The front line: The new rules of service

UK consumers are clearly expecting more from their customer service experience and when the experience falls short, defection is a likely outcome, by Ryan Pellet


According to Convergys second annual consumer research study on the UK customer service experience, 59 percent of survey respondents who reported a bad experience and did not receive a response from the company stopped doing business with the offending party, as did 53 percent of respondents who received a response without resolution.

Why are companies failing to meet the service expectations of their customers and what can they do about it? The research on the customer experience reveals an insight worthy of every CEO’s attention: that the view of the customer service experience from inside a company can be very different from the one outside. The following are three of the most common issues where companies and customers are not seeing eye-to-eye:

1. The state of the customer experience
Consider the following: 79 percent of customers say the quality of customer service has stayed the same or gotten worse in the past year; 71 percent of executives think service has improved. In fact, not a single executive surveyed said it had gotten worse with 57 percent of UK customers saying companies do not have a good understanding of what customers really experience; 96 percent of executives think their company understands.

The old adage, “the customer is always right” has implicit warrant. The problem is that companies are struggling with how to listen. Leading practice companies are applying customer experience analytics to solve this issue. Using a very specific combination of speech, behavioural, and customer satisfaction data analysis to maintain and take action on the changing customer is resulting in quantified across-the-board business performance improvements.

2. Ability of front-line employees
Todayís customer demands first contact issue resolution, a responsibility that falls primarily on the shoulders of front-line agents. However, since the recession began in late 2008, companies have reduced their investment in front-line readiness by 18 percent. As a result, 39 percent of front-line employees say they do not have access to all the data necessary to deliver an excellent customer experience and 38 percent say they are not empowered to resolve customer issues.

Companies must reverse the trend and invest in their front-line employees and systems. The research indicates that being “penny wise and pound foolish” has significant ramifications. The research indicates a direct correlation between front-line investment and first call resolution; there is also a direct correlation between first call resolution and profitability. Sidebar research has increasingly shown companies that actively invest in agent preparedness have a substantially higher customer acquisition rate and trend much higher at increasing share of wallet from existing customers.

3. Transactions are too difficult
In the research, not a single executive thought that their customers would rate the level of effort required to interact with their company as hard; in fact, 17 percent of customers said it was hard. Of those customers that said it was hard, 70 percent said it was because the company didn’t resolve their issue on first contact – regardless of the channel used.
Consumers do not have a tolerance for unsatisfactory or difficult experiences and will not hesitate to take their business elsewhere. In fact, 81 percent of customers that defined themselves as loyal to a particular company said they would not forgive a single bad experience. Customers who define their most recent interaction as satisfying and effortless are three times more likely to be loyal. In response to this market shift, leading companies are changing business processes and supporting channel technologies to align to the customer’s requirements – the complexity being that, “satisfying and effortless” mean different things to different customers. Deep knowledge about who, when, how, why, and through what channel customers interact is changing how business processes are fundamentally defined and the technologies required to support them. Companies that are able to think and align to an “outside-in” paradigm are seeing significant business performance improvements.

How does this translate to what customers want? Put simply, consumers want the companies with which they do business to value them, value their time, value their money and value their preferences.

Consumers continue to expect superior customer service experiences, with 65 percent of survey respondents choosing “addresses my needs on first contact” as the attribute most often selected in their top five customer service attributes, up from 61 percent in the 2008 pre-recession research. Since they are key to first-contact resolution, “knowledgeable employees” also ranked high, chosen by 62 percent of consumers as the third most important customer service attribute.

Recession-weary consumers are not just looking for the lowest cost, but the best value in their customer transactions. A total of 64 percent of survey respondents chose “good value for the money” as the second most important customer service attribute, up significantly from 2008; 30 percent of respondents rated reliable service as more important than price in their definition of what constitutes “good value for money.” Only five percent of customers defined good value as “paying the lowest price”. “Treats me like a valued customer” was the fourth most important attribute, cited by 60 percent of survey respondents, down slightly from 62 percent in 2008.

Survey respondents’ contact channel preferences point to an increasing need for multiple customer care solutions that combine agent-assisted service, with automation and self-service options. While consumers still prefer to speak with a customer service agent, customer service via self-service, live web-chat, automated phone systems, and email with response is also gaining traction, particularly with the Millennial age group (consumers between the ages of 18-34).
These summary findings are not to say that companies are completely out of touch with their customers needs. That’s some good news for CEOs. In fact, 53 percent of executives were able to correctly identify three of the five most important customer experience attributes asked for by their customers.  The differentiator is how these attributes are actualised. By uncovering the disconnects and narrowing the gaps between your customers needs and corporate programmes, you can ensure the best experience possible, which will keep your customers coming back and your business out-growing your competition’s.

Ryan Pellet is a vice president in Convergys Customer Management line of business, which is responsible globally for the delivery of customer management solutions through agent-assisted services, automated self-service, and intelligent customer interaction technologies.