Like any relationship, the customer-company relationship is the sum total of all the interactions. These days, those interactions take place across a variety of channels, and a new report from Lithium and Forrester looks at how customer service, a key location for customer interaction, must be in sync with overall customer experience efforts and throughout all social channels.
The report, “The Emerging Role of Social Customer Experience in Customer Care,” was commissioned by social customer experience provider Lithium Technologies and conducted by Forrester Consulting, with focus on 50 North American enterprises that service customers through social media. It points out that, in this highly competitive environment, there’s “a new focus on customer experience as a brand differentiator.” In fact, 75% of the respondents surveyed try to use customer experience to distinguish themselves from other companies.
Not Much Patience
And it can matter, since positive experiences yield satisfied customers, and satisfied customers become loyal customers -- translating into cross-sells, up-sells, a “reluctance to switch away from the brand” and recommendations to others. Poor customer experience leads not only to loss of customers and loss of brand loyalty, but, thanks to social media and other channels, a general erosion in brand reputation can also occur.
The reality is, according to Forrester, only 39% of companies get an “excellent” or “good” customer experience index rating, which measures ease, usefulness and enjoyment of doing business. The majority are judged as being “OK” or “very poor” in their delivery of customer experience.
Customers do not have much patience these days, if they ever did. Fifty-two percent will drop their in-progress purchase if they can’t get an answer, and 71% said “valuing their time” is the most important factor in good customer service.
Choice of Channels
Customers also want a choice of channels for interaction. Phone remains the most popular, with 73% usage, but FAQs on a website, email and IM/online chat have been used by about half of online adults in the last six months.
Companies are moving to align their customer service organizations, traditionally treated as strategically separate cost centers, with their overall customer experience strategy. The report notes that 84 percent of respondents say their customer service strategy is now “very well aligned” with overall customer experience strategy, plus another 14% are in the process of doing so.
But that’s easier said than done, especially for social channels. Forrester points out that social channels, which are still emerging as vehicles for customer expression and as contact points for companies, have lower satisfaction rates than more established voice and digital avenues. To help bring those channels up, the report advises integrating them into consistent experiences across channels, in ways that present a unified experience to customers.
One suggested technique is to offer the ability for customers to obtain comprehensive product data and their own customer information through social channels, and the ability to escalate a query if that data is not sufficient. A customer might start a query on a forum, for instance, and, if the question is not properly answered in a given length of time, it gets escalated to an agent. Other recommendations include dedicating customer service agents to specific channels.
Unfortunately, this report largely rehashes what have become common positions. It reinforces accepted tenets of modern customer care -- positive customer experiences are essential, customer service has to sync with customer experience strategy, and social channels must be included. These have become givens in modern customer care, but the report doesn't much data or insight.
For instance, it posits the throwaway observation that social channels have lower satisfaction rates, but then takes that nowhere. What is the data supporting this? If lower satisfaction rates, why should companies bother with those channels? Is it because of the inherent limitations of, say, a Facebook page or a tweet? This 8-page report doesn't say.