future thinkers update

Channel choices

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‘Now culture’ breeds demanding customers

Building brand engagement in the Digital Age requires a multi-channel approach but achieving a uniformly positive customer experience across all channels is challenging, which has left businesses struggling to satisfy increasingly demanding consumers, according to our new report ‘The Future Consumer.’

The research project (which involved 1,300 participants in the UK ranging from age 18 to over 65) explored how communication channels are used by customers today and which channels and customer service interactions are the most influential in building brand perception. The results provide new insight on current failings in service and engagement and offer pointers on effective strategies for dealing with customers of the future.

We found that generally there is decreased satisfaction with customer service in the UK today, despite the significant level of innovation and sophistication with which organisations are tackling contact channel strategies.

Delving deeper, it became apparent that organisations are currently grappling with two different but interlinked and critical issues. Firstly, it is clear that contrary to general expectation, overall customer contact volume continues to rise in a multi-channel environment. There is little evidence of channel substitution as new channels are introduced and the resulting proliferation in contact often leads to resource issues, among other difficulties.

Secondly, but of equal importance, the emergence of the ‘Now Culture’ means that organisations must now meet the service expectations of a generation of consumers which has grown used to instant gratification and will not accept anything less. These expectations have been shaped by their experience of being constantly connected, whether via the internet or mobile phone, or increasingly from the confluence of both via smartphones.

It takes just seconds for someone to get a response to a query on a search engine - and that level of speed and responsiveness has set a new benchmark for consumers who increasingly (however unrealistically) are now hardwired to expect a lightning fast, super efficient response from every interaction with a business or service organisation.

In reality (and owing to a complex interplay of factors, practical attitudinal and economic) few organisations achieve this. Consequently, the majority of current multi-channel customer contact and service systems have an almost inbuilt propensity to disappoint rather than delight consumers.

In simple terms, speed matters - 78% of people we questioned rated speed of response as very important. It is one of the top three expected traits of interaction with companies, ranking equally important with how customers are treated and spoken to by agents. Importantly, the greater focus on speed is still accompanied by a desire for quality of contact and a personalised experience.

If you compare levels of anger over customer service in the UK in the last 9 years, you will see a fairly steeply rising curve, from 15% in 2003 to 27% in 2011. The backdrop, and indeed a major contributing factor to this has been the increasingly pervasive influence of the ‘Now Culture’ as well as a proliferation of multi-channel contact methods.

Our research suggests that unless businesses can deliver a uniformly positive customer experience across all contact channels, they risk losing not only the goodwill and trust of their customers, but ultimately their custom. On top of this, there is the risk of wider brand ‘contamination’ as dissatisfied customers are highly likely to share negative experiences with their peer group and to do so in a public way via channels such as social media sites.

The increasing availability of channels to communicate and feedback with organisation has meant that customers have much greater access – and at all times – to companies.

Furthermore, as customers seamlessly and comfortably move between channels (using whichever channel is most convenient to them at that time or which most suits their purpose) it puts the onus on organisations to formulate a ‘joined up’ response, with integrated management information systems across channels. In reality, many organisations are playing catch-up when it comes to channel integration, giving rise to falling satisfaction.

Brand perception is influenced by many moments of truth at different touch-points across an organisation. Our project revealed that the opportunity to create better brand engagement is actually three times stronger via traditional contact channels such as the phone than via new channels, emphasising that companies would be ill-advised to attempt wholesale substitution of phone contact with other newer channels.

Overall, although phone is still a dominant choice of channel (closely followed by email), we expect call volumes to diminish over time as new channels morph into traditional channels, as happened with email. Moreover, we contend that total volume of contact will continue to rise in a multi-channel environment, which means customer contact will remain a complex issue with which businesses must wrestle for the foreseeable future if they are to rise to the challenges presented by the ‘Now Culture.”

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