Blog 31 January 2019

The changing landscape of customer expectations [round table discussion]

by Tommy Lai


Customer experience strategy has become kind of a big deal and keeping up with customer expectations is hard. Really hard. Technology is rocketing to keep pace, but dealing with the problems of tomorrow in today’s infrastructure is complex.

That’s what we look to solve.

We hosted a series of discussions with CX and transformation experts as part of the Engage Focus Groups event in London. This open forum looked at how you improve the customer experience. What’s stopping business’s transform and what happens if you don’t do anything.

Leading UK brands Sky, GWR, Arnold Clark and Just Eat joined our discussions. As well as Public sector organisations such as Northumbrian Water and Kent Fire & Rescue and charities including Save the Children and Tearfund. This gave us a great perspective from across the market.

When customer engagement goes wrong 
It’s probably no surprise that issues such as poor IT governance and data silos came up time and time again. One company had twelve document management packages to contend with. Another global business admitted to having 21 different IT systems around the world. A UK public sector agency described having two customer databases. One contained people, while the other stored data on the products they’ve registered. Yet updating one database didn’t update the other.

Social media channels can create silos as well. Often, they are managed by marketing teams rather than contact centre staff. The result, customers end up with a fragmented and inconsistent experience. They have different result depending on how they get in touch.

One attendee related a story about customer signatures. For twelve years, every new client had to sign a document three times. It transpired the legal team had insisted on this document in the mid-noughties. Yet the paperwork (hated by staff and customers) was never used. Identifying it as irrelevant and eliminating it made the customer journey simpler and easier.

The larger and older the company, the more complex things are. Hundreds of processes means there are more opportunity for mistakes. More people also means it’s harder to change the mindset and ways of working. We see cultural adoption high on the agenda as a key barrier to successful business change.

Follow the leader 
Our delegates talked at length about companies that are setting new service standards. Trailblazers such as Amazon have become the benchmark for customer engagement. “We want to be the Amazon of…” is something we hear at board level all the time. Customer expectations demand this level of service but not every industry is set-up for this and delivering it isn’t easy.

Another company praised for exceptional customer engagement was appliance retailer AO. They provide a half-hour delivery window whereas other competitors ask customers to be available all day. AO also sends a text 30 minutes before staff arrive at a customer’s home. Yet its competitors claim these processes are too expensive. It needs a cultural change to share employee schedules with customers, but it is possible.

Having looked at these examples, our discussions moved on to matching them. And one of the biggest barriers is IT resource. The tech to deliver great customer experience is out there but it’s implementing it that’s the hard part.

The people that know your customers the best are your agents, they are the experts, and this should be recognised by management. They have the greatest understanding of how clients feel, and what they need. Companies need to move away from agents doing their job and then going home. They have to become an integral part of the business, helping the firm to grow and develop an effective culture. Managers should view agents as equals with tech staff or accounting personnel. Involving them in key decisions ensures the customer’s voice is heard on major projects. Indeed, it’s often best to start with customer-facing teams, and then work back.

Planning a route to success 
The end goal for any customer-facing business should be a seamless journey to meet customer expectations. Organisations need to evolve in order to achieve this, and fast. Processes that used to serve you well may not do so today, and certainly won’t tomorrow.

All our discussions highlighted the importance of good communication between departments. Data silos and broken processes makes this hard. A lack of understanding does the same. Everyone agreed staff engagement and customer satisfaction go hand in hand. Systematic and continuous improvement needs to happen from within. If you’re not fixing internal processes, customer experience standards have a ceiling.

Senior management regularly tackles the problem with a big, expensive transformation programme. But they don’t work. Indeed, a report by McKinsey suggests 70 percent of transformation projects fail. Success comes from consulting personnel who work on the front line and fixing processes from the bottom-up.

The future
Finally, we invited our delegates to imagine the contact centre of 2025. Phone enquiries will gradually move to video chats. SMS use will treble within five years, and chatbots will be another growth area.

Our attendees agreed human beings will always have a need for conversation. Dealing with clients isn’t all about cutting costs. Using more cost-effective solutions doesn’t detract from the need for human interaction. The UK’s 6,000 contact centres will evolve by 2025, but some aspects will remain unchanged. Nothing beats positive and helpful service from proactive contact centre personnel. It’s an objective every firm should embrace, regardless of its size or legacy issues.

Learn more about our view on meeting customer expectations and how to improve the customer experience strategy.

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