Spring has sprung in the Northern Hemisphere. Once again, the March Equinox signaled the official start of another season of growth filled with blooming flowers and looming showers as daylight retakes the upper hand. A symbol of new beginnings, spring is also the perfect time to reflect on the past year, reaffirm commitments to growth, and make any needed changes for the future. And just as the turn of the seasons spurs change in the world around us, so too should rising consumer expectations. Businesses that cling to obsolete and undifferentiated solutions will quickly find themselves eclipsed by ones that adapt to the evolving needs of their customers.
With the rise of mobile and real-time customer care technology, consumers expect services that are personal, straightforward, and flexible. They want to be able to use whichever channel is most convenient for them at any given time – web, chat, social media, mobile app, SMS, or phone – and to experience a consistently effortless interaction. There are four principal ways in which customer expectations are evolving:
- Customers expect companies to be aware of the totality of their interactions with the business. It’s no longer acceptable for companies to deliver disjointed information and siloed experiences.
- Customers want companies to be proactive. Proactive customer service – anticipating customers’ needs before they even articulate them, or in some cases before they even know what they need – is on the rise. In fact, our own research shows that 75% of customers want the companies they do business with to engage with them proactively.
- Customers expect instant service and timely resolution of their concerns. Immediacy is increasingly important in terms of both proactive customer outreach and the ability to address customers’ needs quickly and easily.
- Customers want to be known. A one-size-fits-all approach to customer care is no longer adequate. Customers want companies to understand their preferences (including preferred channels); remember their past interactions; and offer them a customized and nuanced experience rather than a generic one.
So how can businesses adapt to these evolving customer standards?
Well-designed self-service platforms offer consumers more intuitive, proactive, and personal interactions while lowering operational costs for the business. When deploying self-service technologies like Automatic Speech Recognition, Text-to-Speech, and Natural Language Understanding, companies should consider the following best practices:
Reduce customer effort
The appeal of self-service lies in its empowerment of the consumer and its promise of greater convenience and speed. Too often, however, information is tucked away in hard-to-find webpages or complex menu mazes. To nail the first impression, companies must reduce the amount of effort their customers expend to get the information or service they expect. And the rewards of clearing obstacles to task completion are significant: Research from Harvard Business Review indicates that 88% of customers would increase their spending with companies that offer easy and efficient self-service options.
Keep it conversational
Natural interfaces such as Conversational IVR give consumers the freedom to explain what they need in their own words – and the flexibility to provide up front as much or as little of the information required to complete their transaction as they choose. For instance, if a user says, “Pay my Visa on Monday,” a well-designed IVR or mobile application will be intelligent enough to understand what was spoken; assess what information is missing; and apply the user’s profile, preferences, and past behavior before responding: “OK, I’ll pay the last statement balance of $382.75 on Monday the 12th from your Everyday Checking. Should I go ahead?” If the same caller then changes his mind and says, “Actually, make that $500,” the application should ideally be contextually savvy enough to interpret the request appropriately and proceed to reconfirm the pending transaction with an updated transfer amount.
Personalize every experience
Have you ever walked into your neighborhood coffee shop and ordered “the usual”? In almost an instant, the barista calls your name and hands you a perfectly caffeinated beverage to start your day – heaven! Well, it turns out that consumers appreciate the same level of knowledge and personalization from automated customer care solutions – so as you build up your customers’ profiles, be sure to add tailored messaging, timely reminders, and relevant offers to your interactions so your customers feel that you are talking directly to them and not to any of a thousand other people. Consumers value personalization so much, in fact, that they will happily give more of their personal information if they believe it will enhance their experience.
Anticipate customers’ needs
Seek out opportunities to shift the burden of action away from your customers by seizing the initiative and making smart predictions that demonstrate your understanding of their needs. For example, consider a customer who recently ordered an item that was supposed to be delivered by 4 pm; it’s now 4:30 pm, however, and according to your records, the package is still in transit. Instead of waiting for the inbound contact – by which point the customer will already be frustrated – proactively send her an email or text (depending on her contact preference) with the new estimated time of arrival. Businesses must stay one step ahead of their customers and anticipate their needs and likely actions – particularly when something doesn’t go according to plan.
Be consistent across service channels
On any given day, today’s consumers routinely monitor a spectrum of self-service channels. And since context and convenience are often the determining factors in the selection of channel, many callers will take advantage of more than one to accomplish their task. Businesses need to offer a coherent, intuitive, and seamless experience across the self-service continuum, irrespective of the caller’s choice of channel at any given moment. Missing channels and outdated solutions increase the risk of customer churn. But while more than 50% of American consumers have canceled a service or severed relations entirely with a company after a poor customer service experience, the good news for businesses is that 80% of consumers have taken positive action towards a company after a good one.
In the springtime, the Earth repositions itself towards the Sun and reaps the benefits of the resulting increase in energy in the form of longer days, warmer temperatures, and a flurry of growth activity. Businesses that take their cue from Mother Nature and realign themselves to better meet the evolving needs of their customers are likely to be rewarded with increased customer traffic and loyalty. The more an organization invests in connected, personalized, and effortless self-service, the more likely its customers are to sing its praises. And in today’s era of instant information, word of mouth can get your company far.