Five Ways to Meet Customer Expectations in the Digital Age

We all know by now—at this point in the Digital Age—that customers are strongly influencing how businesses operate. Events have transpired to flip the traditional sales model on its ear.

Whereas companies used to hold at least some of the cards—developing “solutions” for customers who didn’t know how to solve their own problems—now consumers are armed with data to define solutions for themselves.

The new reality is that consumers today are self-reliant, mobile and demanding. They can quickly do their own research on-the-go via the Internet, but then they expect prompt delivery of the products and services they desire. Along the way, when they bump up against your brand, they expect a personal and stylized interaction.

Fail to understand and/or adapt to the new rules of customer engagement at your own peril. Your key targets are texting, tweeting, browsing and chatting, often using self-service channels, peer-based communities and social networks to find service. A poor response from you and they’ll simply go elsewhere.

To make sure you know how to deliver great service and build strong relationships, take a look at the following five consumer expectations for contact centers, based on an Aspect report:

  • Understand preferences and personalize interactions: Sixty-eight percent of consumers say they’re annoyed when they have to repeat themselves. This means you must maintain the context of every interaction with customers, including between channels. Use this information to dynamically adapt a self-service menu or provide an agent with a customer history. Leverage it further to proactively deliver a service before a customer asks for it.
  • Offer mobile channels: Customers want to interact with brands any way they prefer—from SMS to voice to chat to social—on their mobile devices. Deploy mobile apps that create a seamless transition when customers call into an IVR or connect with an agent.
  • Enable self-service: Provide an omnichannel self-service offering. It’ll lower your costs while aligning your contact center with customer preferences. Another benefit is that this option elevates your agents to experts on complex issues, since most people contact companies only after exhausting other potential resources.
  • Don’t be a time drain: Yes, consumers want fast and easy access to information; after all, they’re only human! Some 66 percent of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to win their favor. As many as 45 percent of U.S. adults will abandon their online purchases if they don’t receive a quick answer to a question. Consider that lowering customer effort can be as simple as being where they are. For instance, embed an instant chat button on your website or streamline self-service menus based on frequent behaviors or a recent transaction.
  • Educate: Well-informed customers are more likely to become loyal brand advocates—veritable extensions of your customer support team. Plus, by offering relevant information, you help your customers discover new and improved ways to use your products or services.

Of course, to meet these expectations, you’ll need to access modern technologies and tools. For example, a workforce optimization solution can be the cornerstone of agent performance and productivity, leading to better customer experiences. In addition, plan to optimize your CRM system using experience continuity data to intelligently route inquiries. You can also deploy cloud, hosted or hybrid solutions to gain flexibility and enable rapid adoption of new features that will keep you competitive.

Keep Pace With E-Commerce Trends in the New Year

Your online business must be responsive—not only to visitors but to trends which, if ignored, may trip you up eventually. With the quick pace of modern societal and technological advances, organizations need to keep a finger on the pulse of their industries and develop the agility to react to pressures at the drop of a dime.

The outlook for 2017 includes several e-commerce trends that are primed to turn into major industry drivers. Find them listed here, along with steps you can take to stay ahead of the curve:

Dynamic real-time shopping: The online shopping experience is becoming personalized to each customer. Improvements in collecting, organizing and analyzing data mean that customers will no longer be asked to respond to product recommendations that seem to come out of left field. Instead, recommendations will be based on their unique preferences, geographic location, demographic group, past purchases, market trends and brand interactions—automatically. E-commerce businesses should tap into the technology of leading e-commerce platforms to enable this capability.

Cyber November: Online retailers have started to offer customers discounts in advance of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday rushes—to offset unruly crowds in stores and to get a jump on holiday spending. In 2015, major retailers Target and Walmart announced in-store deals leading up to Black Friday, and mega online retailer Amazon took the cue, offering deals throughout the month of November. To gain a piece of the pie, focus on mobile spending, which is slated to account for 60 percent of online sales by year-end; offer stellar shopping experiences on smartphones and tablets.

Chatbots: These are fully automated “chat” agents that can act as a first point of contact for brands. Chatbots increase the number of platforms on which brands can offer transactions through guided, interactive browsing. In 2015, tech giants released the enabling application programming interfaces (APIs) that made it cost-effective for bot developers to create their own, using their own servers. Experts predict that the artificial intelligence that fuels chatbots will improve with time, making conversations more natural, with better response rates. Explore this technology now to reduce customer effort and lower support costs.

Checkout: Expect traditional wallets to be replaced by “mobile” payments, and set your site up to accept these new payment methods. Same-day delivery is also becoming a competitive differentiator, as is operating in smaller spaces that can serve as showrooms, fitting rooms, and pick-up/drop-off points.

In this era where power has shifted away from companies and toward digitally connected, technology-empowered customers, retailers need to fully embrace digital commerce to thrive. With a few clicks of a mouse, customers can easily switch companies to find a better online experience. In this environment, being customer-obsessed must be your competitive strategy.

Sometimes it’s Okay To Go Unscripted

According to ICMI Research, 45 percent of consumers will switch to voice for online transactions if their needs aren’t being met or if their questions or concerns are not addressed immediately by an automated system.

Therefore, it’s important that contact center agents be prepared to handle calls swiftly and often spontaneously. This means agents must sometimes forego their scripts to ensure a customer doesn’t feel like he or she is simply being given the run around.

A few strategies to improve unscripted calls include:

  • Provide customer care uniformity by ensuring agents have the flexibility and tools to improvise when needed.
  • Be natural. Customers don’t want to speak to robots and can easily detect when a call is becoming a simulation of an automated call, rather than a physically present and human response.
  • Respond to a customer’s concerns with the utmost respect. If customers are upset, empathize to show that you’re not only there to listen, but also to help.
  • Concentrate on finding solutions or options that can satisfy or resolve your customers’ concerns.

Remember: Your contact center services ROI depends heavily on the ability of your agents to make a human connection with customers. So your agents should always put themselves in the shoes of your customers.  What may seem trivial to you may matter immensely to him or her. Consumers have distinct expectations and life experiences, so don’t assume their issues are unimportant. Though the use of scripts allows most agents to stay on track, use your better judgment to determine when you need to reach out to your customer compassionately.

Business Intelligence services that allow you to understand your customer base and personalize their experience, include list development and data analytics, such as predictive models, customer data profiles, segmentation strategies and demographic scripting, which are all invaluable to improve your results and heighten your contact services ROI.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry, including the ATA’s highest honor, the prestigious Fulcrum Award.

Exploring the Multichannel Marketing Ecosystem

As of late, the preferred method of customer service isn’t necessarily through the telephone. Consider the consumer habits of millennials—a generation highly reliant on Internet and mobile-based communications. In fact, a survey from the customer service tech analysis company Software Advice revealed that 56 percent of respondents aged 18-34 prefer communicating via live chat rather than phone.

These generational insights mean businesses should explore the benefits of multichannel marketing services. Nevertheless, opening up business across multiple channels does not mean immediate bolstered profit. It takes time and nurturing to provide best-in-class customer service over several platforms.

A recent report from Forrester suggests that today’s consumer takes “many paths as they solve problems, activating business capabilities in unpredictable ways.” As such, it is important that when activating these different paths, businesses are able to harmoniously maintain the volume of new inquires generated from additional channels along with those that are already set in place.

In order to provide effective multichannel customer service you must ask the same questions as you would in telecom services. Is this service reliable? Are consumers engaged? Will the chosen channel reap the expected ROI for my business?

You can guarantee the answers to the above three questions are ‘yes’ by ensuring your multichannel marketing solutions includes these three important components:

Integration: The integration of a new customer service channel should be seamless if it’s going to be effective. Solutions such as rapid response routing allow for such flawless implementation. When a customer’s information is entered through an online service, an automated phone call is prompted. While the customer is entering information a representative is already working to further handle the specific details of the process, order or move. As a result, two customer service channels are married in order to produce an even stronger customer support system.

Personalization: Consumers seek immediate engagement with Communicators as soon as the phone is picked up. In other words, the last thing they want is to be put on hold. In the same sense, when a customer sends an email a response is anticipated; it won’t benefit your brand to provide an email address with poor responsiveness.  Build your brand loyalty while assuring customers that an email service, for example, really works by providing real results. Aggregate the customer’s specific information and include this in your emails. Make your customers aware of your business’s attentiveness through personalized response.

Time Sensitivity: What truly gives a company a competitive advantage in the customer service industry is timeliness.  It’s a real brand differentiator when a company not only follows up, but follows through in a timely manner. If your brand is going to offer a live chat or email solution, make sure you have the workforce to support these channels. If a customer sends a message to a live chat service only to be left hanging, the likelihood of that customer’s return is slim to none. Combat poor customer retention by offering up speedy responses.

Multichannel marketing services are a great idea for any business’s customer service support. Options in addition to the telephone make way for increased customer engagement. Just remember: extra channels require extra attention in order to succeed.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA and PACE, formerly known as the ATA. He also donates his time to serve on several University boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry, including the ATA’s highest honor, the prestigious Fulcrum Award.