Customer intimacy: why experience counts, but size doesn’t matter

Everybody these days is talking about customer-centricity. In the so-called ‘age of the customer’, buzzwords like customer intimacy, customer experience and customer optimisation are thrown around like confetti to describe what traditionalists still regard as ‘good old customer service’. But, in a modern, multi-channel marketplace, customer engagement goes beyond mere semantics; it’s at the heart of every growth strategy. So, to update an old cliché, customer experience is King. Perhaps the most frequent customer experiences have historically occurred during direct interaction with customer service teams via traditional call centres. But you don’t need to have a call centre to deliver superlative customer experience; all you need is customers – and a route for them to gain contact with you. Good or bad, customer experience can have a major impact on brand loyalty. Fortunately, the technology to support customer-centricity is not only well-established, it’s both affordable and beneficial. Moreover, it’s relevant to all businesses, large and small.

A memorable experience
Customer experience goes way beyond customer service; it begins the moment a customer first encounters your brand, and it pervades every single interaction before, during and after purchase. In a competitive environment where brand loyalty is a rare and precious commodity, customer experience is everything: a recent Customer Experience report cited that 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service.

Bad customer experience can take many forms. Among the most common are:

– Taking too long to answer calls

– Variability in service representatives

– Being placed on hold, or transferred from agent to agent without resolution

– Poorly informed customer service representatives

– Delays in response, or no response at all

– Failing to provide interaction over customers’ preferred communication channels

– Poor continuity in case handling

– Failure to personalise communications

Many of these are familiar, but with data suggesting that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience, it’s clear that poor service is not only memorable, but customers have famously long memories.

The business implications are significant; a poor experience can negatively impact customer retention, damage brand reputation and result in lost sales. Moreover, sub-optimal customer experience operations can lead to inefficient resourcing, poor productivity and increased costs. This can result in missed calls, missed opportunities and, inevitably, lost revenues.

2013 data suggests that only around a quarter of companies have a well-developed strategy in place for improving customer experience. Although a growing number of businesses now regard customer experience as a key strategic differentiator – and are investing in infrastructure to optimise customer engagement –many still regard communications systems that support customer experience as the preserve of big corporate. Contact centres that dynamically manage customer experience across every channel and every interaction are, they say, just for the big boys. It’s a popular misconception – but it’s time to bust the myth; size doesn’t matter. When it comes to customer intimacy, experience counts, but size is irrelevant.

So here’s a ridiculous question: is your business too small to care about your customers’ experiences? No, thought not. So having established the absurdity of the suggestion, how can companies improve customer experience and drive brand loyalty? One answer is to deploy smart technologies that reflect evolving consumer communication preferences, and provide greater accountability for business managers.

Multi-channel approach
The customer is always right, right? So why do many businesses rely on outdated methodologies to interact with their clients? It’s time to communicate on your customers’ terms. The call centre is a dying breed; today’s consumers want to engage with businesses through channels other than the telephone. SMS, email, virtual agents, instant messaging, web chats, video and even social media are now all common touchpoints in the customer experience. As a result, proactive companies are increasingly developing multi-channel Contact Centres to establish a single, centralised contact point that integrates all channels, to connect the customer to the right representative at the right time, using the right channel.

Multi-channel contact centres bring significant benefits to enhance the customer experience and drive operational efficiency. The most effective are interoperable with organisations’ CRM systems, providing real-time access to contextual information to enhance customer interaction. Such functionality can assist call identification and prioritisation, accelerating response for key customers. Contact centre technologies also helps companies manage resources more effectively; monitoring and reporting functionalities provide actionable insight into individual agents, response rates and performance against SOPs, while call recording can assist the training of new or under-performing employees.

Similarly, smart metrics can be used to identify peak call times which, in turn, can help managers align resource levels with anticipated call activity. They can also inform alternative strategies – such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) – to reduce pressure on resources whilst maintaining a good customer experience. IVR can be used to automate simple information, freeing up agents to handle complex customer queries.

Critically, effective Contact Centre systems allow customers to interact over the channel of their choice – and seamlessly route calls to appropriate representatives for a timely, personalised response.

Multi-channel Contact Centre systems are changing the face of business communications, and enabling organisations to deliver optimal customer experience in an efficient, cost-effective fashion. These systems are affordable and accessible to all companies, irrespective of their turnover or number of employees. Moreover, by integrating business processes, back office systems and multiple channels, companies can deliver personalised customer experiences that build loyalty and drive profitability.

To progress, companies should consider working with a technology partner that can tailor a contact centre system that meets identifiable challenges and individual business needs. Since every business is different, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But conversely, with customer experience being a cross-sector priority, the multi-channel contact centre is one solution that fits all sizes – big and small. After all, when it comes to customer intimacy, size really doesn’t matter.