service is one of the least-considered relationship-building opportunities between a company and its customers. This is reason enough for us to take a closer look at the topic of customer experience in the contact center and provide guidance regarding what companies should look for when choosing contact center software, to ensure a good customer experience in this critical area.
Customer Experience Management (often abbreviated as “CEM” or “CXM”) denotes a management discipline intended to ensure customers have good experiences at all points of contact with a company (“touchpoints”). A study by the international CX Network entitled „The global state of customer experience 2019“ shows how important this is: three quarters of all consumers switch to a competitive brand if they’ve even only had one bad experience! Customer experience is embedded in the corporate and brand strategy and reputation is either built or destroyed based on this. There are a (growing) multitude of “touchpoints” such as; employees in a local branch/outlet, the company switchboard, advertisements, newsletters, mass mailings the website, an online customer portal, social media channels, and, of course, customer service. As part of a good Customer Experience Management program, customer satisfaction data is collected at individual touchpoints and compared with previously defined key performance indicators (KPIs). A variety of measures can then be implemented to optimize the customer experience, in general and for each of the respective touchpoints.
The strategic approach of placing the customer at the center of everything related to the product range and service (“customer centricity”) is not new. It has been part of the management repertoire for sustainable business success for many years, as testified to by proverbs such as “The customer is always right” or “The customer is king”. Satisfied customers are those who repeatedly buy from a company or who remain loyal users over the long term. Such customers ensure recurring sales and higher profitability due to the fact that the costs associated with marketing, advertising, etc. (entailed in acquiring new customers) are much higher than keeping an existing customer through providing good customer experience. At the turn of the century, it was still very time-consuming to collect data on customer satisfaction at the various “touchpoints” with the company. In the “analog” age, this was done mostly by surveys at the point of sale or customer satisfaction phone (both quite annoying to the customer!). Only a handful of companies consistently-collected such data, at that time. One of these companies was Amazon which is considered one of the pioneers of a consistent customer-centric approach. Today, management consultants or investors have virtually made a saying out of “You need to become more like Amazon” when offering professional advice. The digital age poses new challenges for customer experience management; more and more data is being collected at the individual touchpoints, but in many cases, the systems where the data originates are not integrated with one another and the data quality leaves something to be desired. Therefore, although more and more data is being collected, in many cases it cannot be analyzed and reliably-used for strategic customer experience management.
Because of this, a market for integrated digital customer-experience service has become established (which the consulting firm Lünendonk presents in its 2019 market segment study). Consumers in the internet age benefit from increased transparency regarding products and prices, and as a result are significantly better-informed, and more demanding than they were a few years ago. This is precisely why it is essential to obtain a holistic view of the customer experience across the entire customer journey and evaluate all data collected at the relevant touchpoints. In an article on this subject, management consultancy Deloitte expressly emphasizes that an „end-to-end approach“ in Customer Experience Management is the key to tomorrow’s success, and actually designates customer experience as „the new currency“ in the digital age. In its „Global Consumer Insights Survey 2019“ report, management consultancy and auditing firm PwC goes one step further by introducing a new key performance indicator: the „Return on Experience (ROX)“, intended to measure the return on investments which are directly-related to how customers interact with a brand. One of the study’s most interesting action recommendations for good customer experience is that the latter not be viewed separately from the “Employee Experience” (EX). Satisfied employees are still one of the most important success factors for a good customer experience, even in the digital age. Real user-friendly solutions for important touchpoints — e.g. ReplyOne for customer service — relieve the strain on employees and give them the best possible “on-the-job” support, ensuring that the employee experience as well as the customer experience are at their best, from both using the same solution.
Enterprise-wide Customer Experience Management is a relatively young business discipline. Accordingly, there are a variety of software solutions claiming to be able to improve the customer experience. The Capterra internet platform already lists more than 200 software solutions for the keyword Customer Experience Software (CEM) –ranging in function from on-boarding new customers to reputation management, survey tools, customer service software and business intelligence tools. In its „Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms“ Gartner lists 11 platform providers who attempt to make a customer’s digital experience transparent within a single platform. It is clear then that there is no ONE solution which can monitor and control the entire customer experience, but rather, it is important to optimize the experience at the individual touchpoints, by deploying specific solutions for each, as well as to make effective use of the data collected at each touchpoint. This only works with systems having a high degree of integration capability within a complex enterprise IT infrastructure and which are designed to exchange data with other systems.
There is hardly a topic which divides the customer service industry as much as the subject of automation. Online forums and social media are full of examples of customers desperately trying to reach a real person in order to solve a problem, but who instead end up being frustrated by chatbots which are unable to understand the complexity of their enquiry or having to deal with a keyword-based response management system that repetitively serves up the same, irrelevant or wrong answer in response to an email enquiry. Technology cannot be said to be really “good or bad”, instead, how it is used defines whether it becomes a blessing or a curse for consumers. Customer service centers are faced with a dilemma here – they want to offer good service but struggle with a shortage of skilled workers and cost pressures, and often have to “bear the load” created by other company departments, be it a faulty or unreliable product, non-transparent pricing policy, a poorly-designed online store or inadequate user documentation, each have a significant impact on the customer service center and on customer experience. The solution to the problem appears to be the automation of certain service processes, and in particular the topic of AI comes up; i.e. more enquiries can be answered with fewer staff. What is often left out is the fact that a wrong answer significantly impairs the customer service experience and can even permanently damage the customer relationship. Unfortunately, the automated “processing” of enquiries is all too tempting, with the use of keyword-based bots or response management systems posing significant risk to the customer experience especially when human intervention has not been designed into the process. When AI is involved in this automation it also depends heavily on how well the AI has been trained by human service experts in certain topics or categories, and on how precisely the customer’s concerns can be understood by the system.
Customer feedback from general surveys (e.g. net promoter score surveys) is a familiar yardstick in many customer satisfaction strategies, with companies boasting positive reviews being able to attract more customers. As part of this move, more and more customer service managers are also being assessed by the net promoter score or general customer satisfaction. Whilst this focus on customer feedback is encouraged, it has also led to a rise of dubious practices in some cases (e.g. in the area of product reviews in online stores, where companies could simply buy positive reviews.)
Short surveys which ask the consumer to briefly evaluate their experience generally aid in collecting valid and timely customer experience data for this touchpoint. But here too, there are drawbacks; companies continuously subjecting their customers to repeated or lengthy surveys are more likely to cause annoyance. Asking ambiguous or misleading questions and thereby (knowingly or unknowingly) manipulating the results, can also detract from obtaining honest customer feedback and block improvements to the customer experience.
Above all, Customer Experience Management at the customer service touchpoint requires competent, dedicated tools and high (data) transparency. Customers only have a good experience when they quickly and reliably obtain a correct answer via their preferred communication channel. This may for them, mean email today, or chat tomorrow, which is why customer service managers should also emphasize multi-channel or omni-channel response management systems to maintain a complete, channel-independent customer contact history. Such a capability enables service employees to quickly see which topic the customer has previously reported and allows them to tackle their questions in much more efficient and personalized manner.
With the help of an AI-based multi/omni-channel system, supporting a hybrid service automation approach (such as ReplyOne), standard queries can either be answered automatically, or service staff can be given support when answering questions via a knowledge management system simultaneously providing them with the right answer or relevant information for the enquiry. Such semi-automated or “hybrid” systems ensure that customers obtain the correct, personalized and error-free answers faster. On this point of combining “man and machine”, Customer Experience Predictions Report 2020, from CX Network believes that in the future, it will be important to maintain “human authenticity” in a digital world.
Good contact-center software solutions should automatically collect required figures, data and facts and make them available to service managers in aggregate form as part of reporting. Reports create the necessary transparency to be able to critically analyze the current status quo in customer service. If for example reporting indicates that certain topics come up with high frequency in customer enquiries, it helps enormously when researching the associated causes. This also makes it very easy to identify the areas which have the most negative impact on customer experience, e.g. a faulty product, a website that fails to work as desired, or even poor service. Based on this information, strategic Customer Experience Management can then implement measures to improve the customer experience.
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