When it comes to managing the customer experience, technology is critical, but it is not a standalone silver bullet solution; human interaction must still be made available to support the customer journey and drive revenue.
When small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) invest heavily in technology, it is undeniably a commendable practice. Across all sectors, SMEs are pouring money into tools which promise to ease (or even automate!) their operations, finances, sales and marketing and even their customer experience functions. The idea behind it is simple. Invest a large sum of money initially and the return on investment (ROI) will speak for itself; overall costs will be reduced (as less staff time will be required), operations speed will increase and expensive mistakes will be avoided. However, SMEs need to be wary and not fall into the trap of automating all functions across the business, especially when it comes to managing their customer experience.
Latest research by Yonder Digital Group delved into the the role of live agents and the speed of response when it comes to customer experience, and found that abandoning all levels of human interaction may be a death sentence for a small business. The original research canvassed the opinions of 1,000 UK consumers asking them to align loyalty and increase in business outcomes with different standards of customer experience. The research revealed that four out of five consumers (84 per cent) found having access to a range of communications channels (both automated and human) to resolve their queries, in fact encouraged them to stay loyal and even increase their spending.
Data, data, data
Surprisingly few businesses actually have proof of a systematic and joined up approach to managing customer experience. Only a handful of SMEs can prove that their customer experience is targeted and is based on a detailed analysis of existing customer data, based on existing customer behaviour and customer segments. Managing the customer experience is too important to just ignore the hard commercial metrics!
Poor experience, poor business
According to global consulting firm EY, poor customer experience costs $40 billion per year. It can have a direct impact on the bottom-line; this is particularly true for small businesses that rely on repeat business and word-of-mouth in order to grow revenues. In fact 92 per cent of consumers will stay loyal and will in fact increase their business with companies that resolve queries quickly and effectively.
Not only does sub-standard customer experience equate to possible alienation of existing customers but it could prevent the company from attracting new customers. This typically can spiral into a vicious circle; poor customer experience usually will result in fewer sales, which will translate into less profits for a business, meaning more cutbacks will be made (perhaps on customer experience management) which will only make matters worse. In fact, 81 per cent of respondents will defect from a business if their queries are not answered swiftly.
Unfortunately if a company does not implement a proper plan to analyse customer behaviour and outcomes of customer experience it is difficult to provide an accurate demonstration of the success of customer experience initiatives. Marry this with the fact that senior management often believe that the silver-bullet solutions to completely automate – and get rid of any human interaction – are key to managing (and improving) customer experience.
Although these types of solutions are necessary, the research confirms that at crucial parts of the customer journey, being able to speak to a real person is critical – so much so, that 87 per cent of UK consumers will remain loyal and will more likely buy again from a company that has real live agents available. Too many consumers find this level of customer service invaluable; SMEs can’t afford to slack on providing live interaction at the key stages of the customer journey.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
Think back to the last time you tried to contact your bank, insurance provider or telephone company and you were put through to an automated recording which repeatedly asked you a variation of questions to try and solve your issue, when all you needed to do was to explain your issue to a live agent.
As more SMEs are investing in various digital technologies and channels to support their customer service, they have in fact started to over-rely on these services and it is not being well received. According to the research from Yonder Digital Group, over two thirds (69 per cent) of consumers will take their business elsewhere if they can’t get through to a real person when they have a query. Implementing technology is great, but it should not be depended on as the only solution to customer experience management.
Multichannel is the only way
The solution for SMEs is to ensure that customers have access to a full range of communications channels to resolve customer queries – both automated and human. It is necessary for SMEs to find the perfect equilibrium between the investment in traditional and digital customer experience management mechanisms.
The key to success is to make it easy for customers to switch channels. Today’s customer journey is a multichannel one, therefore businesses need to build customer service channels which facilitate moving between digital and human interaction so the customer can reach a desired outcome.
A customer journey could start on a website, a social media app or via some form of marketing collateral. If businesses want to offer seamless customer service, they must have a joined up approach so that each interaction which a customer has with a business is recorded and put to use to further develop the relationship.
Technology plays a very important role when it comes to managing the customer experience, particularly with enabling access to the business via multiple channels (online, social media, marketing emails, artificial intelligence powered Chatbots etc.) and to track and understand the customer experience and pinpoint where a customer is in their buying journey. However, the research elucidates that SMEs cannot afford to put all their eggs in one big technology basket. Cutting out live interaction with customers can cause them to defect at the key stages of the customer journey. Instead, technology should be used to understand the customer, this data should then be provided to a live agent who can then continue to provide a seamless experience for the customer.
This article was provided by Graham Ede of Yonder Digital Group.