Joined up thinking

Jeremy Payne, International Group Marketing Director, Enghouse Interactive, discusses the results of a survey which reveals that, in a world where customer service expectations are increasingly polarised by age, if they are to thrive, businesses need to look at becoming connected enterprises.

42% of respondents to a recent survey carried out by Enghouse Interactive, which polled over 2000 adults across the UK, said they usually or always based their decision to buy solely on an organisation’s reputation for customer service. As if that wasn’t surprising enough, this figure rose to over half of respondents within the 16-24 age group.

Whatever their preferred method of interaction with a business, people prize customer service. Indeed, the service they receive is often the key determinant of whether they decide to purchase at all.

The survey also makes clear that people often take action based on the service they receive, which can significantly impact on the reputation of a business – either positively or negatively. 60% of respondents to the question, ‘What actions have you taken as a direct result of poor customer service?’ responded, ‘… have never done business with that brand again’.

The potential for poor customer service to adversely impact on a brand and drive up churn is clear. Conversely, the survey also made explicit that businesses can optimise the value of their brand by giving customers what they want and getting service right first time, with more than four out of five respondents saying they would usually tell others about a positive customer experience.
So, while it might seem a truism, there are clear benefits to be gained for businesses that focus their efforts on delivering good customer service. However, achieving this is often easier said than done. In an increasingly complex digital environment, characterised by a rapid expansion in different kinds of customer interaction channels, it is often a difficult challenge.

A one size fits all approach to customer service no longer ‘cuts the mustard’. The days are long gone when every customer would contact a business via a fixed line telephone 9-5 on weekdays. Instead, it’s all about tailoring your approach to different customer groups. And, more often than not, these groups are defined by age.

The Generations Game
Many businesses are finding they are having to separately target the different generations, putting in place completely separate communications channels to meet the disparate needs of these diverse customer groups.

The young
The survey found that, among 16-24 year-olds, the three most popular methods of engaging with a business were smartphone (25%); self service via company website (23%) and social media (18%).

If you’re marketing to a young tech savvy audience – comprising the so called Millennials or Generation Y digital natives – you’ll want to offer social media engagement and a greater array of online communications tools. You’ll need to deploy solutions that allow customers to self serve at any time, on any device in any place.

Tools like social media posts, self service user forums, searchable knowledge bases, interactive voice and visual response (IVR) webchat, and even artificially intelligent robot agents that can chat through a messaging service, are all likely to be part of the mix.

55 and over
In our survey, nearly 3x the proportion of 16-24 year-olds (46%) as against 55 and overs (16%) claimed that a brand’s ability to engage with them via social media was important. Equally, while just 9% of 16-24 year olds said engaging with a brand using online communications wasn’t at all important, that figure rises to 41% among the 55+ category.

The lesson for businesses from these results is that, while they need to have an online strategy in place for Generation Y and Millennials, they also need to be aware that there are large numbers of older customers, particularly those aged 55 and over, for whom online communications are largely seen as an irrelevance.

Businesses with customers in this latter category need to find other modes of communication to engage with them. Once again, the survey results are confirmation of just how different are the interaction needs of older and younger customers.

Older customers, many from the ranks of either Generation X or the Baby Boomers, are generally looking for more human to human customer service, based around one-to-one engagement. They want to talk to the same person every time they interact with the business: someone who knows them, and who understands the nature of their enquiry.

If you are mainly engaging with this kind of customer group, you should focus on traditional channels. Email is way out in front as an engagement method here, with 52% of the 55 and over category favouring it, followed in popularity by fixed line phone.

Mixed market
Finally, if your market is a mixture of both old and young, you’ll need broad-based solutions, encompassing traditional voice-based telephony, and the latest online solutions.

Constructing the connected enterprise
In order to meet the diverse needs of such a polarised customer base, businesses are likely to need to broaden the range of communication channels they offer, and make themselves accessible round the clock – not just in office hours – so their customers can engage with them anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

But while expanding the breadth of channels offered is clearly important, businesses must never neglect the demands of the connected enterprise, where workers across a business are linked in a collaborative network and can be brought into play to engage with customers where necessary.

The ability for customers to be quickly routed through to somebody who has background information about them and understands their needs is prized by all groups, although perhaps most highly by older customers.

Conversely, it’s clear that all groups feel frustrated when they experience a sense of disconnect in the process of engaging with a business. Cited by 43% of respondents, being passed round multiple agents, none of whom can resolve your problem, is by far the biggest irritation people experience when engaging with a company. This once again highlights the importance of the connected enterprise and, more specifically, of being able to triage and route customers to the right contact within the business.

The next two highest ranked concerns also relate to the theme of the connected enterprise. Being kept waiting for service or lack of timely response, and inability to speak to a live agent, were each cited by 16% of the sample as their most irritating issues when dealing with businesses.

Putting the building blocks in place
All of this highlights the need for organisations to look at turning themselves into connected enterprises. Achieving this however requires the implementation of a flexible and agile solutions architecture, and putting in place the right processes and procedures to support it.

If a business wants to provide the optimum caller experience, enabling the customer to have a rich and informative conversation with the person on the other end of the line, the kind of customer contact technology chosen is vitally important.

With the help of the latest systems, all of an organisation’s frontline staff, from customer service agents to helpdesk consultants and receptionists, regardless of where they are positioned within the business, can use real time presence and calendar information to select the back office contact best placed to engage with the caller and answer their questions.

CRM integration can be put in place, with pop ups displaying information about the customer in real time, enabling them to be connected more quickly to the person within the organisation best able to answer them, and to resolve their query most quickly.

For larger organisations, in particular, the ability to create a global directory, and a view of who is available and best placed to assist the customer, is vital. Sitting behind this, organisations need to put in the kind of technologies that truly enable the connected enterprise.

Cloud computing and IP-based networking allow you to engage with the online world, while unified communications technologies like Microsoft Lync or Cisco Jabber allow you to connect with key customer-facing staff. Strong directory and database integration enables you to know who is available and best placed to support your customers at all times.

Looking ahead
It’s important to appreciate that all businesses need to build a connected enterprise, not just the more traditional ones. With the ongoing move to digital self service channels for customer service, which are typically much cheaper to run, many businesses are making savings. There must be a temptation simply to take the money and add it to the bottom line. But no – savvier businesses are reinvesting any savings, to ensure that, when people do need to speak to staff directly, they can access somebody equipped with the relevant knowledge to solve their problem.

Businesses need to have strategies in place that allow them to respond proactively to the kind of polarisation in customer preferences that the survey shows up so clearly. If they want to protect and build on their reputation for customer service, and use it to build business success, they need to know what interaction approach their customers like, and be prepared to provide them with a service that delivers just that.