Opinion

Customer service in a digital age – what does ‘good’ look like?

This article provided by Moneypenny

Is there such a thing as a fully ‘digital customer experience’? The answer is yes and no. We are offering customers ever more means of experiencing customer service across many channels and devices.

Whilst companies may relish the distance that these digital channels and devices might appear to give between the business and the customer, it would be foolish to assume that this is where the line is drawn in terms of service delivery and that ‘hands off’ is the new ‘hands on’. It must be remembered; a customer is not just a digital customer but a customer first and foremost.

As statistics and benchmarking reports are increasingly showing that customers are embracing the choice of channels available to them,  we believe that good customer service still matters greatly whether a person is right in front of you, or messaging your helpdesk from hundreds of miles away.

Moving towards digital first

A recent study by the Institute of Customer Service found that half of customers facing problems were complaining more than twice before having their issue resolved. It also showed that consumers aged 25 to 34 were the least satisfied with businesses’ customer service. But why when there has never been so many ways to contact a business?

With this in mind, what makes customer service ‘good’ across digital channels and devices needs to be explored. When we take a step back and look at service solely through the eyes of the customer, the situation presents itself clearly; people are not beings of logic but of emotion.

According to Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, “Engagement through digital methods such as email, text, apps and web chat functions have all increased in the last year, and these are the channels through which it is most difficult for customer service staff to show empathy.”

Jo continues: “Organisations therefore need to make sure that their staff are highly engaged and highly skilled, as every customer interaction – regardless of the channel it is on – counts towards business performance.”

The future is in the skill of the people

As a business, we wholeheartedly agree. The use of highly skilled and knowledgeable staff was the building block for Moneypenny and is what continues to drive the company forward. A person knows what another person wants more than a computer, the channel is simply the means of communication.

This also explains why some companies have fallen down with regards to their customer service over their digital channels. They have removed the mindset of the customer and importance of their own skilled people from the scenario.

For those who think data is the answer to everything, and that quantifying patterns in customer behaviour satisfies questions as to what makes good digital customer service, they could actually be creating a distorted picture of overall customer satisfaction. A person may be happy using an individual touchpoint at that moment, but this neglects to show the holistic journey of that customer. It also doesn’t explain why a customer is contacting the business e.g. the nature of a complaint or area of a question.

The structure of the business itself has an enormous effect on the quality of the service delivered. There can all too easily be a disconnect across the customer journey, as departments within a business are not communicating to create a holistic service.

“Although businesses see customer experience as important, the majority do not have someone to oversee and integrate all the customer interactions or touch-points,” Nicole Dufft, vice-president, digital enterprise at research and advisory firm CXP Group, told Computer Weekly.

“Leading companies understand that customer experience is important and have typically sought to address this by setting up multidisciplinary teams or taskforces comprising representatives of the marketing, sales customer care, and the IT departments. Large organisations need to have this collaboration between the various customer-facing departments and IT to enable a truly 360-degree view of the customer,” Nicole adds. “The reality is that few organisations currently have a comprehensive, integrated approach to all those touch-points along the customer journey.”

A case for digital customer service

The good news is that, done well, digital tools and channels can vastly improve the customer experience of any business model or organisation. We know that the customer experience lifecycle greatly impacts both the bottom line and future growth of that company, helping them to acquire the most essential of intangible assets; excellent reputation and customer retention.

This importance becomes even starker when we consider that one bad experience – even in a digital realm – can forever destroy a previously healthy customer relationship.

Still in its relevant infancy, digital customer service is yet to be defined by its own set of rules as to what constitutes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ experience. For instance, what is a ‘good’ interaction over an online instant messenger service such as live web chat? If a customer’s issue is resolved, that must surely mean the experience was a good one, regardless of how it was handled.

Not according to Sally Rowland, product manager at Moneypenny. “We are finding that while customers enjoy the immediacy and convenience of live web chat, they like the personal nature of talking to a real person at the other end of the chat in equal measure. We’ve been able to use our expertise in customer service to deliver a more personal touch to our live web chat handling.” Sally adds:” It’s added another dimension to the customers’ live web chat use by giving them a more meaningful experience. It’s this ‘human touch’ that really appears to be important to customers as we edge further into a digital age.”

This is why a ‘human touch’ behind each method of communication is so important. Remembering, as people are beings of emotion, their problem may have been sufficiently fixed, but the interaction could leave them feeling cold and disengaged if it isn’t handled with all of the care as a physical interaction.

In a simplified example; Brand A prides itself on its friendly demeanour, might be rushing and hasty in its manner when using such technology with its customers. If Brand A greets the customer over live web chat in the same cheerful and caring way that its company representatives would if standing right before them, the quality of the service significantly improves.

A channel for every customer need

So how does a business navigate through this myriad of multi-channel customer service? The answer, at least for the time being, comes down to how and at what point in the journey a customer decides which channel is best to contact a business or organisation.

What makes a person choose to self-serve on a website rather than pick up the phone and call them? Or even step foot on a branch? For the most part, digital channels offer speed and ease for a customer to engage with a business. A person can purchase an item, buy an insurance policy, or enquire into further information, all without ever speaking to another human being. It should make everything easier for the customer and more cost-effective the business.

It also depends on what stage of the customer journey that particular person is at and roughly fit into three categories: people who are researching around a particular product are happy to use self-service channels to gather information. They are in control of what they are doing and have a clear idea in their mind’s eye of their end goal; customers experiencing problems and could be in a state of panic needing immediate assistance – they could be unable to process any complex system that prevents them from accessing help, for instance a telephone menu; and there are those who are undertaking routine tasks or require non-urgent information and are happy to fill out forms in a self-service or assisted manner.

Online estate agent, EweMove, has adopted this latter method for its customer service. The company was set up to put house buyers and sellers in the driving seat of their sales, but understood that when it came to service it needed real people’s involvement “who could assist our branches with day-to-day tasks like the ability to book viewings, take payments and log repair requests,” said Glenn Ackroyd, EweMove’s Head Shepherd.

Backup emergency helpline

Of course, digital channels are not always the best method of service, depending on the customer’s query. From time to time customers come into difficulty and digital service channels are not yet capable of handling complex customer problems without the involvement of real people.

Here is where we see the customer cease using a self-service digital channel and instead choose to speak with a real person, to have a conversation, explain the matter in detail and most importantly, feel reassured that there is another person ready to talk to them and help them through the problem.

According to the Institute of Customer Service’s UK Customer Satisfaction Index 2017: “The biggest differences between the top 50 and the remaining organisations are for complaint handling and over the phone experiences.”

It is the smart business that is ready at the other end of a phone and not rely on digital channels alone. Service must be shaped to meet the customers’ needs and convenience – not the other way around.

People at the heart of service

As we have already discussed, digital channels increase the speed in which a customer receives service. But it’s the principles of good customer service that really set a business apart, regardless of the channel used.  And much the same as now, people will discuss with their peers the level of service they received over these channels as they do when regaling tales of ‘dreadful’ or ‘fantastic’ experiences.

If we are to contend that digital customer service requires the same care and consideration as traditional customer service, it may lead some to ask; ‘why use it at all if it still requires the same level of effort?’ Because as customers’ needs are at the heart of every business, their needs must be met appropriately to suit whatever method of communication they choose.

The truth is that we don’t yet know what ‘good’ digital customer service looks like and with technology moving so quickly, it may never have set rules as to what makes it good. But no business or organisation can go wrong if we apply the principles of excellent customer service at every touchpoint we choose to engage with our customers. And in the end, that’s what matters the most.

By Joanna Swash, managing director for Moneypenny.

Email: pr@moneypenny.co.uk

Call: 0333 202 1005

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