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Customer Service

OPINION: A new era of customer service for brands

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By Eric Leboeuf, Director of Strategic Channel Partnerships at Infobip

The pandemic has altered the customer experience landscape indefinitely. Consumers are demanding, unforgiving and know what they want – and contact centres have transformed how they operate in tandem. As the world migrated from offices to home and ‘Zoom’ became 2020’s most prevalent eponym, a new path emerged for the future of customer service.

In a short space of time, agents had to move from answering phone calls or emails, to dealing with a plethora of customer contact channels, such as WhatsApp, SMS, live chat and video calls. Businesses and outsourced contact centres had to think about technology through the eyes of their customers to reduce inefficiencies, eliminate pain points and increase the value of every interaction no matter what channel it’s on.

In this article, I will discuss how brands can optimise customer experience by maximising the benefits of virtual contact centres.

Evolving customer expectations

Today’s consumer expects to be able to contact a business at any time, from anywhere, and on any platform – and it’s given rise to new demands.

After interviewing more than 2,000 British people, Infobip found a third (33%) now have higher expectations for customer service since the first lockdown and 32% have said that they will not spend time with a business that provides poor service again. Their biggest frustrations include waiting time (35%), limited ways to contact a company (31%) and repeating details multiple times to an agent (20%).

We also found that 35% of customers are happier to engage with brands on digital channels since the pandemic . And there is no clear channel preference – 52% of people prefer to use multiple channels, rather than relying on one.

Contact centres need to build a cohesive, consistent approach to customer service that caters for consumers’ changing preferences and modes of consumption. Brands should use customer data to decipher which channel a customer prefers, whether that’s their favourite messaging app or a live chat on your website. What’s more, by ensuring customer data is in one place, responses can be tailored to the customer’s unique needs with no time-consuming switching between channels.

Revamping the contact centre infrastructure

There’s no denying that those companies that have had the easiest time with the digital transition are those that have migrated to contact-centre-as-a-service (CCaaS) solutions. There are several reasons why.

The migration of workers to home offices has complicated operations, for example agents cannot ask the floor walker or the colleague next to them for advice, they solely rely on digital tools like internal chat channels to ask for advice or coaching.  Through a cloud contact centre, agents can continue to provide superior service from the comfort of their homes, advising customers and conversing with their colleagues, no matter where or when they log on. The cloud also provides the flexibility that businesses need to handle continuous growth and seasonal peaks, as well as experiment with new service models.

The use of Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVA) is one of many automation solutions helping contact centres, particularly when answering FAQs which represents a large portion of customer enquiries. By handling more repetitive and basic customer enquiries, the speed and accuracy of handling transactions is increased, and customer experience is improved.

The human workforce

Having CCaaS solutions that engage human agents to step in at the right time is also essential, allowing them to solve more high value, complex issues beyond FAQ’s that can require multiple branches of support for one customer query, for example payment or delivery support.

This means agents can manage multiple digital channels at a time, ensuring they have the tools to do what they do best: delivering personalised responses, answering queries faster and increasing customer satisfaction. Thanks to IVA support, human agents will spend less time on low value enquiries, meaning cost savings via increased efficiency. Metrics can also inform brands on the ratio of queries going to agents versus IVA. In these scenarios, brands can evaluate their contact centres to ensure agents are not overloaded. Finally, by shifting an agent’s responsibility to more challenging and rewarding tasks, new and upgraded career doors are likely to open up.

COVID-19 chatbots 

Let’s look at this in practice. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several public and government health organisations across the world, for example Public Health England, were faced with the challenge of providing up-to-date information quickly and at scale, whilst also combatting misinformation. For many, the answer has been using chatbots to alleviate pressure on contact centres, who were already facing a significant influx of calls, while ensuring the public have access to the latest advice and guidance.

These chatbots, built by Infobip and WhatsApp, are easily accessible over a publicly available number. Contact is initiated by the user through entering a number in their contact list and sending “Hi”. This starts a dialogue with the WhatsApp chatbot, where users can choose from a list of topics depending on the information they are looking for. This includes the latest guidelines, case numbers, testing site locations and FAQs. If further assistance is required, chatbots can smoothly transfer the conversation to a human agent for detailed answers to more complex queries.

Chatbots like this have been used across the globe – from the UK to India – to ensure the right information is accessible 24-7, and so contact centres can function as efficiently as possible during an exceptionally busy time.  A report by IBM found that chatbots can answer 80% of standard questions. With many now integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), chatbots are trained to recognise customer intent through what we call natural language processing (NLP). Pair this with ML processes, and chatbots will advance over time as they’re exposed to more conversational data.

Final words

The digitally savvy contact centre is racing ahead of its peers. Relying on a hybrid workforce means bots can handle high frequency, low value requests, leaving agents to focus on delivering more personalised and detailed responses. The return on investment from purchase conversion and repeat brand loyalty is invaluable. Companies must incorporate digital tools to boost their contact centre infrastructure as we enter an era of new customer service.

UK ‘the most unforgiving country’ when it comes to customer service

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More than a third of people (38%) in the UK felt that their experience with customer service has got worse over the last 12 months, making it the highest figure out of the US and Europe.

That’s according to the Customer Service Index 2021, produced by Five9, which found nearly half of UK respondents (44%) are very unlikely to be willing to do business after poor customer experience – making it the least forgiving country.

And almost two-fifths (39%) of UK consumers have left a brand they were previously loyal to over the last 12 months, with the biggest losers being retail and consumer products (28%) followed by banking and financial services (15%).

Five9’s Customer Service Index looks at what consumers believe makes good or bad customer service. Other interesting points from the research include:

  • Phone is still king: More than half (51%) of total consumers (US and Europe) still prefer the phone as the best means of communicating with customer services. Yet compared with other countries, the UK is most likely to use webchat (20%)
  • When asked the preferred channel for urgent/sensitive issues, the number for by phone increased to 65%. Note that for the UK respondents, that number increased to 68%
  • Over a quarter (26%) of UK consumers are more willing to use social media platforms for customer service than they were a year ago
  • Virtual agents: Two-fifths (40%) of UK consumers are already using virtual agents where available. Nearly a fifth (18%) haven’t yet used them but would if they were available, showing a huge opportunity for contact centres to capitalise on virtual agents
  • The UK is still not ready for video: Over two-fifths (42%) of consumers would prefer not to use a video call with a customer service agent. Whereas in Spain, less than a third (29%) aren’t comfortable

Brian Atkinson, Vice President and General Manager, EMEA from Five9, said: “Our Customer Service Index suggests some correlation between customer service and brand loyalty. Most businesses have faced unprecedented uncertainty over the last 12 months and simply cannot afford to lose customers. It’s therefore essential to get customer service right – especially for UK consumers. To do this it is ultimately about human connection, which is the underlying theme across the survey results. The phone is still popular because consumers want to feel like they are talking to a real person, and are being understood and listened to. Yet, they still expect the same across chatbots and social media. Human connection needs to therefore be at the heart of every communication – even if an actual person isn’t present.”

You can read the full report here.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Stella Connect customer service feedback, coaching & QA

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In an ultra-competitive market, how do brands deliver great customer experiences that set them apart from their competition? It all boils down to human touch. Today’s front-line teams have become a major driver of customer loyalty and retention. That’s why we’ve built a platform to help you empower your front-line team to deliver great exceptional experiences.

Stella Connect offers service teams a humanized, real-time agent-level feedback platform, integrated quality assurance, and coaching that brings all of the relevant data points together. Get visibility into agent performance, and empower your team to deliver exceptional customer experiences with Stella Connect.

Click here to book your demo.

Why text messaging should be part of your omnichannel customer service strategy

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By mGage

Americans spend about five hours a day on their phones, according to TechCrunch. Consumers expect customized and genuine engagement in real-time, across all communication channels. This trend toward personalized conversational messaging isn’t going away, particularly in the business world. As a result, SMS has become a popular platform among businesses for customer service. As part of an omnichannel strategy, text messaging for customer service can lower costs and facilitate more convenient and engaging relationships between brands and customers.

What is Omnichannel Customer Service

Omnichannel customer service enables interactions between a consumer and a business through multiple touchpoints.

There is some confusion surrounding the difference between “omnichannel” and “multichannel” customer service. Multichannel means having multiple channels for customer support.  Omnichannel, however, describes delivering a seamless customer service experience across all of those channels by collecting additional data about the customer with each interaction. With omnichannel, you have a complete view of the customer, which facilitates delivering an excellent customer service experience.

In a siloed approach to customer service, customers often have to answer the same questions multiple times. It may be difficult to transfer discussions from one channel to another. Worse, agents may not have a complete record of prior communication, resulting in communication mishaps.

When text messaging is integrated with an existing CRM system through APIs, conversations can flow easily between online channels, phone calls, and SMS. More than 60% of customers interact through multiple channels, and regardless of time, place, device, or medium, they expect consistency[1]. By adopting an omnichannel approach to customer service, brands give customers an improved experience and more ways to reach them and, in exchange, get more information about the customer.

Consumers Want the Option to Use Text Messaging for Customer Service 

Did you know that 62% of companies report that customers like using chat options over voice? In fact, 58% of customers have attempted to respond to a missed call from a business with a text message. Customers are also four times more likely to respond to a text message than return a phone call after receiving a voicemail[2]. Yet less than half of companies surveyed offer text messaging for customer support[3].

There are many reasons to consider offering text messaging as a customer service channel, including…

  • Ubiquity
    96% of Americans own a cellphone that is capable of receiving SMS messages (Pew Research).
  • Immediacy
    Morgan Stanley reported that 91% of Americans keep their mobile devices within arm’s length at all times, and 90% of all text messages are read within 3 minutes of being received (2019 Mobile Usage Report).
  • Accessibility
    Text messaging does not require an internet connection and can be used by people with various disabilities, including those with hearing impairments. Offering multiple channels helps ensure that customer service is accessible to everyone.
  • Customer Preference
    Consumers show a preference towards text messaging, particularly for urgent notices. In fact, 67% of people said they would rather a business send them an appointment reminder via text instead of an email or phone call.
  • Efficiency
    Text messaging is usually a faster and less expensive way to resolve customer concerns. The average customer service phone call costs about $16, whereas an interaction via text can cost as little as $1, including the cost of the customer service agent’s time (Campaign Monitor).

Brands that add text messaging as a customer service channel will quickly realize both ROI and customer satisfaction benefits.

Adding Text Messaging to Your Customer Service Strategy

While companies sometimes view customer service channels as “competitors” of one another, the customer does not consider it in the same light. The customer sees a brand that is delivering a top-tier service experience. This is important, when you consider that 64% of people find customer experience more important than price when making a purchasing decision[4].

Omnichannel doesn’t just improve customer experience—It also delivers significant ROI and lowers costs thanks to improved customer retention and efficiency. Businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies see 91% higher year-over-year customer retention rates compared to businesses that don’t[5].

If you’re ready to learn more about how text messaging can improve your omnichannel customer service strategy, contact mGage today.

[1] Deloitte

[2] MessageDesk

[3] eMarketer

[4] Gartner

[5] Aspect Software

Take the first-ever customer service speed test

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By Freshworks

Freshworks analyzed 107 million support interactions and it emerged that speed is the most important factor to improve customer satisfaction. However, measuring the speed of your customer service is not easy; metrics like ‘First Response Time’ and ‘Average Handle Time’ don’t provide an accurate representation of speed.

We’ve identified 4 areas of customer service that affect speed: service availability, self-service, proactive service, agent productivity.

Take the Customer Service Speed Test and to find out which areas of your customer service operations might be carrying ‘dead-wait’.

Once you complete the speed test, use the #CutTheWait playbook’s 5-step approach to accelerate your customer service.

P.S. We’ll be hosting a fireside chat of experts on 18th May to discuss the need for speed in customer service. Save your spot!

Mobile Learnings for 2021 to Increase Customer Loyalty

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By Pinder Takhar​, Director of Marketing, mGage

2020 was a significant year for business messaging as we saw an upward trend in its usage. It quickly became an indispensable communication channel for brands to stay connected with their customers, keeping them engaged, informed and updated.

Along with an increase in two-way messaging, more businesses started to deploy mobile chat services and automation in line with consumer demands. It proved vital for enterprises to send key and relevant messages to their audience, enabling them to provide a better customer experience during the pandemic.

Taking our learnings from both business communications and consumer behaviours, we found that there were three significant areas of change that are likely to stick in 2021 and something all organisations need to think about.

  • People shopping online (no surprise here)
  • More cost-conscious consumers
  • Digital product discovery

Thinking about the changes, it raises the question what should brands consider in 2021?

  1. Being multi-channel

We know that the use of mobile messaging for one-way and two-way interaction has increased, however there are many more channels out there like Rich Messaging (RCS), WhatsApp for Business and Apple Business Chat, that brands can adopt to make themselves more available to their customers. Allowing consumers to easily reach them or engage in a two-way dialogue, its increasingly important to be where your customers are. According to Edelman, 65 percent of consumers will base their future purchasing decisions on the ways in which a brand communicates with them at this current time. This highlights that customer needs and requirements are more important than ever before.

  1. Use mobile messaging for customer service

Consumers are looking for convenient ways to engage with brands, as 69 percent[i] of consumers prefer communicating with brands over text messaging rather than traditional phone calls. Many businesses have had to adjust over the last year and adopt mobile chat services, however this is an area that is still largely underutilized for customer support. Enabling mobile messaging channels presents various routes for consumers to effortlessly connect with brands: whether it is to receive product support, request information or to resolve an issue. It empowers mobile users to easily initiate a conversation with businesses and provides a customer first approach.

  1. Consumer reach – best time to send messages

It is important to highlight that people’s routines have changed significantly and they are not the same as they were a year ago. Working patterns have changed considerably, flexible hours are more of a norm, socializing has shifted online and many of us are no longer commuting. Before the pandemic, the best times to engage were typical commuting hours and lunch times. However, recent research has shown that there are now spikes around 9am, after lunch between 2-6pm, with engagement then seeming to decrease until the following day. So, it’s important for businesses to review data and try different times if you have not already done so.

  1. Convenience and transparency

Make it simpler for your customers to engage with you, to navigate and find information. With services such as click and collect provide customers with clear instructions, as to where they can collect this from. Set expectations, if there will be delays, be open and honest and make it effortless to change appointments or delivery times. Customers today expect fast and timely responses to their enquiries and a delayed response can often be the basis for a negative review or cancelled service. A report from Forrester Research found that 63 percent of customers will leave a company after just one poor experience and almost two-thirds will wait no more than two minutes for assistance.

To learn more about the emerging new technologies and use cases for mobile messaging, watch our webinar recording to pick up some key insights.

Watch Recording

To find out more information about mGage’s Mobile Messaging solution please contact us.

[i] consumers-prefer-communicating-brands-over-text

How Analytics Can Help You Deliver Superior Customer Service

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Lauren Maschio, Product Marketing Manager, NICE

Consumers today expect world-class customer experiences, and delivering the fast, personalized service they demand requires that you build analytics into the core of your business. Analytics can deliver a competitive advantage by improving the quality of your interactions with customers, and with the contact centre the most vital point of contact between your company and your customers, that’s critically important.

Analytics encompasses far more than trends and insights, however; trends and numbers will get you nowhere unless your analytics program is driving the business outcomes you desire rather than simply identifying trends. Here’s what you need keep in mind to truly impact CX and CSAT:

Leverage the power of AI

AI technology has become the driving force behind innovation ranging from self-driving cars to e-commerce recommendations. In the contact center, the use of prebuilt AI technology for analytics has moved from a nice-to-have to an imperative due to its ability to transform customer service, both in terms of quality as well as efficiency. While machine learning examines and compares data to find patterns and explore nuances, AI takes it a step further, continually evolving in how it enables machines to behave in a way previously thought to require human intelligence.

In the contact center, that takes a variety of forms, including:

  • Autodiscovery, or the use of unsupervised machine learning to surface unknowns in interactions data, which makes it possible to focus deeper analysis on the topics that are most critical to your business.
  • Sentiment analysis, which is a proven predictive indicator of customer satisfaction such as tNPS or CSAT surveys.
  • AI behavior models, which score the agent soft-skill behaviors that influence the sentiment analysis on all interactions.

Move beyond speech analytics

Your agents’ interactions with customers are no longer limited to the phone; increasingly, customers are reaching out via chat, email, social media and more. If you really want to know what your customers are talking about, you must be analyzing interactions over all channels – text and audio.

An omnichannel approach that covers all channels of interactions enables you to analyze a variety of characteristics, including:

  • Speech time/non-speech time, or the presence and amount of speaking vs. silence in calls over a period of time. You can identify both the agents who have the highest speech or non-speech time as well as the reasons for call silence.
  • Agent response time in a chat, or how long it takes the agent to respond to a chat request.
  • Customer sentiment on social channels, including through text, hashtags and more.

Focus on outcomes, not data collection

When implemented in a way that drives outcomes rather than simply outlining trends, analytics offers tremendous potential to improve CX and CSAT, as one financial services provider found. After implementing an analytics program across its contact center, the provider discovered that agents were missing information, leading to long hold times. By training agents better, the provider was able to:

  • Decrease hold times.
  • Increase customer satisfaction.
  • Save more than $540,000 annually.

Keep evolving

If there’s one constant today, it’s that change is ongoing. Your sales and service models aren’t static, so your analytics program shouldn’t be either. Your business — and the language your agents and customers use when speaking about your unique environment, products and services – will naturally evolve, and your analytics program must be able to adapt in response.

To learn more about how analytics can give you the tools you need to drive the outcomes your business desires and the service your customers demand, download the ebook, AI-Enabled Contact Center Analytics For Dummies 

WEBINAR: Fast Track Your 2021 CX Service Strategy

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Extraordinary times demand original responses. To help you prepare for the next phase of customer service evolution and deliver outstanding CX throughout 2021, Puzzel and customer strategy expert, Martin Hill-Wilson have developed Being Ready, a handy planning framework for contact centre leaders.

Join Puzzel’s webinar tomorrow to learn more about the framework and receive your free e-book and templates.

When: Tomorrow, November 25 at 14:00 GMT

Where: Online

Secure your place now: https://bit.ly/33aBpzU

Blended human and digital customer service tops investment focus for retailers

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Capabilities that bridge the online/offline customer experience gap prove a key investment focus for UK retailers over the next two years.

That’s according to the latest report from iAdvize, which polled 50 senior UK retailers in its ‘Blueprint For The New Digital Store Associate In The Age Of Conversational Commerce’ report.

It says that with 40% of UK shoppers now wanting human interaction in the online buying process, customer service functionality that blends human and digital touchpoints made up four out of the top five investment priorities for retailers over the next 24 months.  

Almost two thirds (64%) of UK retailers plan to invest in live messaging capabilities with customer service agents – either through online messaging or chat functions.

In app customer service agents (37%), social media influencers (21%) and online brand ambassadors (19%) also featured in the top five investment focuses when it came to customer service. 

In the same way retailers are looking to deliver human interaction in online encounters, retail businesses also plan to use in-store staff to answer digital queries. Over half (58%) of the retail leaders polled as part of the research wanted to digitise store staff by giving them online capabilities, while two-fifths (40%) said they plan to use store associates to engage in digital conversational commerce when store footfall is light. 

Stuart Gordon, UK Country Manager at iAdvize, said: “Retailers realise that store staff need access to quality customer, stock and order insights in general, but even more so if they are going to make a valuable contribution to the online customer journey, successfully closing the customer experience gap.

“There is a growing realisation within bricks-and-mortar retail that physical stores need to focus on what pureplays cannot do, rather than trying to compete on their home territory of price, friction-free convenience and ease of delivery.  And that means unlocking human capital to offer quality insight, delivered with ‘emotional’ human interaction.”

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Retail failing at social media for customer service

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Retailers are neglecting social media when it comes to customer service, and are not listening to consumers to drive customer experience improvements.

That’s according to the 2019 Eptica Digital Trust Study, which found that while retailers successfully answered 59% of routine queries asked via web self service, chat, email, Facebook and Twitter, there were wide variations in performance between channels.

Retailers provided answers to 83% of queries on their websites but only responded correctly to 38% of tweets and 50% of Facebook messages.

Performance had worsened on many channels since 2017 – then retailers answered 73% of emails. By 2019 this had dropped to 68%, despite the continued popularity of the channel with consumers, who use it for over a quarter of their interactions with brands.

As part of the 2019 Eptica Digital Trust Study, 20 fashion and food & drink retailers were evaluated on their digital customer experience, alongside brands from other sectors, by testing their accuracy and speed at answering relevant, routine queries, repeating research conducted since 2012.

Questions included asking about ethical sourcing policies (fashion) and allergy labelling (food and drink). Additionally, 1,000 consumers were asked for their views on customer experience.

Fashion (answering 60% of all queries) and food and drink (59%) were the top sectors surveyed, but still failed to respond to 4 in 10 of all routine queries.

The research also demonstrated a direct link between trust, listening and loyalty. 89% of consumers surveyed said they either will stop buying from brands that they don’t trust or will spend less. Building trust begins with delivering on basic promises – 59% ranked giving satisfactory, consistent answers as a top three factor in creating trustworthiness, while 63% rated making processes easy and seamless as key. Just 8% of consumers felt that brands were listening to them all of the time, with 74% believing brands pay attention to their views half the time or less.

“The move to digital has transformed the retail landscape,” said Olivier Njamfa, CEO and Co-Founder, Eptica. “Greater choice means consumers are becoming more demanding and are actively seeking out brands that they can trust and who listen to them. While retail brands have made some improvements since 2017, they have slipped back in others, damaging trust and ultimately customer loyalty and revenues. If they want to succeed they need to listen to customers and use their insight. Only those who do this will thrive and stay ahead of the competition.”

RetailAccuracy 2019
versus 2017
Average speed 2019
versus 2017
Web83% vs 70%n/a
Email68% vs 73%10hr 19m vs 24hr 12m
Facebook50% vs 28%43m 24s vs 3hr 34m
Twitter38% vs 50%1hr 56m vs 1hr 43m
Chat35% vs 25%8m 43s 4m 24s
Total59% vs 55%

Speed of response also varied widely between channels – and even within sectors and brands. One fashion retailer answered a tweet in 17 minutes, yet another took 50 hours to reply. A food and drink retailer responded on Facebook within one minute, but needed nearly 23 hours to provide an answer on email.

Overall response times on chat doubled from 4 minutes back in 2017 to 8 minutes this year. Facebook had the fastest average speed of response, at 43 minutes, 24 seconds – over twice as fast as Twitter (1 hour 56 minutes) and nearly 15 times faster than email (10 hours 19 minutes). This is despite exactly the same questions being asked across these channels.

The study evaluated 50 UK brands, split equally between the fashion, food and drink, travel, insurance and banking sectors. Brands were rated on their ability to answer five routine questions via their websites, as well as their speed, accuracy and consistency when responding to email, Twitter, Facebook and chat.

Additionally, 1,000 UK consumers were surveyed on their attitude to trust, its relationship with customer experience and on loyalty and brand reputation. All research was completed in H1 2019.

A full report, including the study results, graphics and best practice recommendations for brands to transform customer experience is available at https://www.eptica.com/19cxretail.