Customer Service: Businesses Are In Denial

Many companies are focused on innovating with new products, inviting store experiences and enticing marketing campaigns to court customers, but when it comes to the contact centre, innovation often stops.

UK businesses are in denial. Their focus on attracting new customers, with little regard for how they handle future interactions through customer service, does not support a good customer experience. Worryingly, those that do attempt to innovate in customer service often direct their investment in the wrong channels – focusing on developing exciting applications for mobile platforms including the Android and the iPhone. They might look great, but this investment is entirely disproportionate to actual customer behaviour and need.

Battle for resources

77 per cent of all customer service interaction takes place over the phone despite significant investment in attempts to drive callers to alternative channels including the web, email and the iPhone. Did you know that web self-service only handles four per cent of all customer interactions ?

What many companies fail to appreciate is that whilst these other channels do displace a small percentage of calls away from contact centres, they frequently generate a similar volume of new calls. Consider, for example, these common enquires: “I sent you an email three days ago and no-one’s replied” and “I just made a payment online and want to check it’s gone through”. Call volumes into contact centres continue to increase. Intuitively this makes sense because when we fail in any other channel our first instinct is to ask someone for help – and that means having a conversation.

Making customer service a priority

Don’t be fooled into thinking that investment in your website will solve all your customer service challenges. Customer service calls are not going to stop, and the way companies handle them is becoming increasingly important. If your contact centre isn’t part of your strategic business planning today – a key component of your differentiated customer service strategy – then you’re behind your peers.

In a market where the rate of innovation and information access enables companies to duplicate each other’s products and services in weeks, it is customer loyalty that wins the day. Loyal customers pay more for the same product, are more resistant to the lures of competitors, and will recommend you to their friends. And they want to talk to you on the phone.

How do you manage this?

The first thing to do is identify which channels your customers use the most and evaluate how well you are investing in those channels. You also need to be realistic – you will never be able to hire enough pick-up-after-two-rings, right-accented, well-educated, stick-to-the-brand, stick-to-the-script agents on a 24/7 basis. Most business can’t manage it today for eight hours straight, and the volumes continue to rise. There is not a business on the planet that can profitably meet this challenge by throwing more people at the issue. Instead, you need to automate a sizable amount of your phone calls where appropriate, and do so accurately and effectively.

The key to successful customer service is understanding what your customer wants as soon as the call is answered and then provide simple, unobtrusive, quick service.

Phone automation isn’t trendy, and there are lots of poor examples on the market, but many of the successful customer service brands have already implemented it and are experiencing substantial cost savings and customer satisfaction improvements. The most cost effective investment for your contact centre in 2010 would be to automate the phone channel, and to automate it well.

Lisa Grantham is the director of marketing for UK, Middle East and Africa at Nuance Communications. She has over 15 years’ marketing experience at large technology enterprises and start-ups across the UK and EMEA, where she has driven strategic marketing campaigns that delivered significant business impact. Before joining Nuance in 2008, Lisa was the director of marketing at Wesupply.com and marketing director at CT Space as well as holding other marketing roles at Macromedia (now Adobe) and IBM.