By Martin Ellingham, Director, product management compliance at Aptean Respond,
Examines how businesses can manage a generation of increasingly transient and intolerant customers.
It’s never been easier or quicker to switch suppliers and service providers, with digital innovation and digital disruptors providing customers with the opportunity to make a change in super-quick time. Such is the freedom of choice and the ease of changing, that more and more customers are bypassing the complaints stage, choosing instead to vote with their feet (or more likely in 2019, their mouse). For the providers and suppliers this is obviously proving to be a testing time, with businesses searching for ways to better manage this current generation of increasingly transient and intolerant customers.
Before business leaders can hope to address this, it’s vital to try and understand what’s led to this shift in customer behaviour on such a large scale. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of factors at play. Generally, people are more frayed than ever before, with socio-economic and political pressures taking their toll, adversely affecting patience levels if and when things do go wrong. Also, expectations have changed, with an instant response or next day service now deemed standard, no matter how complex the issue. And, perhaps most worrying for businesses, the entire concept of brand loyalty seems to have fallen by the wayside. While customers still seem to have a certain affinity to particular products and services, brand loyalty, where people have an emotional attachment to a particular brand, certainly seems to be a very rare phenomenon in this our digital era.
This is actually where the crux of the issue lies. We’re now living and working in a truly digital age. Analogue is no more and the majority of interactions customers have with their service providers are digital, creating a disconnect between brands and their customers. Brands don’t have a human face any more, with the continued dehumanisation of brands only serving to remove any remaining traces of customer loyalty.
There is one exception to this move away from human interactions and that is when something goes wrong. As a rule, the only time you speak to a human is if something has gone wrong, and the human that you speak to has the power to make the situation much better or even much worse, something that businesses are trying their best to ensure is always the former and never the latter.
Ultimately, even in our digital world, what customers are looking for when they have a problem remain the same. They want a sympathetic ear; they want to know they’re being taken care of; they want to know you won’t stop until their issue is resolved; they want to know it’s not likely to happen again in the future, and they want this all done in a reasonable timeframe.
While there is no budget for a white glove service for every customer, the very fact that we’re operating in a digital world undoubtedly helps to provide certain aspects of what customers want and need. Digital systems can furnish call handlers and other front-line operatives with customer data, transactional information and customer history, helping to take care of the speed to resolution aspect. However, this digital ‘efficiency’ can leave people a little cold and a computer’s inability to not only factor in but decipher new contextual variables that are part and parcel of the human psyche, mean that even the most advanced of digital solutions can still leave customers wanting when it comes to optimum levels of service.
While computers are very good if told exactly what to do, their inability to capture the nuances of human behaviour and emotions mean we’re still a long way off from going totally digital for customer interactions. Humans are too complex and fickle to shoehorn into a one-size-fits-all solution, making it necessary to maintain that sprinkling of human interaction alongside even the most intelligent of digital solutions. Which brings us back to the fallibility of humans and their ability to exacerbate an already negative situation.
A winning combination
What’s needed is increased automation to remove the laborious, time-consuming activities, with the addition of the human touch to thaw the seemingly cold-nature of digital intervention, underpinned by timely, contextual information to signpost the best route to resolution for the customer. While many businesses are working towards achieving this, no one is there yet, with work ongoing as to how best to amalgamate the digital with the human to achieve optimum outcomes for both the customer and the provider.
Businesses need to focus on capturing the information needed to help automate the human touch. So, what are the signs given off by customers that in hindsight have signalled their ultimate intention to leave in the future? Perhaps a reduction in deposits, a decrease in transactions, switching products or increased interactions with a help desk? As with all things in our digital world, it’s all about how best to use the abundance of data we all now have at our disposal to inform strategy, using the benefits of digital solutions to underpin efficient, effective and empathic human interactions at every possible opportunity.
It’s no longer enough to establish just whether a customer prefers email or telephone contact, or what time of day is best to make contact. Such is the lack of human interaction that the majority of customers experience, it’s vital for businesses to monitor and understand individual sentiments and behaviours, in an effort to uncover a deep understanding of the specific requirements of individual customers at every point of contact. This, in combination with machine learning capabilities and the nuanced potential of the human touch, is the only hope businesses have of seeing a return to the customer loyalty of the past, resulting in a finely-honed customer experience for that all-important competitive advantage in an increasingly volatile marketplace.