Entrepreneurship guru Barry Moltz talks about outstanding customer service as “the only truly sustainable competitive advantage”. Customer / provider relationships evolve over time, so to seize the competitive edge you should be tuned in to current aspects of customer service, and be implementing them in a way appropriate to your business.
Accenture’s annual Global Consumer Satisfaction Report is a leading industry barometer of customer service experiences and trends. Their latest poll shows that customers are more demanding than ever: 30% of respondents in mature markets said that their customer service expectations were slightly higher or much higher than 12 months prior. Sadly many companies are not keeping pace with these demands, and hence the level of switching between brands and services is the highest Accenture has recorded.
If so many customers are switching, how are consumers deciding on their replacement provider?
Price is, unsurprisingly given the economic climate, a key factor in choosing a supplier. But price is not the only factor, high quality customer service is also very influential. What are contemporary consumers expecting or even demanding in terms of customer service?
Be it a face to face retail or service encounter, or the online personalisation of a shopping website, such as My Account options, product recommendations based on shopping habits, feedback options and so on, customers are looking to configure their own experiences.
Taking self service to a higher level
Customers expect businesses to provide a satisfying “do-it-yourself” service option. This is well illustrated in the options for airline passengers, where customers can choose to check flight schedules through a telephone keypad, to check in on line, or to print a boarding pass at an airport kiosk. Supermarkets are in on the act too with self service checkouts where you can scan your own purchases and pay by credit card – although my own experience hasn’t always had the “satisfying” label!
Familiarity breeds loyalty
Companies should look at how to foster connections between their service personnel and customers. Repeat interactions between the customer and the same service agent, technician or sales representative help to develop connections between these individuals so that the customer may be reluctant to switch to another supplier. Further, if customers need to return to the same question, issue or area they had previously had contact with a company about, this customer service agent / client rapport acts to reduce a much cited area of frustration – 60% of customers find having to repeat the same information to multiple customer service agents “extremely frustrating”.
Use of digital channels
Speaking to a service agent on the telephone is still the most preferred method of contact for customers when they need assistance. There are some significant evolutions in the channel preferences that customers have. E mails, company websites, online help desks, blogs, social networking sites, text messages and general internet searches are all methods increasingly employed when a customer seeks assistance.
While customers draw information down from online sources, they also contribute to the discussion and post about their own positive and negative experiences. Companies should remember that these days demonstrating an “I care about you and I’m listening” attitude will mean tuning in to online discussions. Some companies are picking up and dealing with enquiries, comments and issues directly through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and in addition utilising the power of online listening tools to track and respond to the discussion about their brands.
These are just a few examples of how consumers are changing in the current economic climate. Businesses should be alert to the changing needs and expectations of their customers and adapt accordingly. And perhaps most importantly of all, businesses need to accept that a one-size-fits-all approach really doesn’t work any more.