Companies have worked tirelessly to grow their digital customer base by investing heavily in digital marketing strategies and digital commerce innovations. Now that they’ve won over digitally savvy customers by dazzling them with new offers and experiences, many organizations are struggling to retain them. The problem is customer service. More than half of U.S. consumers switched providers last year due to poor service, costing organizations $1.6 trillion. Unless organizations rebalance efforts to prioritize service, many will see their investments wasted as customers switch to the competition.
Companies have traditionally invested more in digital sales and marketing solutions than they have in the delivery of top-notch customer service. Relegating service to a secondary priority has cost them greatly. Accenture (News - Alert) Strategy’s research reveals that poor service is a leading cause of customer defection. Intensely digital customers are also intensely impatient. If they don’t get the service they want, when they want it, they will go elsewhere. To keep this fickle and fast-moving group engaged, companies simply cannot give them a reason to leave.
Customer Service Pitfalls
A superior service across all channels is critical to boosting customer retention. According to research, 73 percent of U.S. consumers expect customer service to be easier and more convenient, and 61 percent want it to be faster. Another 40 percent say they would like their providers to offer more digital service options.
While many companies prioritize digital service channels, many forget that human interaction remains a vital component of customer satisfaction, even in the digital age. The majority (95 percent) of consumers expect the same or higher levels of service when interacting with non-digital channels. Interestingly, 83 percent prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues and get advice (77 percent). Furthermore, almost half (45 percent) say they are even willing to pay a higher price for goods and services if it ensures a better level of service.
The Rise of Chatbots and Contact Buttons
Currently, many consumers find it too difficult to get the right level of help and service that they need from companies. Contact information is not always as transparent and easy to find as it should be, and waiting for a response can take ages. Over the past few years, consumers have resorted to complaining on social media about poor service, with 44 percent admitting to regularly doing so to vent.
To satisfy the customer appetite for more immediate help and support, organizations are exploring the use of chatbots to digitize some of their most critical customer services channels. The aim is to provide faster ways for customers to connect with brands and obtain the service they require. Powered by artificial intelligence, a chatbot is a computer program designed to mimic human conversations. It has the potential to completely change the dynamics around how consumers interact with brands.
While the technology is still in its early days, its application is limitless – but evolution is key. Brands are using it as a channel to deliver customer support, enable purchases, and deliver a more personalized and tailored service.
Likewise, social platforms are experimenting with new features to connect consumers directly with brands. Instagram, for instance, recently launched a contact button to do exactly that. It’s another step to simplify customer service, eliminating the possibility of customers spending long amounts of time placed on hold or waiting for a response, or pushing them to the point of frustration. Retail brands such as Anthropologie and Sephora have already implemented Instagram’s new contact button into their bios, highlighting the potency of using social media as a customer service platform.
Don’t Neglect Traditional Service Channels
As beneficial as digital interactions can be, they do currently have their limitations. The recent launch (and subsequent retraction) of Tay, a chatbot that Microsoft (News - Alert) designed to mimic natural human engagement, demonstrates just how difficult it is to create a satisfying human-to-human experience with technology alone, at this point in its evolution. AI apps may be able to win chess games, but they rarely deliver the personalized experiences that win customer loyalty.
Shifting attention to service – particularly non-digital service – is also important for organizations looking to retain their digital customers. It’s critical because digital customers revert to physical channels when they aren't satisfied with the digital experience. And they do so much faster than anyone expected.
Delivering Superior Service Experiences
Companies can develop a holistic service strategy that keeps all customers satisfied and engaged by doing the following.
- Mapping the territory: Companies need to know their customers’ online and offline preferences and behaviors, as well as those moments of truth that can make or break the relationship. Advanced analytics are critical. These solutions can reveal meaningful and actionable insights into the types of human and digital guidance, advice, support, and services that customers want – and the types they don’t.
- Investing in service firepower: Companies need to invest in digital and physical service capabilities, and do so in an integrated way. They should prioritize and eliminate the service experiences that cause the greatest frustration. They should also ensure that all communication is innately human, and not robotic.
- Forming alliances to create an unbeatable service army: Companies should look to establish an ecosystem comprised of other companies or service champions that can help meet digital service demands. Collaborating with ecosystem partners can produce a more powerful and holistic service experience than any partner could deliver independently.
- Preparing the troops: Companies need to adjust their talent strategies to support an integrated, multi-channel service experience. The goal is to align human resources to areas of greatest potential impact.
- Knowing what victory means: Companies need to understand when they have accomplished their service mission. They need to measure what matters, and constantly refine it to ensure it is meeting the mark.
Kevin Quiring is managing director of advanced customer strategy at Accenture Strategy.
Edited by Alicia Young