Customer engagement is one area of business that is constantly linked to increasing automation.
With new technologies and “self-serve platforms” making it possible for customers to make enquiries, find out information, or even complete tasks like payments and bookings without the need to deal direct with staff, business owners are investigating ever more ways to streamline processes and cut costs.
And as new age technologies like artificial intelligence enabled chatbots and virtual assistants, which can predict and pre-empt customer problems and enquiries using previous browsing and engagement history continue to grow in popularity, the role of the traditional customer service advisor is evolving.
According to Microsoft’s Richard Peers, by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be carried out without staff and consumer “conversations” will instead be managed by digital platforms and engagement tools.
However, despite the fact that many consumers value the option of accessing a multi-channel communication offering, new figures have shown how businesses which completely overlook the continued importance of human interaction in customer contact could be damaging themselves in the long term.
Here Chris Cullen, head of sales and marketing at outsourced customer contact specialist, Echo Managed Services, looks at how technology has changed consumer communication while showing how traditional customer contact remains an ever important offering.
Give your customers what they want
There is no one size fits all approach to customer communication and the key to providing an optimum offering is understanding the contact channels consumers want to use – and then giving them what they want.
Web chat, self-serve portals and even social media are increasingly being used as customer communication tools, and to very good effect for the most part, but while these platforms continue to grow in popularity our research has found that 53% of customers still prefer to engage with businesses face to face or over the phone.
This is particularly true when they have a complicated or embarrassing enquiry, or when they feel an extra level of explanation is required.
The nature of the initial enquiry is a key first factor in determining which communication channel the customer will choose. Our research for instance shows that over a quarter of consumers (27%) prefer to use emails for requesting basic information from a business, but only 11% of customers would choose this channel for a complicated enquiry.
Offering consumers a choice in how they interact with your business is vital for success and the implications of getting it wrong can be both financially and reputationally harmful.
Trying to dictate to a customer which communication channels they will use, or forcing them to use certain options can lead to customer dissatisfaction, and in some instances may even cause customers to switch to a competitor.
The evolving importance of human interaction in customer service
One of the implications of more technology in business is around the role of customer service advisors and how their jobs will evolve in line with company needs and customer expectations.
With digital platforms now able to effectively handle many simple enquiries, the traditional role of the customer service advisor is transforming into a mix of handling more complex requests while still being able to step in when electronic channels fail, or when a customer simply prefers to interact over the phone.
It is essential, therefore, that a business maintains a good level of knowledgeable and skilled advisors who can deal with both simple and complex customer enquiries in an empathetic and professional way.
Failing to do this can be dangerous for the longer term prospects of a business, especially considering that 10% of consumers would be angry with a brand that let them down in these scenarios.
This is why it is essential that businesses don’t overlook the benefit of the human touch and continue to invest in customer service staff in parallel with new technology to ensure they can deliver consistent levels of quality customer service in all areas.
Don’t encourage consumer frustration in your communication channels
The commercial challenges created when a business provides poor customer service should not be underestimated and for those that continually get this wrong, the long lasting implications on their profit margins can be considerable.
For 22% of customers, quality customer service is a major factor in them building trust in a business while 16% say good customer service has a direct link to improved brand loyalty.
This is a significant proportion of customers who place a great deal of value on good service and demonstrates the dangers of overlooking customer contact channel preferences. Failing to recognise can be detrimental to a business, both in terms of financial results and reputation.
Similarly, being forced to use automated response channels that fail to deliver is equally frustrating for consumers.
It’s also worth remembering that while the human touch is vital, it must be of a high quality and be readily available to truly add value to customers. Demonstrating the importance of this, over half of consumers say they hate being kept on hold on the phone, while 10.5% said overseas call centres and poor quality staff were top frustrations.
Technology and human interaction – a delicate balancing act
Technology in business is clearly here to stay and as consumers become more willing to sacrifice human interaction for convenience and speed of response for simple enquiries, digital communication channels will only become more widespread.
And as artificial intelligence platforms like chatbots and virtual assistants develop further in the future and provide the opportunity for pre-emptive and proactive engagement, businesses would be foolish not to investigate these channels more thoroughly and implement them where they can add real value for customers.
However, businesses need to ensure an honest and open approach to customer contact and, while chatbots and virtual assistants can mimic human interaction, these platforms should not be misrepresented or a company risks making their consumers feel conned.
They should remember that, while beneficial, the improper use of technology can just as easily lead to negative customer perception.
Any technology based platform should only be brought in to add value and should not solely be a cost cutting exercise and it is essential that any business only changes things because they should, not only because they can.
Businesses need to ensure they are providing the quality and avenues of service that their customers want or need and understanding how they want to engage with a business, whether online or offline, is key to success in this arena.
Ultimately, understanding how your customers want to engage with you will help businesses target investment better.
But one thing business owners should never underestimate is the value human interaction in customer service will always bring.
Chris Cullen is Head of sales and Marketing at outsourced customer contact specialist
For additional information on Echo Managed Services visit their Website