Latest blog posts from Synthetix
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‘Christmas creep’, a familiar term in the USA since the 1980s, or the ‘Golden Quarter’ as it’s known in the UK and Ireland was turned up to eleven this year. The merchandising phenomenon in which retailers introduce Christmas-themed goods and/or decorations before the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, turned the fourth floor of Selfridges in Oxford Street into a winter wonderland, 147 days before Christmas. Quartz calculations, based on current trends show that insensitive commercialism will overcome seasonal sense, and around 2120 the Christmas shopping season will be normal in July. Joy to the world!
Amazon eating everyone’s lunch?
But not all retailers are smiling, with the numbers looking bleak for high street vendors this holiday season. According to the British Retail Consortium, online sales have been booming in Britain for years, with ecommerce accounting for nearly a quarter of all purchases in December. Many might think this predicts the end of the high street. Which begs the question: Are online retailers really going to eat everyone’s Christmas dinner, or can businesses respond by having a clear omni-channel strategy? Amazon clearly feels that high street brick-and-mortar is not nearing extinction with its arrival in this segment less than a year ago. As this giant refines their bricks-and-clicks strategy, competitors will have to adapt as the relentless pressure to remain profitable increases.
Granted not every business has the marketing budget of Amazon, but technology (although don’t believe everything you read), when integrated with knowledge, could be THE powerful engine that drives sales, marketing and customer experience.
Santa’s little helpers - bots, a tool for omni-channel
Bots, AI, Virtual Agents - whatever you want to call them – the world is finally catching up to automation, although it must be said that not all bots are created equal. Already revolutionising industries such as customer service and human resources, the hybrid approach of bots and humans are upping productivity and improving user experiences.
With most of us expecting instant answers and although 57% of consumers are interested in chatbots for their instantaneity ~ HubSpot, 2017 – it’s difficult to understand why only a few businesses have jumped at the opportunity to increase sales, qualify leads, or market other services using bots.
As with each new channel in the omni-channel stratosphere, hype creates unnecessary FUD. Bot technology is not meant to eliminate jobs or the human element, but rather enhance, refine and deliver a more targeted approach such as pre-qualified sales leads for a sales person to follow up. Lisa, the bot employed by a global player within property development successfully differentiates between customers and developers looking to buy a property through a serious of questions, collecting specific details and adding them to a CRM system.
Experience, not a sales pitch.
The opportunities / jobs for bots are endless. Find Me A Gift reports that us Brits spend £700 M on unwanted gifts. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a bot assisting customers to find the perfect gift, saving both a business and customer the effort of having to return, refund or exchange an unwanted gift? A bot could answer questions such as, “What’s a good gift for my mother of 65?” and then suggest gifts within certain price ranges.
It’s no surprise that companies that excel at customer experience grow revenues 4-8% above the market. Consumers want effortless experiences. Bots could be the answer, helping to eliminate some of the friction points of online ordering or enquiring through meaningful natural conversation.
Bot technology is not going away, however, understandably, with so many software providers proclaiming to be bot experts with jingle bells and all the whistles, it’s hard to know where to start. So, Synthetix (one of the pioneers of bot technology over 16 years ago) teamed up with Wiley’s trusted ‘For Dummies’ brand to provide you with a free stocking filler. Virtual Agents for Dummies cuts through the noise about bots in a concise and palatable manner.
Who knows, like the boy who saved Christmas, a bot might just help restore your Christmas customer experience to its rightful place.
Contact centres and those within the customer care industry have been discussing the advantages of integrated communication channels for decades.
Vendors within the industry use buzzwords like ‘multi-channel’ and ‘omni-channel’ in their efforts to convince brands that the right technology can revert customer experiences from meh to WOW! But the theory doesn’t always translate into reality. The journey of creating truly omni-channel customer service is not easy, but inevitable if businesses want to stay competitive.
The future lies in the ability to use technology to elevate, not eliminate, people. Before contact centres introduce new communication channels they must have a clear channel integration strategy in place to deliver enhanced and consistent customer experiences. And it’s not just customer experience that counts. Fragmented experiences will generate unnecessary repeat customer contact which create low levels of morale and motivation among agents.
Omni-channel, are we there yet?
Contact Babel reports that there are 6,200 contact centres in the UK, with 734,000 agent positions.
Dimension Data forecasts that by the end of 2017 most contact centres will support an average of nine channels. But, at the same time, today, just 36% of businesses can track a customer journey that spans across multiples channels.
Although the concept of a 360-degree customer view was introduced over a decade ago, just 20% of contact centres say their agents can see all previous contacts in a single system. But with new light shining on chatbots and AI, we are entering a new revolution, an era set on changing how we market, sell, and communicate with customers.
Rise of the robots – will robots take over our jobs?
What does Bill Gates, the South Korean government and the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Gorbyn have in common? The answer, they feel that companies that replace workers with automation, should be taxed!
From Frankenstein to Blade Runner 2049, Hollywood is hugely responsible for shaping the collective understanding of how artificial intelligence will merge with society. All the hype surrounding AI, robots, and automation this year is enough to make anyone that believe it, have nightmares of the horror movie kind. In fact, headlines are heavy with ‘experts’ predicting that robot workers will replace humans in numerous industries in the near future, with machines and artificial intelligence expected to take a third of British jobs by 2030. The frightening scenario where human thought is overwhelmed and left in the dust.
However, AI is not coming, it’s already here. Different forms of AI surround us, aiding with so many aspects in our life. From telling us how long it will take to get to work to heating our homes. And it’s hard to escape it as we carry our smartphones - super computers in our pockets – everywhere we go. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine life without it.
Industrial revolution, revelation, or reservation?
Bill Gates believes that governments should tax companies that make use of an automated workforce, to at least temporarily slow the spread of automation and to fund other types of employment.
One can’t help but feel it ironic, coming from the world’s richest man, a self-described techno-optimist who co-founded Microsoft, one of the principal players in AI technology, don’t you think?
Change requires more change. For example: The transition from horse drawn carriages to cars wasn’t smooth and it certainly didn’t happen overnight, in fact there is a lot of ambiguity on who invented the first car and when. Although cars might seem the norm today, the march of progress were neither straight nor technologically preordained. The invention of cars impacted every aspect of human society. It led to the downfall of horse drawn carriage taxis, but because there were less horses, the streets were cleaner from horse manure. It didn’t just take away jobs but created so many, as new roads had to be built, new road rules agreed, and jobs created to ensure the rules were obeyed. Fuel production, gas stations, parking, the environmental impact, the list goes on. And with driverless cars the new darling of Silicon Valley, cars today remain an unappreciated but crucial component of our modern landscape.
We live amongst a generation that has a digital footprint even before birth, who are used to living in a blurring swirl of information overload and who can change their love life with a simple swipe to the right. As humans, we’re possibly the species most adaptable to change. Why then are we threatened at the thought of the drastic advancement of AI type technologies?
Think about the job titles that didn’t exist 10 years ago. This type of labour-saving efficiency tech should open new opportunities for better service, new jobs, and more connected experiences. Why would we want to dis-incentivise innovation?
We know a lot about the world of enhancing customer experience through automation, freeing up contact centre agents to deal with more complex issues. We also understand the apprehension towards chatbots/Virtual Agents in the customer service arena. However, Virtual Agents can do so much more than just deliver answers. Virtual Agents are not only upping the personalisation stakes. The hybrid approach of blending AI with human support enables contact centre agents to focus on complex customer queries and transactions requiring an emotive connection. A Virtual Agent, when deployed correctly, with a set of specific goals, can generate leads, increase sales, and grow a business in a big way, switching on an entire additional support channel, and this is only the beginning!
Be part of the future and conquer the fear. The following resources might offer some valuable insight to understand the positive things this type of technology can do.
Whitepaper: The business case for the Virtual Agent
Free ebook: Virtual Agents/Bots for Dummies
Infographic: The curse of bad customer experience
With Halloween a mere 2 weeks away, monsters, ghouls and witch outfits line the stores. One must wonder what the Celts, who started the tradition with their festival of Samhain, would say about Halloween. Who knew that ‘scary’ could have such entertainment and monetary value.
However, with fright night so close and the breath of Christmas chasing shortly behind, will your customer service strategy deliver magical customer experiences or turn ‘nice’ customers into nasty brand hating trolls? Horrendous customer service can have even the most loyal customers turn into fire breathing dragons if they feel that they have been let down.
Mirror mirror on the wall, what should businesses do to have it all?
Businesses looking to gain the competitive advantage should make customer experience their focus point. Bain & Company reports that companies that excel at customer experience grow revenues 4 – 8% above the market.
The frightening truth is that when customers experience bad service, with multiple digital channels to choose from, it could be hard to stop the domino effect tarnishing your brand’s reputation, once it’s in motion. Deloitte research shows that 85% of customer service organisations view customer experience as a competitive differentiator. However, to improve customer experience, it’s important to understand how to gauge and measure how customer expectations translate into good or bad experiences.
Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!
Customers want answers in the channel they’re from. And will see red when it takes too long.
It seems obvious that we all want quick answers to questions, however with Statista reporting that over 81% of the UK population now own a smartphone and with the revelation that is 4G, consumers are increasingly turning to online channels to contact an organisation to resolve a customer service issue. In fact, Mckinsey & Company report that 75% of online customers expect help within 5 minutes.
Alarmingly, figures show that response rates and times to questions sent via e-mail or posted on social channels are proving disappointing, having a significant effect on customer satisfaction levels.
- Over 1.5 million direct questions go unanswered (Source: socialbakers)
- Average question response time is 9 hours (Source: socialbakers)
- 20% of users posts mentioning brand accounts are questions (Source: socialbakers)
- Only 32% of brands have a dedicated customer service handle (Source: Simply Measured)
- 41% of consumers expect an email response within 6 hours (Source: Forrester)
- Only 36% of retailers actually respond that quickly and 14% never respond at all (Source: Forrester)
- Only 65% of questions are responded to by brands on Facebook (Source: socialbakers)
- 25% of user posts on Facebook pages are questions (Source: socialbakers)
Dust those customer experience cobwebs
With a large percentage of posts on social media being questions, it makes sense to give customers the opportunity to self-serve answers to the most commonly asked questions themselves online, rather than keeping them in a perpetual state of hold. And since conversation is part of natural human behaviour after all, it’s no surprise that 35% of consumers would prefer to see more brands answering questions, using chatbots. (Source: ubisend, 2017)
At Synthetix, we’ve have experienced first-hand, the positive impact self-service through Virtual Agents / bots, web self-service and integrated knowledge has had on customer service delivery and are eager to prove that it is not a second-rate customer support channel or scary.
We’ve created a few treats for you this Halloween:
- Customer Experience – A Halloween Story Infographic - filled with more chilling and thrilling customer experience statistics
- The Customer Service horror – a short video and slideshare to share the shocking findings of the current state of online customer experience
- Customer Service for the living – a short (funny) video about the customer experience apocalypse
To find out how Synthetix omni-channel customer service solutions are helping leading brands to provide a consistent 24/7-customer experience simply click here.