Consumers’ preferences for customer service channels are rapidly changing. And it’s not just the younger generation of consumers — there’s disruption and change across all ages and demographics. Our 2013 data about communication channels that customers use for customer service is available in my latest report. Here are some key data points:
Customers want companies to value their time. 71% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.
Voice is the most used communication channel for service. Voice, which 73% of customers use for customer service, is still the most widely used channel. However, web self-service and digital channels like chat and email are following close behind.
Chat is increasingly popular. Online chat adoption among customers has risen from 30% in 2009 to 43% in 2012. In addition, it has the highest satisfaction rating of any channel used, after voice.
The demise of email is premature. Email remains the third most widely used communication channel among US online adults. In the past three years, email usage has increased by two percentage points, from 56% to 58%.
Social channels are increasingly important. Online communities and Twitter have seen increases in usage rates in the past three years. However, satisfaction remains low for these channels, as companies have not invested in best practices for managing interactions on these channels.
Customers want efficient, effortless service from the touchpoint and communication channel of their choice. They want to receive accurate, relevant, and complete answers to their questions upon first contact with a company. Forrester data backs this up: Sixty-six percent of customers agree that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good service. Forty-five percent of US online adults will abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their question.
How do you choose the right customer service solution for your needs? It’s always best to take a systematic approach: (1) benchmark your current operations using our Assessment Framework to pinpoint areas for opportunity and (2) pragmatically investigate options to source your missing capabilities. Options range from repurposing technologies used elsewhere in your company, to outsourcing, to purchasing suites or vendor point solutions. I recommend using the following process to step through the choices:
Step 1: See if your company is using similar technologies that you can leverage. Web self-service, mobile, social, email, and chat solutions, for example, are often deployed by sales and marketing. If you choose to leverage existing technologies, make sure that they can scale and operate at the level of performance and reliability to support customer service operations. Also make sure that the experience that the customer receives when interacting with these technologies is consistent across functional organizations.
Step 2: Consider outsourcing. If there are no existing technologies that you can leverage, consider outsourcing this entire capability, or perhaps a portion or all of your customer service operations, to a third-party organization. In a recent Forrester survey, we found that 10% have already outsourced some or all of their operations or are very interested in doing so. Outsourcing can help reduce cost of operations, but can also improve the quality of services delivered and allow you to focus on core business activities that are mission-critical to your company.
We know that investing in customer service is good for business and can positively impact your revenue. However, building a business case for customer service investments is challenging, as you must understand the benefits and associated costs of the investments.
For some customer service technologies, such as workforce management, email, and chat, the business benefits are very clear. For other customer service technologies, such as social customer service or knowledge management, the business benefits are more difficult to precisely quantify. Yet in all cases, business benefits fall into one of three categories: reducing operational costs, improving productivity, or enhancing the customer experience. Examples include:
Reducing operational costs by…
Improving agent productivity by…
Increasing customer satisfaction by…
- Resolving customer issues with shorter average speeds to answer (ASA)
Today, the gap between customers’ expectations and the service they receive can be huge. There’s an explosion of communication channels that customers use—voice, digital channels like email and chat, and social channels like Facebook and Twitter. There’s also an explosion of touchpoints, like smartphones, tablets, and self-service kiosks. Customers expect efficient, consistent, personalized service experiences across these channels and touchpoints.
There’s no denying that mastering the service experience is hard to do. Yet focusing on leveraging digital channels is one way customer service leaders can move the needle on customer experiences.
Like millions of Americans who live along the Eastern seaboard, my family got hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Now don’t get me wrong: Compared with residents of New York, New Jersey, and several other states, we had it easy in our little suburb north of Boston. Even so, there were a few exciting episodes, like this tree that fell on my neighbor’s house.
And then there was this power line that came down on the sidewalk across the street from our home, about 4 feet from where I had been standing 20 minutes earlier (I had been talking to a firefighter).
What fascinated me, however, was what came after all the excitement: service recovery by our electrical utility and telecom provider.
Let’s start with our local electric utility, NSTAR. As you can probably guess from the above, our power had to be cut. To restore it, NSTAR needed to coordinate with both our local fire department and our local public works department in order to get that giant tree off the power lines before it could repair them.
When I looked at the job ahead for the utility, I guessed that we would be without power for at least a day. But exactly 12 hours after NSTAR cut power so that the burning lines wouldn’t pose a hazard, the tree was gone and our electricity was restored. In fact, NSTAR beat its own estimate by about 90 minutes.
I recently spent a few days in Connecticut, USA, with Pitney Bowes. So why, you ask, is a CIO advisor who spends most of his time talking about the future of business technology in Asia Pacific spending time with a company that makes machines that stamp mail? That is a good question, and one I hope to answer while at the same time showing where I believe Pitney Bowes can help in your organisation.
So Pitney Bowes stamps mail. Yes — but they see it differently. They see that they enable communications with customers. Interesting. But mail is declining — right? Yes, it is, and Pitney Bowes has made many acquisitions to position itself as the leader in the digital mail space. And they have gone from just providing the communications capability to working across the entire customer lifecycle. Acquisitions of Portrait Software, MapInfo, Group 1 Software and many of the other firms they have acquired in the last 10 years have given them the ability to do:
- Customer profiling and segmentation
- Data preparation and composition
- Multi-channel customer output
- Customer response management
- Response analysis
There is no single metric against which to benchmark the performance of your customer service organization. It’s like flying a plane—you can’t do it by just looking at your altitude settings. This means that most organizations use a balanced scorecard approach, which includes a set of competing metrics that balance the cost of operations against satisfaction measures. For industries with strict policy regulations, like healthcare, insurance, or financial services, adherence to regulatory compliance is yet another metric that is added to the list.
The set of metrics that you choose also depends on your audience. Customer service managers need real-time, granular operational data. Yet your executive management team needs high-level data about key performance indicators (KPIs) that track outcomes of customer service programs.
So where should you begin when choosing metrics? It’s best to start by understanding the value proposition of your company. For example, do you compete on customer experience, where satisfaction measures are of primary importance, or do you compete on cost, where efficiency and productivity measures are most important?
Once you understand your value proposition, choose the high-level KPIs that support your company’s objectives. These metrics are the ones that you will report to executive management and include overall cost, revenue, compliance, and satisfaction scores. Next, choose the operational metrics for your organization that link to each of these KPIs and support your brand. For example, if you compete on cost, handle time and speed of answer will become your primary metrics. However, if you are focused on maximizing customer lifetime value, first contact resolution will rise to the top.
In customer service organizations, collaboration should take place around cases and content, and should involve not only collaboration between customers and customer service agents, but internal collaboration within the enterprise. Internal collaboration has quantifiable benefits as measured by increased organizational productivity and efficiency. For cases, collaboration helps increase first contact resolution, decrease handle times and increase customer satisfaction. For content, collaboration helps evolve content to be more relevant, accurate, complete, and in line with customer demand. Some of the technologies that help foster collaboration around cases and content include:
Presence indicators, instant messaging, and video chat. These allow customer service agents to connect in real time with subject-matter experts, supervisors, managers, or other agents having the necessary skills to help resolve a question.
Collaborative workspaces. These allow agents and subject-matter experts to share documents and logs about the customer issue, the troubleshooting process, and the results in real time.
Activity streams. These allow agents and subject-matter experts to subscribe to a case and receive notifications of all changes and additions to a case.
Remote support. This allows customer service agents to invite subject-matter experts and specialty agents to troubleshoot software or hardware with a customer.