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Post-Pandemic: Will CX Ever Be the Same?

Post-Pandemic: Will CX Ever Be the Same?

The pandemic has impacted the way in which every business operates. As the only line of communication between companies and their customers, online CX in particular has never been more vital. Here, we discuss what CX will look like post-pandemic, and if it will ever be the same.

The Impact of Covid-19 Had On CX

When COVID-19 became a pandemic during 2020, the nation was told to stay at home, which involved working from home, ordering groceries online and communicating with companies digitally.

Nipping to the shops for a ‘non-essential’ item or popping into the building society were no longer options. This led to drastic and accelerated changes in customer behaviour fuelled by uncertainty. Companies experienced huge influxes of contact, on average a 20% increase, although some businesses, including supermarkets and on-demand groceries saw up to 130% increase in contact volumes.

Unprepared for the sudden crisis, companies, who now had far fewer opportunities for face-to-face, in-store experiences with customers had to adapt fast.

Not only were agents, like the rest of the world, adjusting to working from home conditions, but a surge in contact meant that companies had to employ many more agents to keep up with the volumes. Training and upskilling were major obstacles that companies faced as a result of the pandemic.

Companies that did not offer digital contact channels adopted them quickly in order to satisfy the surge in contact volume reaching contact centres, deflecting queries that could be automated, but also to cater to generation groups that were not accustomed to online experiences. Many companies had to reconsider their entire CX offering during 2020 as a direct result of COVID-19.

Forecasting the State of Post-Pandemic CX

We can’t predict the future, however, if 2020 has taught us anything it is that being prepared, agile and adaptable is fundamental in terms of survival and growth.

This of course relies on knowing whether things will stick or revert to pre-pandemic CX. We have drawn a number of conclusions as to how CX will look for both your team and customers post-pandemic.

What Does It Mean for Your Team?

A significant change driven by the pandemic that has affected most of the population includes the way in which we work, with millions of us advised to work from home when possible. Whether we like it or lump it, these changes – to a certain degree – are likely permanent.

Albeit some initial scepticism, both companies and employees began seeing the benefits of working from home. A survey of just under 1,000 firms by the Institute of Directors (IoD) shows that 74% plan on maintaining the increase in home working.

The same survey found that 50 of the biggest UK employers had no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

As the backbone of CX, it is important that your customer service teams and agents are fully supported in their working environment, whether that be working from home, flexi-working or in the contact centre – when this is possible. This includes their WFH conditions, wellbeing and tools you provide.

Whether your agents and highly experienced or in training, they need cloud-based, reliable and intuitive tools that make fulfilling their jobs simple. 

What Does It Mean for Your Customers?

Customer behaviour has rapidly evolved throughout the pandemic, with CX stakes high and companies responding to new customer demands, a faultless, smooth and successful online customer experience is a minimum expectation.

Many have become accustomed to online grocery shopping, digital appointments and virtual meetings. For many sectors digital is the now new norm; with the likes of pioneer retailers such as Topshop being purchased by online retail giant ASOS – will the convenience of buying online stick?

According to one study half of customers say that customer experience is more important to them now compared to a year ago.

With a rapidly accelerated digital timeline and expectations for far greater online experiences, companies must be able to keep up with demand, providing customers with smooth, efficient and successful journeys on every session.

How to Meet Post-Pandemic CX Demands

Equip Agents with Agile, Intuitive CX Software

Agility is key in times of uncertainly. We can never be sure when a crisis will hit, so being able to adapt fast is fundamental.

Ensure that the software you choose to support your agents includes:

  • An integrated knowledge base – built on AI, this helps agents find answers to queries fast, without having to switch windows and worry about handling times.
  • AI-predictive suggestions – the integrated knowledge base suggests relevant articles based on what is being entered, on each keypress. Agents simply click to copy.
  • Live Chat with efficiency-boosting features – live keypress feed gives agents a preview of what the user is typing before they’ve hit send.
  • User-friendly interface – ideal for remote or flexi-working, the agent interface must be customisable and intuitive.
  • Natural Language Processing – AI interprets users’ search intent, providing agents with the most relevant answers. This provides experienced agents with confidence whilst reducing training times for starters.
  • Agent scripting – decision trees help new employees become seasoned experts with easy-to-follow processes.

During the pandemic, 68% of agents felt overwhelmed , companies must be proactive and equip them with knowledge tools that give them confidence.

Provide Customers with The Online Tools for Optimal CX

As CX becomes a major area of investment – with 63% of CX managers prioritising it more than during 2019 – it’s important that companies get their tools right.

Consider CX software that:

  • Offers a range of AI-powered self-service options – harnessing Natural Language Processing makes finding that critical piece of information easy for customers.
  • Include a customer service chatbot – not only is this great for engagement, guiding customers to their destination, but a chatbot can contribute to lead and revenue generation.
  • Maps key customer journeys – decision tree technology lets you determine customer journeys based on the options they choose.
  • Facilitates smooth experiences – self-service channels that seamlessly escalate to live chat or other agent-assisted channels when complex queries need dealing with.

Final Thoughts

Whilst we cannot be sure what post-pandemic CX will look like exactly, we know that it is likely that remote working is here to stay. We know that CX is more important than ever and that companies are responding to this. In order to satisfy your employees, operations and customers, it is paramount that the software you choose is capable of supporting flexi-working and excellent CX.

To find out more about CX software that includes what we have discussed in this article, please get in touch with Synthetix.

Image of agent preparing for retails first covid christmas

Preparing customer service for retail’s first Covid Christmas

Preparing customer service for retail’s first Covid Christmas

Christmas 2020 will be the first ‘Golden Quarter’ during Covid, presenting challenges to retailers unmatched by any other season in living memory.


Challenge: A massive increase to customer service costs over Christmas

Customer behaviour in summer is an early indication of customer behaviour during the festive season. While the future is an unknown, retailers should expect unprecedented levels of calls and emails, live chats and FAQ tool usage this Christmas. Normally, companies would handle the increased number of phone calls and emails by temporarily increasing headcount, bloating contact centre costs and decreasing efficiency during peak seasons. The web solution many retailers have in place to aid this problem is a basic but unscalable help section of their website, normally taking the form of a static FAQ page. These are often maintained by an external agency and normally see infrequent use. As query volume and complexity increases, these systems do not scale to meet the demand; queries are unanswered and customer end up in an increasingly lengthy queue to talk to an agent. When stress tested by a Covid Christmas, this will likely result in record breaking levels of contact centre costs, as well as risking CSAT health in the long term.

Solution: Proactive Self-service software, reducing overall contact by up to 25%

Online Self-service tools automate routine query handling, delivering high-end service 24/7. Retailers typically see overall reductions in customer queries in their call centre of 18% to 25% with a web based Self-service solution implemented on their website. When customers land on your website to find your phone number, intercept them with a proactive AI-powered Chatbot or an Intelligent Knowledge Base. These solutions are built on conversational AI, designed so the customer can engage with them as they would a human agent. Using natural language processing (NLP), these tools identify intent and recognise when a human is needed, escalating automatically to an agent assisted channel, such as Live Chat. For the average customer, this means only one explanation of their issue with one clear result. For the company, this automates a huge percentage of their contact centre workload, freeing agents to handle the more complex queries while keeping overhead costs low.


Challenge: Customers are moving online, reducing upsell and ‘customer delight’ opportunities

With the Government advising people to limit their contact with others and maintain social distancing when outside, retails are turning to online innovations to create a ‘Covid-secure’ environment. This will limit the number of future physical locations and accelerate the move towards online commerce. As customers typically prefer to enquire via the same channel from which they’re purchasing, this will drive a significant percentage of overall customer contacts to online channels, from simple queries to complex complaints.

Solution: Drive up average order values and CSAT scores by personally engaging online.

The importance of proactive customer engagement across your web channels should be your digital team’s main focus. Use Self-service tools that can intelligently review your customer’s intent, actively shifting them to live agents when configurable conditions are met. This can be the digital equivalent of a helpful shop assistant directing a customer to find a range of products they did not know about, or a direct line to an expert if the customer is experiencing a non-standard query.


Challenge: Customer service queries are more complex and unmanageable

A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that during the pandemic, the average company is seeing customer service calls scored as ‘difficult’ twice as much as normal, rising from 10% to 20%. Before Covid, most customer service questions related to simple matters such as a returns policy or opening hours, now there is a wide set of complex issues that Covid has caused. There has been a huge increase in customer queries related to topics that rarely are updated, to name a few:

  • Health & safety during deliveries;
  • Vulnerable shopper policies;
  • Hygienic returns;
  • Changing rooms;

Additionally, the ‘correct answer’ often changes weekly to align with government updates. As such, simple FAQ sections on websites find themselves out of date within days of being updated and lack the depth of information crucial to Covid related issues. Managing this manually is not scalable and logistically unmanageable – if an update is required, this is typically communicated to outsourced technical teams via email, introducing exponentially more layers of approval and causing huge time delays with an increased risk of human error.

Solution: Centralised Knowledge Management

To realistically manage the increased complexity and ever changing customer service messaging, Knowledge Management software is required, this centralises all of your knowledge into one hub. One Knowledge Manager is now able to manage one database of information, dictating what information is suitable for customers to access via a Self-service tool or for employee’s eyes only. Additionally, data on how customers interact with this knowledge is tracked, giving Knowledge managers access to reporting suites that help them analyse and optimise their content, ensuring customer satisfaction and self-service success rates. Centralised knowledge management is a preventative measure, avoiding a multitude of problems that strain your call centres, hugely increasing costs and reducing online average order values. In short, Knowledge management tools:

  • Provide scalable flexibility and real-time updates;
  • Ensures consistency of messaging across all channels and teams;
  • Provide detailed analytical insights on customer interactions;

Online Customer Service solutions – where to start?

Luckily, there is enough time to prepare for a Covid Christmas. Working with a tenured, enterprise vendor with decades of experience ensures you are in the hands of a team experienced enough to deliver against a Christmas timeframe. Here is what an implementation window looks like for this year:

Find a trusted provider whose solutions and expertise align with your needs.

Integrate new tools into your existing ecosystem and establish new Knowledge Management best practices.

Use your new tool set to mitigate against the difficulties outlined above and thrive this Christmas.

The first Covid Christmas will be a full-scale stress test for all customer service operations. Retails are particularly vulnerable to outdated customer service systems that have not adapted to the ‘new normal’, and need to examine their processes and tools now to come out ahead as we move into 2021.

If you found this helpful and want to talk to us further about your specific organisational needs, please

The end of furlough: Image of agent busy with work

The End of Furlough: How the Energy Sector Should Prepare Customer Service

The End of Furlough: How the Energy Sector Should Prepare Customer Service

Higher costs, falling CSAT scores and exhausted contact channels, Energy providers are feeling the effects that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have on customer service. But how can Energy providers effectively deal with customer issues and encourage customer retention when there is a dramatic influx in contact? During COVID-19, Synthetix clients have experienced average contact volumes rise by 203%, compared to the same period in 2019 – and with the government furlough scheme ending in October, it is expected that the situation will worsen. Energy providers must be diligent if they are to thrive through this period. This blog explores the factors that have caused such pressure on customer service and provides tried and tested solutions to help companies thrive moving forward.


Customer Service Costs in The Energy Sector Have Dramatically Increased During COVID-19 – This Will Likely Continue.

A Surge in Contact

What has caused a recent 24% increase in contact across businesses?

COVID-19, subsequent months of ‘lockdown’ and social distancing measures have impacted the economy significantly, causing it to shrink by a drastic 20.4% , following this, is mass redundancies and rising unemployment rates.

These series of events have considerably affected Energy provider customers, putting many of them in vulnerable situations that warrant immediate customer support.

As contact volume is surging, so is the complexity of queries, which demands more time to handle. This impacts not only the cost to serve customers – causing it to skyrocket – but can also negatively affect resolution quality.

Phone and Email Channels Are Unnecessarily Exhausted

“All of our agents are currently busy with other customers; you are number 78 in the queue”

A recent study by Which? revealed the most popular way in which customers contact Energy suppliers is via phone and email – due to the current climate and recent increase in contact volume, this has likely exacerbated, putting additional pressure on the contact channels.

Both phone and email contact channels require human supervision and therefore accumulate high employee costs. Currently, routine queries occur as normal but there is an influx of complex issues that need resolving as a result of COVID-19 – together these support queries are flooding phone and email channels.

Many Energy providers do not utilise alternative contact channels such as live chat and chatbots that can mitigate contact significantly by automating routine queries. In fact this is the preferred method of contact for many customers – 89% of millennials would rather find the answer to a question themselves using self-service, live chat or chatbot than pick up the phone. Allowing millennial customers to use their preferred contact channel of choice would significantly cut operation costs when contact volumes are high, yet Energy companies are not utilising this preference and therefore unnecessarily accumulating huge costs.


CSAT Scores Are Falling

Poor First Contact Resolution

Since the pandemic, support teams have struggled to resolve contact queries the first time round, a recent study revealed that some companies have seen a 150% increase in resolution time which as a result, has impacted customer satisfaction negatively.

Energy support teams that are ill equipped with knowledge cannot resolve issues during first contact. Often due to lack of sufficient and flexible knowledge, agents result in transferring customers or arranging call backs, both of which contribute to poor First Contact Resolution (FCR) and longer wait times.

When customers are transferred from agent to agent, left on hold for hours and not called back, they feel undervalued; that their time has been wasted or that they have been forgotten – all of this on top of an already emotionally sensitive query is a recipe for disaster. The frustration that so many customers are currently experiencing is impacting company CSAT scores. In fact, since the COVID-19 crisis, CSAT scores have declined by 28% on average across both B2B and B2C.

The Bad CSAT Trend That Could Be Disastrous

Energy providers that are failing to address problems such as poor FCR, long wait times and cumbersome support options since the COVID-19 outbreak, are experiencing a decrease in CSAT scores and influx of negative customer reviews:

Customers, especially those who feel let down by Energy providers this year, during their most vulnerable times, are switching to companies who are beating the bad CSAT trend.

Energy providers who do not actively seek to improve on factors that impact their bad CSAT scores, will continue to receive negative reviews and eventually lose customers. During times of hardship, loyalty is prominent and this could be the differentiating factor in which energy companies survive the next 6 months.


Things Are Going to Escalate

October, the month in which the government furlough scheme will end, is fast approaching and will present a whole new series of problems for Energy customers.

It is expected that of the 1.1 million employers that furloughed their staff this year, 44% expect to make some or all of their staff redundant when the scheme comes to an end. This will not only leave a significant chunk of the population in vulnerable positions due to the economic climate, but potentially in a 5-week queue to receive their first Universal Credit payment.

For Energy support teams this means an influx of new and sensitive contact queries. The problem here is that the complex issues need agent prioritisation but will backed up behind hundreds, even thousands of everyday routine questions.

So, what happens when a desperate customer, who:

  • Has recently been made redundant
  • Cannot find a job due to the economy
  • Has been told by Universal Credit there is a 5-week wait until their first payment
  • Requires agent support but has to wait in line for hours behind routine enquirers?

Poor customer service and experience.

With “poor customer service” listed as the main reason for customers receiving compensation in 2019, can Energy suppliers afford to have poor contact solutions in 2020?


Solution

Reduce Overall Contact Levels with Online Self-Service

Energy providers need tools that help prioritise complex queries that require human support and that deflect FAQs.

Online self-service software, connected to a wider knowledge base, allows customers to find answers to routine questions themselves. Natural language processing (NLP) and algorithms retrieve relevant answers based on what the customer types, automating a huge segment of questions, mitigating overall contact by up to 20% (Synthetix research).

This gives support agents the bandwidth they require to speak to customers with sensitive or complex issues that need resolving quickly.

Decrease Phone Queue Times by Channel Shifting

Not every customer waiting in a phone line needs to be there. Energy suppliers should utilise other contact channels to decrease phone queue times and serve different customer preferences.

Live chat software for instance, allows agents to simultaneously chat to multiple customers and rather than transferring them or calling them back, can consult their integrated knowledge base for quick and consistent results.

Not only does live chat encourage agent efficiency, improving FCR by up to 80% (Synthetix research), but for many customers, it is the easier, more convenient contact channel that they prefer.

Boost CSAT To Capitalise on Customers Unhappy with The Competition and Encourage Switching to You

Energy providers that deploy unified customer service solutions, such as online self-service, live chat and chatbots can benefit from efficiency. Not only are routine questions deflected and dealt with using automation, but more complex issues can be resolved and at a quicker rate.

Mostly importantly, allowing such channel flexibility means customers are satisfied with the service they have been provided. That thing that they desperately needed rectifying is now resolved, they have peace of mind and trust in their Energy supplier during these turbulent times.

The ability to delegate customers based on their query type to the appropriate contact channel will have a direct impact on CSAT, and this is what will create customer loyalty, promote customer retention and encourage customers to switch to you.

Non Synthetix Client

Conclusion

For Energy suppliers, 2020 has been and will continue to prove challenging when it comes to serving customers and keeping them satisfied. Already this year, the Work and Pensions Secretary reported that in 1 week the Universal Credit claimant rate had been tenfold – Energy providers must prepare for similar or worse events when the end of the furlough scheme occurs.

Ineffective contact channel solutions paired with a wave of new and complex customer queries has proved detrimental to support teams. But CSAT scores needn’t suffer. Through implementing the right tools, Synthetix clients have defied the bad CSAT trend that many other companies are experiencing and have seen improvements through this COVID-19 period.

Synthetix clients also benefits from:

  • Overall contact deflection of up to 50%
  • 40% reduction in AHT
  • 80% increase in FCR

(Synthetix research)

If you found this article helpful and would like to talk to us about improving your customer service, please

Customer Experience – Seeing ‘clearly’ in 2020

Customer Experience – Seeing ‘clearly’ in 2020

Having said goodbye to 2019, it’s the time of year when most of us will reflect on the events of the year, or the decade that has passed. It’s also the time most of us will think about New Year’s resolutions. While many of us might want to ditch the carbs or learn a new language, what will 2020 hold for business resolutions?

With Customer Experience a real differentiator, organisations can not afford to have a ‘business as usual’ mentality. Why? Because customer experiences, that don’t have a real business impact, isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Customer expectations are rising faster than a souffle at a festive dinner. And as such should constantly be accessed, because if businesses wait too long to rise to new customer expectations, it might sink their company’s reputation.

Weather you thank (or blame) technology for most of these new customer expectations, the shear amount of information accessible today at the speed of light and in the palm of people’s hands makes mostly everyone anticipate more. These expectations are at the top of the list for most businesses, well, at least in theory. Recent research by Forrester show nearly 95% of business leaders saying that providing a good customer experience is their top strategic priority and 75% want to use customer experience as a competitive advantage, however just 37% of business leaders have a dedicated budget for customer experience improvement strategies. This shows that the disparity between having great intensions and ideas for CX and the actual implementation thereof.

In order to deliver enhanced customer experience, businesses need to understand what customers want now and how it will drive their satisfaction and loyalty.

It’s kind of curious that in the all-encompassing online world we have come to accept, in which so many business and personal interactions can be anonymous, customers want very personalised experiences. While many of us love the convenience of online shopping, we still prefer the personal one-to-one experience of visiting a brick and mortar shop.

Customers expect a business to have all the information on products or services where they expect to find them. And when it’s not where they expect to find it, they simply leave. Research by Sales cycle revealed the average cart abandonment rate for retail ecommerce sites reached 84.24% in the first half of 2019. Having technology able to identify when consumers are struggling or hesitant to complete their purchase could have a dramatic increase on the bottom line. In fact, one of the UK’s biggest pharma retailers saw a significant drop in shopping cart abandonment rates after implementing live chat triggers to alert agents to hesitant shoppers.

Customers want to be able to interact with a company and its people anywhere across various channels like self-service, voice, digital and social channels. And although voice is still a popular option, customers now expect to be able to find the answers for themselves online. In fact, experts at Gartner predicted that 85 percent of customer interactions to be handled without human agents in 2020.

Self-service is by no means a new concept, but according to Forrester it was one of the top trends in 2019 and it’s not going to go away soon. Self-service is no longer a “nice to have”. It’s a necessity to providing a positive customer experience. Dimension Data reports growth in every digital channel and a 12% decrease in phone volume with customers of all ages moving away from using the phone to using web and mobile self-service, communities, virtual agents, automated chat dialogs, or chatbots as a first point of contact with a company.

However, shockingly, according to Northridge Group, businesses are still struggling to deliver the fundamentals of great customer experience with 57% of consumers saying that they frequently have trouble finding answers on a company’s website. The problem appears to be that businesses implement these self-service options from a business’ perspective, not from their customers’ view. The business creates the experience based on what they want the customer to do and see; not on what the customer may want to do instead.

So, while offering as many channels to communicate as customers demand is important, it’s probably more vital that communication is seamless and agile.

Investing in integrated knowledge across a website, contact centre and channels like live chat will ensure consistent and accurate answers from a single source of truth. Customer service handled via automation should not be complex to use.

Customers’ tolerance for jumping through hoops has diminished dramatically over the years. Customers now believe they should have what they want the minute they request it. They don’t want to repeat themselves and expect the same great service during peak and quieter periods.

However, before businesses can determine how to develop the ideal customer experience, they must decide what that term means to them; customer experience means different things to different industries.

And whilst understanding the elements of the customer experience strategy is a good first step — successfully implementing it is another. We believe these 9 key points might provide some assistance to businesses wanting to kick-start their customer experience strategy in 2020.

Plan for the worst-case scenario

High call volumes come at times of crisis or peak trading periods. Having the right technology in place to support contact centre staff is imperative.

Plan to be flexible

The contact centre is only one contact channel available for customers – dependent on the nature of the enquiry, would it benefit the company and customers to handle enquiries across other channels like a Chatbot/Intelligent Virtual Assistant, Live Chat, FAQ self-service or Social channels.

Be integrated

Are all contact centre staff up-to-date with the latest information and how is this maintained through technology? When staff shifts change or if they leave, does it affect the transferral of knowledge – how is this communicated. Do you have an Agent Knowledge-base?

Enhance resources

Given all the tools needed (such as a cloud contact centre solution), is it possible, in times of crisis or peak trading times, for temporary and non-frontline staff to be used as agents following minimal training?

Be pro-active

Avoid the need for customer to call in the first place. Is there another channel by which they could answer their queries? Push out service updates via social media to communicate with customers in advance of any issue to minimise contact?

Measure and control

Quickly and efficiently responding across contact channels to customer queries is key – is there a mechanism in place to monitor customer feedback to improve the quality of products and services and level of response in the future?

Prioritise

Do most customers need support during work hours, or do they frequently require assistance out of office hours? Which are the most effective/popular convenient contact channels for customers – focus on these first.

Training

It is imperative that all contact entre staff are trained to handle support, especially during seasonal influxes of contact. Effective communication, getting answers to customer quickly and consistently across all channels, can have a huge impact on how customers perceive your brand.

Prepare to adjust

A legacy infrastructure often risks only noticing failure when all has gone wrong. It doesn’t have the ability of gathering granular information to help understand how any issues might be developing. Investigate your infrastructure to see if it should be improved, updated, or replaced by more relevant technology.

Wishing you a prosperous 2020

Patiently building a business case that shows how technology solutions will meet user needs, and therefore encourage the uptake of digital channels, will help to allay fears of making poor decisions or going down the wrong path in 2020.

The resources section of our website can offer insight and the technology for developing your customer experience strategy such as:

1. Reducing customer contact – improving first contact resolution
2. Offering a consistent multi-channel customer service
3. Improving operational and service cost efficiency
4. Increasing customer satisfaction & loyalty levels

And to prove the return of enhanced customer experience by leveraging technology, why not see for yourself with our ROI calculator?

Are you ready to take the next step towards delivering exceptional customer experience, driven by AI technology that can deliver quick-win business results?

Retailers – Dreaming of a ‘Black-Friday Christmas’?

Retailers – Dreaming of a ‘Black-Friday Christmas’?

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday over, are you feeling ‘Christmassy’ yet?

With Christmas a mere week away (take a deep breath), retailers should be smiling with new figures showing an increase in footfall of 3.3% in comparison to last year’s Black Friday. According to Springboard shopping centres had the best footfall uplift and they believe the reason to be the fact that Black Friday fell on payday.

There’s no denying that Black Friday is BIG business, however is this trend ultimately good for both consumers and retailers? Having barely shut the front door to Trick-or-Treaters the festive frenzy drags on for weeks. During the pre-festive season, the ‘Golden Quarter’ has become a bargain hunter’s dream. However, many retailers believe Black Friday could be collective suicide for the industry. In the past few years shoppers have seen no need to go shopping if they might get things cheaper the following week. Why would they when they are being trained to expect big discounts over Black Friday?

When retailers promote and prolong the discount holiday shopping season, driving down prices to remain competitive and attract footfall, it’s no wonder that by the time Boxing Day dawns, after so much discounting, shoppers show ‘discount fatigue’ with January sales figures lukewarm.

Not to sound like a Bah-humbug (I actually love Christmas), but there is a darker side to the ‘Golden Quarter’ for businesses and consumers amongst all the tinsel and festive cheer. With customer experience a key differentiator, mega-discounting runs the risk of shattering carefully cultivated customer journeys with a ‘price is everything’ attitude. For example, consumers my want to browse in-store, order online, have their order delivered and or pick is up from a convenient collection point. They might want to return item/s to the store, and when they do, pick up an alternative item, ordered via a mobile app. At each step they expect retailers to know who they are and what their recent interactions with the brand have been.
Businesses that flourish during the festive period understand that customer experience can change the attitude of customers towards their favourite brands, so it’s of utmost importance to deliver the same levels of customer service during peak shopping season to that of quieter periods. However, some retailers are still caught off-guard, unprepared for the escalation of customer interactions during this busy period and last-minute shoppers still expecting exceptional service.

For instance, many businesses will be employing extra staff in the lead up to Christmas as part of their customer service strategy, however many newbies will not have the same knowledge about products, refund or exchange procedures, like permanent staff. A clear multi-channel strategy is required to maintain high levels of customer experience. Deploying AI-powered online customer service software to ensure right, consistent answers are delivered to customers regardless of channel, and to assist temporary and permanent contact centre staff, could be the competitive advantage to provide the high levels of customer support needed.

Having produced an amazing and successful Christmas ad campaign might to wonders for PR, simple missteps can cause shoppers to stray to a competitor such as websites buckling under an unprecedented influx of traffic on Black Friday. When this happens, customers will be quick to exploit the benefits of online shopping – not having to brave the weather, crowds or queues – by spending money at a competitor, from the comfort of their own sofas, in two clicks.

It’s clear that the consumer is in control, enabled through technology to remain constantly connected and more empowered than ever before. Multi-dimensional consumer behaviour is driving the changing the retail landscape at an unparalleled rate and though the channels they’re using to shop with are changing, their expectations are not.

Continuously nurturing relationships with your customers is crucial to growing your business, especially during peak times. The questions is: Will 2020 be the start of a beautiful customer experience journey for your business?

More interesting reads:

Customer Experience – What do customers expect
Cut routine enquiries by up to 50% – Revive your CX strategy

How CX can help businesses thrive during periods of political paralysis

How CX can help businesses thrive during periods of political paralysis

The UK economy has been in a stop-start mode all year, with growth disrupted by the various Brexit deadlines.

Brexit has been given a great deal of political airtime, but no one has been able to confidently predict the effect it will have on businesses or consumers, although many have tried.

For Synthetix, the issue is and less about political egos and more about how a departure from the EU will affect our current and future clients, the facts of risks, potential threats, benefits and difficulties of both sides of the argument so that businesses can begin to make informed decisions around planning for the future.
We’ve been talking about Brexit for more than three years now and even if we exit on 31 January 2020, negotiating permanent trading relationships will not happen overnight. And with little clarity emerging from Westminster and the population now bracing itself for another General Election, businesses are still none the wiser as to what’s around the corner.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

The infamous words of Winston Churchill contain a recognisable truth which is why they have resonated into an adage frequently deployed during times of uncertainty. But uncertainty requires an answer. Uncertainty requires action because the alternative is procrastination and stagnation. In uncertainty, lies opportunity.

On the face of it, during times of trouble, it might seem sensible to sit on the sidelines, reducing spending and not investing in ‘non-essentials’ such as marketing or technology. Yet it’s a false economy.

As it is with recession, so it is with the potential implications of Brexit.

Uncertainty opens new avenues as companies and organisations flex and change.
In the race to not only survive, but thrive against competitors, it might seem difficult to excel in the turns when others pushing down hard on the breaks. However, during the last period of uncertainty – the financial crisis in the late 2000’s which caused the deepest UK recession since the Second World War – 20% of companies in the bottom 25 percent soared to the top by end of the recession. They did so not by falling into a cost-cutting trap like others, but by increasing efficiency and investing in customer experience before the downturn hit.

During difficult times consumers have a choice about where they spend their money. Better customer experience (CX) will not only help businesses weather the uncertain outcomes of Brexit, it will can put them in a position to excel.

Businesses that have thrived during times of financial uncertainty, fought against the cost reduction tactic of redundancy to cut costs. Instead they searched for opportunities to automate repetitive tasks with technology and reskill employees for more rewarding work to drive customer success. Investing their efforts in this way, realised not just cost-savings, but opportunities to reroute gains to customers — which meant they stayed around longer giving them a higher lifetime value.

In fact, during the last recession, while Office Depot cut it’s workforce by 6 percent, their competitor, Staples increased theirs by 10 percent. This allowed Staples to serve their customers better, alongside a reorientation around offerings such as personalised printing, business and technical services. The next three years saw Staples, on average, to be thirty percent more profitable than Office Depot. And more recently, 2015 saw Staples acquiring Office Depot.

Now is the time for businesses to show their clients that they care. Furthermore, now is the time to demonstrate their utility – to answer their questions and provide sensible improvement where necessary. Now is the time to invest in automation and train employees in areas that have a direct correlation to customer experience.

It’s time to evoke those inspiring words again

Irrespective of what happens to the UK over the next few years, customers will always have questions that need answers.

Brexit is an opportunity to get closer to your audience. It is an opportunity to refocus efforts and be genuinely helpful to existing and potential customers. It’s an opportunity to do customer experience better than before. Do this and you will reap the rewards. Can businesses afford, given the risks to their reputation and revenue to do nothing?

For more insight into the delivery of enhanced customer experience the following articles may be of interest:

E-tail is NOT the enemy
The ultimate tech stack to improve CSAT and agent efficiency
The first step towards AI can benefit the bottom line

Etail is not the enemy

Etail is not the enemy

How the High Street can leverage technology to boost the bottom line this festive season

November marks one month into the “Golden Quarter” shopping phenomenon. It’s hard to believe that Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a mere three weeks away. This time of the year sees many of us execute the ritual of changing our spending habits from essentials to hunting for bargains, ‘perfect gifts’ and more extravagant purchases. With the cycle of promotions seemingly starting earlier each year, us Brits have come to expect retailers to deliver good tidings and cheery returns for more than just twelve days.

Although several large British retailers have publicly stated that they will not be participating in any Black Friday promotions this year – preferring to invest in year-round lower prices – spend this Black Friday and Cyber Monday is estimated to be £7 billion. In fact, this shopping trend annually accounts for as much as 30 percent of sales, albeit that headlines of yet another British High Street closure this week will have many traditional outlets worry if 2019 will be a merry celebration or more a hangover for their bottom line.

Many retailers believe that e-tail is to blame for the decline in footfall and plummet in consumer confidence, but is Amazon about to eat everyone’s Christmas dinner? And how can traditional outlets compete?

Swapping trolleys for home delivery?

E-tail is not the enemy. There is more to the story of physical versus digital than meets the eye.

Britain is now the biggest online shopping nation in the developed world, with almost two thirds of adults using the internet to buy goods or services, according to IMRG, a body which represents the UK’s online retailers. Although it must be said that online sales only account for 25% of overall retail sales, which proves our persistent desire for an in-person shopping experience.

Multidimensional consumer behaviour is driving the changing the retail landscape at an unparalleled rate and it has a lot to do with the super computers (smartphones) in our pockets.

Our smartphones appear to have become symbiotic to our existence. From checking our spelling, the weather, the fastest route to commute or ordering anything in a few clicks without having to leave our sofa, our omni-present connectivity expands into our physical shopping habits – driven by our desire to access information on products and services and to compare prices creating new demands and pressures for offline and online retailers alike.

Advances in technology has resulted in a society with low patience of slow and old fashioned ‘analog-like’ service models. We’ve become accustomed to having on-demand services, from streaming movies through Netflix, booking and Uber or ordering food from Deliveroo without any further human assistance.

So how can retailers ensure they survive in this world where customers demand and expect seamless convenience?

Breaking down siloes to connect shopper behaviour online and in-store

The winners this Christmas will be those retailers who are able to transport the digital world into their stores in order to create convenient and memorable customer experiences.

Recognising the unique advantages of a physical location, traditional retailers can use technology to leverage the different benefits of traditional, in-person shopping in ways that digital sites can only dream about, enabling retailers to offer consumers a truly omni-channel shopping experience.

Not too long ago, retailers had no way to link what a shopper bought or looked at online to their behaviour in-store. Today however, retailers that have invested in AI-driven technology can analyse meaningful data such as location, shopping history and context and are seeing rising sales as a result.

Click, click = instore ka-ching!

By blending digital services with in-store operations retailers can benefit from the growing popularity of cross-platform ‘Click and Collect’ options. Click & Collect is an attractive option for customers who desire more flexibility from their delivery options, whilst still appealing to the convenience of online shopping. Consumers can shop when they want online, on any device, from anywhere, able to compare prices, with the in-store ease of collection. The merging of digital and physical not only drives consumers to a physical store, but also drives impulse buys with figures from JDA’s Customer Pulse Report revealing 1 in 4 shoppers making additional purchases in-store when picking up Click & Collect orders. And with delivery backlogs a concern during the lead up to the festive period, this alternative option can help ensure customer expectations are met.

Aligning back-end operations with front-end customer service

Time has become a pricey commodity. No-one likes waiting. Customers of all ages now expect speedier service, partly because successful brands, both start-ups and established players, have shown it’s possible to speed up service without sacrificing quality, but Millennials (which have now surpassed Baby Boomers as the world’s largest living generations and biggest spenders) are speed freaks.

If an app or website takes too long to load, they’ll abandon it and use another. Their diet of on-demand services has made them superb multi-taskers who expect convenience and they don’t mind paying more for it.

Convenience creates loyalty, whether a shopper is transacting online or instore, or when need support before or after a sale. Convenience should be key focus throughout a customer journey, but especially so when consumers need support. Untimely responses to customer queries are one of the hallmarks of poor customer service and precious time wasted. Customer response-rates, product shipments, service offers, and return policies all need to be as smooth as possible. Digital support channels can offer convenient, 24/7, instant real-time support with little customer effort. Which is why many retailers are using AI-driven digital customer service technology at every step of the supply chain, to offer the seamless, streamlined experience that consumers now demand.

However, although digital support channels have become the preferred choice for customer support, it’s shocking how many retailers still struggle to implement a robust platform that can facilitate automated, multi-channel communication. Retailers will need to adapt to keep customers engaged with instant access to the information through integrated Natural Language Search FAQs, live chat and intelligent chatbots across the contact centre and social platforms too.

The future of the UK retail industry

There is no way of knowing precisely how 2019 will play out for the UK’s retail sector as we face the uncertain consequences of the decision of an election and yet again, Brexit.

However, the key takeaway for brands and retailers is the need to embrace change. Physical retail is not dead. Boring retail is. Consumers are confident, and they are planning to spend.

To exploit return, brands and retailers must be prepared to think differently and pro-actively support new consumer standards around when, where and how their key audiences plan to shop this holiday season. The winners this Christmas will be those retailers who are able to transport the digital world into their stores in order to create convenient and memorable customer experiences. If technology is embraced and integrated in a way that empowers employees, serves customers and improves the bottom line, retailers can look forward to a profitable Christmas.

Further reading:

The gift that keeps on giving, the page turner that is Multi-Channel Online Customer Service For Dummies.

  • Understand the challenges delivering effective online service creates
  • Get an overview of the tools available to meet those challenges
  • Discover the must-haves you need for effective implementation

Delivering Exceptional Customer Experience – Try, try and try again

Delivering Exceptional Customer Experience – Try, try and try again

Japan is the first Asian nation to host the Rugby World Cup. Rich in culture, famed for their hospitality, Japan is proving to be a transformational driver of sporting and social legacy across Asia.

The sport of rugby, in many ways functions like an enterprise business. Each player brings a specific set of skills, strength, fitness and tact which attribute to the strategy to ultimately win the game. Teams must constantly adjust their strategy to maintain their victorious status and should never underestimate any of their competitors. Think of the stunned reactions when Japan beat Ireland a few weeks ago and in 2015, when Japan beat South Africa in their first match of pool play 34-32, which to this day is referred to as the “greatest Rugby World Cup shock ever”.

It might be painful to watch a team when their performance isn’t up to scratch, but unlike loyal fans urging their team to do well at the next game, in business, not being on top of your game can lose you valuable customers.

So, what lessons can be learned from the World Cup about customer experience?

Although the aim of the game is simple, new rules, TV referees, camera angles and even the kit players wear, has not only changed the game significantly since school prefects wrote the first codified rules of rugby in 1845, but in the last two decades, the game has become big business. Players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before with training, strength programmes and better nutrition meaning those who take to the field are now in the peak of physical condition.

Enterprises have had to up their game too, with customers more connected, over more channels than ever, and their expectations of brands set extremely high. Customer Experience has become the brutal playing field where businesses must constantly adapt their strategy to beat the competition.

Although Customer Experience is a key competitive differentiator, according to Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, 2019, it’s stagnating. The study reports 81% of brands having stagnant sores in 2019, with no brand making it into the “excellent” category. And 5% of brands saw their scores dip, many of them being industry front-runners.

It would appear the term ‘Customer Experience’ like the overused buzzword ‘AI’, has some brands a little confused. Is it customer service or customer satisfaction or something else?

The best way to explain customer experience is as the impression you leave with a customer, resulting in their perception of your brand, across each stage of the customer journey.

When a customer is satisfied with a company, they are also lower in the cost to serve, but also have a higher potential to be more loyal and maybe they’ll even promote this company among their friends.

When customers interact with a company, they want to achieve a specific outcome. The different touchpoints businesses make available for customers to interact with, are the drivers with which customers can fulfil that need or solve that problem. The channel that customers choose to achieve the desired outcome might be different depending on the query e.g. a request for more information about a product or service, needing assistance in paying a bill or placing an order, however there are four key elements to delivering exceptional customer experience, regardless of the channel chosen by a customer.

Digital Customer Experience must be:

  • LOGICAL
  • SEAMLESS
  • IMMEDIATE AND TIMELY
  • FRICTIONLESS

And while there is a plethora of technology available that can contribute to enhanced customer service like AI, Chatbots and Virtual Assistants, it is extremely important to not just invest in technology for the sake of it.

It has become increasingly apparent that many channels are being bolted on with little or no consideration for how they are integrated with the rest of the organisation. For the customer, the existence of siloed channels can be apparent in a variety of ways, such as inconsistency in actions from channel-to-channel; different tone of voice; duplication of messaging; or having to start the conversation anew every time it shifts to a fresh channel.

To put it simply: Customers view their experiences with a company, not with discrete channels. They want an omni-present world where they can transition seamlessly from channel to channel, picking up where they left off in their purchasing or enquiry process, with consistent support throughout their journey.
Businesses that want to be classed as delivering ‘World Class’ customer experiences will have to engage their customers. A rugby game has to deliver on spectator expectations, which won’t be fulfilled if it’s just an endless play of kicking the ball from one side to the other. They will need a clear strategy, supported by powerful integrated technology across channels and staff with a clear understanding of the objectives that need to be achieved.

World Cup takeaways for businesses wanting to deliver on customer expectations:

  • Continuously review your customer service strategy, as even small changes can have a huge impact on customer experience.
  •  Integrate knowledge across all channels to ensure that information is consistent, accurate and quick to access.
  • Have a clear strategy in place for the customer service technology you choose to invest in and understand that multiple channels should integrate with each other to create a unified view from the customer’s point of view.

Below are two more assets containing expert advice and insight into the world of enterprise customer service software, powered by conversational AI.

In the dark about Customer Experience?

In the dark about Customer Experience?

The clocks go back the last Sunday in October just in time to set the scene of darkness for ‘trick-or-treating’ fun. Halloween will have many of us dress up, pretending to be evil monsters or witches, but 31 October 2019, might haunt us for years to come as this is also the current date set for the UK to leave the EU. And as if the question of if we will leave with or without a deal, or maybe ask for another extension, the slow-burn impact of Brexit on the British economy will be a drag on growth for the rest of 2019.

Today analysts and industry experts all agree that Customer Experience is key to competitive differentiation, driving loyalty and revenue. They write articles and present inspiring keynotes advising enterprises to ‘Put customers at the heart of everything they do’. Shockingly though, Customer Experience is stuck.

According to Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, 2019, 81% of brands measured stagnant sores in CX. No brands made it into the “excellent” category, and 5% of brands saw their scores dip, many being industry front-runners. How is this happening with such a focus on Customer Experience Transformation?

A zombie unicorn?

The world of Customer Experience Transformation is mystifying. Consumer expectations are higher, word of mouth travels faster. Purchasers are more empowered than ever before. Customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product.

As a marketer myself, these days more than often, I get extremely annoyed when I hear buzzwords used just because everyone else use them. Marketers, and experts who are consciously or unconsciously, trying to educate and advise enterprises in their quest to grow their customer base and keep existing customers loyal, are actively participating in creating terminology which is confusing professionals within the Customer Experience Transformation space.

Like the very broad term ‘AI’, Customer Experience isn’t what most people believe it to be. Some think it’s about customer service or customer satisfaction, customer engagement or customer success. The truth is, that the customer experience begins well before a customer is even an actual customer. It’s the perception/impression of a brand, across each stage of the customer journey, e.g. when customers browse a website, receive marketing messages, or when they have to contact a company. It’s these customer touchpoints which impacts their perception of that brand and guide their future decision.

As in any multifaceted activity, whether it’s Customer Experience or mounted archery, it’s worth keeping in mind a perpetual principle:  get the basics right.

Measuring customer experience – the memorable interactions with a brand – usually comprises of feedback, analytics and journey mapping across a brand’s products and services and often falls within the remit of the Marketing team.

However, ‘Customer Experience’ should not be confused with ‘Customer Service’. Customer Service must also deliver enhanced experience, but with one clear goal: To assist customers when they need help. This might happen pre-sales or post-sales at any time, across digital channels, over the phone or in bricks-and-mortar environment. The sole purpose of Customer Service is to meet the expectations of the customer so that they are satisfied with the outcome.

But how can businesses find this perfect fit between horse and horn to make this magical CX unicorn?

Putting some horsepower behind your CX

Customer Service tends to impact customers more than any other department. It’s inevitable that at some point, no matter how good your marketing and branding sets your business apart from your competitors, people will need assistance and they will remember their experience especially if it wasn’t a good one.

Great Customer Service is key to a satisfied, loyal, returning customer base.
Upon asking 1000 consumers “what is good customer service?”, Dimensional Research found the 3 key factors for customer satisfaction in order of importance to be:

  • The problem was resolved quickly.
  • The person who helped me was nice.
  • The problem was resolved in one interaction (no channel hopping).

The conclusion therefore is that customers want quick, friendly and efficient channels to resolve their queries. And customers don’t care about buzzwords like omni- or multi-channel. They only care that they can connect with a business, the way they want to, and when they want to, through the channel that’s easiest and most convenient for them.

While many businesses understand the value of digital support channels like email, FAQ self-service/FAQ bot, live chat or a virtual agent to assist their customers in channels convenient to them, outdated processes, siloed teams and archaic stand-alone IT systems still have customers end up with inconsistent, splintered experiences that drive them away.

To avoid disjointed experiences, Customer Service, and especially digital channels, should be:

  • LOGICAL
  • SEAMLESS
  • IMMEDIATE AND TIMELY
  • FRICTIONLESS

Headless horseman?

Synthetix are not in the business of shoving square pegs into round holes. We don’t do off-the-shelf or one-size-fits-all customer service tools. We understand that your business, requirements and goals are unique. Our consultants work with your team to capture business requirements and design a solution with measurable KPIs. We want your online customer service to be successful and that all starts with a great business case.

To awaken your Customer Service form its Sleepy Hollow and to prove how Synthetix can truly transform your online Customer Service why not visit:

Case Studies