A good friend of mine shared this story with me recently. It has major relevance to the big data trend that we’ve been covering and in particular the concept that we’re moving from e-Business to a world of “me-Business.” Here’s my friend’s story, written in the first person as he relayed it to me. After the story I’ll talk about what this means to companies that are trying to improve customer care.
Please Listen Carefully As Our Menu Options Have Changed…
Last week I called Citibank to update my mortgage. My issue; I pay my mortgage every two weeks through an automatic withdrawal and I needed to change the bank from where the money was drawn. Simple right? Not!
First, I looked on line. Each time I went to the web site and logged into my account to verify all my mortgage details, I received a message that the “mortgage area” was down and to try back later. I tried a number of different times over the course of a week when I realized I wouldn’t be able to succeed on the web site.
I then called Citibank’s Mortgage group. I was directed to an offshore call center and I kid you not when I say this experience was just like out of a movie. Everyone I spoke with had a thick accent and an all-American name. I was unable to even get to my question with the first person so I asked to speak to a manager. He said he would put me on hold for 1 minute and “be right back.” I was on hold for 10 minutes with no one coming back to the phone so I decided to hang up and call back. On my next call the agent told me that her department didn’t handle my specific request and I would need to be transferred to another group. After being transferred and my call getting lost in IVR hell, I hung up and called back again. After speaking with someone who repeated EVERYTHING I said, I was finally able to get my issue resolved – 40 minutes later. Newsflash – I am now in the process of refinancing my house and I will NOT be using Citibank.
I’m sure my friend is not alone as we all have similar stories.
Customer Satisfaction = Maybe; Customer Loyalty = Hopeless
I don’t envy most companies these days. The rapid growth of the Internet has provided customers multiple channels to interact with their service providers or express discontent to the world. Whether it’s joining a supplier’s group in Facebook and “liking” certain features they provide for customers, to tweeting customer support issues or utilizing the company’s web site, it’s difficult to ensure a consistent customer experience and accurately track customer satisfaction; and the root causes of dissatisfaction.
Compound these challenges with a company’s need to be cost efficient. This means automated phone systems (when was the last time a human answered the phone), off-shoring customer support, and more sophisticated web interfaces that “allow the customer more options” (all while hiding the 1-800 number for customer service).
The Internet has also changed the customer expectation. There are different channels of communication that customers prefer. For example, there are customers who prefer to never talk to a human, will do 95% of what they need to do on line and it really doesn’t matter how long it takes, they are the type that will figure it out– from updating their banking, to Tweeting about their experience and so forth. And if the experience is really bad, they may blog about it or put a video up on YouTube; and it might even go viral.
Second, there is a group of folks that will perform 50% of what they need on line (the easy stuff) and the other 50% they would just rather talk to a human and have a clear, fast solution to their issue (the hard stuff) and the key being fast. They probably won’t tweet about it or describe the experience on their Facebook page, but they will tell their friends and colleagues about the experience if it’s terrible, generating bad publicity via “word of mouth.” You can also rest assured that unless the experience is totally exceptional, they wont mention a good experience.
Finally there is the group that will ALWAYS want to talk to a person. They don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, have never blogged and don’t believe they will ever find the answers they need on a website or may not even own a computer. Their whole day will be consumed with this one task. Calling their bank, getting the information they need and then telling all of their friends about the experience (good or bad) for the rest of the day.
The problem is that across the board, these channels are falling short at the vast majority of companies today. Established brands in telecommunications, retail, banking, transportation, hospitality, etc – and the U.S. government – are failing to make the customer care grade. In fact, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, as the economy rebounds, consumer spending is up but customer satisfaction is trending downward (see chart).
Are you Internally or Externally Directed?
Most customer care organizations are inwardly directed; trying to force customers into a rigid structure of service processes to drive operational efficiencies. The objective is to typically avoid human interaction wherever possible as an average billing call (that hits an agent) will cost a company between $5-$6 and a technical call between $10-$13.
Ironically, most senior customer care professionals will tell you their number one objective is retention. So why don’t more companies take a customer view of service and try to understand how their consumers prefer to interact and what the experiences are like? My premise is this is because most organizations don’t have the information necessary to identify problems and take remedial action with confidence.
The first challenge is to measure a customer’s experience when dealing with your company; you need to establish a customer interaction index or some type of baseline from which you can track improvements. I’m not just talking about customer satisfaction surveys, I’m talking about identifying, quantifying and analyzing the touchpoints your customers choose to communicate with you and solve problems. If you truly care about your company’s ability to be successful in the years to come, you will do this. When economies get tight, customers flock to places they feel safe and where it is easy and friendly to do business. And when economies rebound, customers will loosen the purse strings with those companies they love doing business with.
To do this first you need to start with an inventory of all the ways customers interact with your business. Identify and rank how each of these has an impact on your business. Also identify how each of these interacts with each other, do they complement other parts of a customer’s experience or hinder them. Obvious channels to track include:
- Smart devices
- Social media sites
- Other Points of Presence
Identify who manages these touch points. Are they managed by a common end point? Are there dependencies and ways these touch points can complement one another; and what could be done to create a consistently outstanding customer experience?
Change the Way you Interact with Customers
At the end of the day, improving the customer experience is really about understanding how customers interact with you, where they’ve been, where they’re likely to go and what their experience will be. Then the trick is to analyze the data, act on it and make continuous improvements.
There are three phases on the customer experience continuum, including:
- Baseline Phase – i.e. understanding the various channels and touchpoints, capturing data about customer experiences at each point, quantifying how each channel is working and how they interact with each other. The goal here is to understand how channels are working and taking remedial action on underperforming touchpoints.
- Predictive Phase - This phase can range from historical trendline analysis to sophisticated predictive analytics. The goal is to observe past patterns and anticipate how customers will interact, how all the connection points fit and where the system can be optimized by anticipating behaviors.
- Continuous Improvement Phase – The goal of this phase is to transform your organization into a best-in-class customer service provider with clear goals, benchmarks and processes for ongoing improvements.
Mid-term, the objective is to have a system in place that completely changes the mindset of customer care from one of “which channel do we want our customers using” to “how is does a particular customer set prefer to interact with our company, what’s their experience and how can we make it world class?” For example, enabling questions to be answered such as:
Where do new customers go and what’s their experience?
- How do customers that spend more than $X interact with us?
- Which channels do customers of a particular product line use and what’s the experience like?
- How can we best optimize the experience for the customer?
Longer term, your goal should be to have a complete 360 degree view of the customer experience so that you can optimize interactions. For example, today, 15% of calls to large telcos are re-routed; an embarrassing metric considering the inconveniences a customer endures to get routed. IVR systems should be capable of influencing the routing so that the most efficient path is achieved for the customer.
In addition, the agent’s desktop must be transformed with the objective of empowering agents through information – for example, allowing the agent to see which channels the customer has used in the past and what the experience was like. Today’s agent has a very limited set of information on each customer which hinders this individual’s ability to solve customer problems at the point of customer interaction – in real time.
The Big Data Angle
Increasingly, improving customer experiences will rely on a company’s ability to analyze massive amounts of information very quickly and predict consumer behavior patterns with high degrees of accuracy. Often these conclusions will be inferred from many bits of imperfect information from behind corporate firewalls, in social networks and across the broader Web in ever-growing databases.
Many questions remain around privacy and security however increasingly brands will provide incentives for consumers to share more data in return for better experiences, increased status and good old-fashioned spiffs.
The key for organizations is to modernize their views of the customer experience and begin to monetize improvements in customer service, not only through increased transactions and transaction value, but also by moving beyond customer satisfaction into the realm of customer loyalty. Successful companies will understand how major customer segments want to interact and optimize their systems based on those preferences.
When thinking about this topic it’s worth keeping in mind the motto of insurer Esurance …
people when you want them technology when you don’t.