When it comes to the communications aspect of your customer service strategy, one thing is clear: a cookie-cutter approach will not work. Retailers may have shifted direct customer communications to web forms and live chats, but one recent survey proves you still need to consider phone conversations in your customer service strategy.
“The problem is, it’s a very mixed picture out there when it comes to technology and customer engagement,” states Steven Robertson, sales and marketing director at British customer contact software specialist VoiceSage.
Indeed, a recent annual report on the state of the new economy by tech guru Mary Meeker found that Internet/web chat and social media are the preferred mediums of communication for millennials (those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) at 24 percent, versus 2 percent for those born before 1944. But that same data shows that the phone is still a top choice for Generation X (those born between 1961 and 1980) at 29 percent, and number one for baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964).
VoiceSage closely follows the communication habits of different UK age cohorts. “What we have found is that one size does not fit all. Some people like to talk on the phone, some prefer SMS and some like to be contacted at certain times and not others,” Robertson says. “So the message is that you need to work with me and my schedule—don’t expect me to take a sales call before I get to the office, or market research me for 30 minutes while my favorite baking program is on.”
Retailers should understand that their customers may have different communication needs at different times of the day. For example, Miranda may engage in live chat or send a SMS to an organization to answer her query on her morning commute, but at lunchtime she wants to speak to a customer service representative on the phone to resolve a complaint.
Many consumers choose a mix of channels to interact with organizations and expect the experience to be integrated and seamless, agrees the UK-based Institute of Customer Service, which measures customer satisfaction in a monthly report.
“Organizations therefore need to map customers’ journeys across and between all channels and touch points, identify potential gaps and use appropriate measures to evaluate the customer’s experience,” it says. The Institute’s July Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) also reinforces the need for phone conversations as part of the service and marketing mix.
It found that the top 50 organizations are differentiated by high performance in complaint handling, helpfulness, and competence of employees, especially over the phone. Increases in customer satisfaction were also most noticeable for organizations’ speed of response to written (letter or email) communications, for ease of getting through (over the phone), online experiences, and the way complaints were handled.
Retailers must also consider that customers are seeking relationships with organizations based on both their transactional and relationship needs, the UKCSI found. On the one hand, customers want fast, efficient, and straightforward service for regular and routine transactions. But they are also looking for personalized, empathetic, and proactive help and advice. Organizations will therefore need to consider how they fulfill and move between customers’ transactional and relationship needs, the Institute says.
The customer engagement specialist, Rant & Rave, also UK-based, agrees. Understanding the emotional drivers behind customers’ communication behaviors is the critical differentiator to delivering a competitive advantage, according to sector manager Kevin Shirley.
And for Robertson at VoiceSage, another takeaway has to be that people like choice, as 80 percent of landline users still like to make regular calls that way rather than use their mobile phone.
“Embrace that complexity and offer choice as part of your omnichannel marketing strategy, as relying on just one channel will always mean you deny yourself the chance of picking up response across the others,” he says.