In today’s ‘relationship economy’ retailers must listen to their customers, across all channels, in order to improve customer service and satisfaction, and inspire loyalty, finds Retail Focus.
April is (apparently) International Customer Loyalty Month. The idea, introduced by American customer service speaker and author Shep Hyken, is for companies and their employees to make an extra push to create loyal customers. ‘This isn’t about being good,’ says Hyken. ‘It is about being great. Creating loyalty is about a continuous effort that creates customer confidence.’
The initiative comes as the Institute for Customer Service urges organisations to invest in customer service to rebuild trust in UK business, both at home and internationally. The latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), published in January, reveals that all but one sector experienced a fall in customer satisfaction during the last quarter of 2013, with the overall figure down for the first time since 2008.
‘As the economy begins to grow, organisations need to recognise that the customer service experience they deliver is increasingly important in customers’ buying decisions,’ says Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute for Customer Service. ‘Those organisations that focus on differentiating through customer service are well placed to achieve sustainable performance. But to do this they need to view customer service as integral to building customer relationships across the value chain, not just as a series of transactions.’
Causon argues that as the balance of power shifts in favour of the customer, retailer-consumer relationships are changing from monologue to a dialogue. ‘Today’s retail landscape is a “relationship economy”,’ she says. ‘One in which value lies in the interactions between companies and their customers.’
Consumers expect organisations to be responsible, consistent and behave in an open, engaged and transparent manner, maintains Causon, and they are increasingly willing to complain if an organisation fails to meet their expectations.
A study by shopping centre group Westfield, entitled ‘How We Shop Now’, found that 76 per cent of customers would walk out of a store if they received bad customer service, while 54 per cent said they would be happy to pay extra to have an express till which banishes queuing.
‘What Westfield has found incredibly valuable from this study is that despite an abundance of channels where customers can effectively “self-serve”, the traditional notion of customer service continues to have significant influence on whether or not we part with our hard-earned cash, as well as defining our overall shopping experience,’ says Westfield marketing director for UK & Europe, Myf Ryan.
Queuing to pay for products at the till is considered one of the worst parts of shopping in store, according to a survey by digital communications company EE. The study shows that long queues at the check-out could be costing UK retailers as much as £1 billion a year, with 63 per cent of shoppers willing to abandon a purchase in store if the queue is too long (with each product costing £33 on average).
The research supports the launch of a new managed service from EE called Connected Retail that uses mobile connectivity in-store to improve the customer experience and open new revenue streams. The solution is designed to help retailers build closer relationships with customers by engaging with them in an integrated, omnichannel way.
All channels to all people
Social media and digital technology continue to transform consumer behaviour and expectations, and businesses must move away from the reductive idea that the delivery of customer service is restricted to one or two platforms, claims Causon. ‘It is something that must be reflected throughout an organisation and across all the ways it communicates,’ she says. ‘Customers may choose a variety of ways to interact with an organisation and they need to receive a consistent experience, whoever or whichever department they contact.’
Christopher Schyma, VP sales EMEA, retail, travel and leisure at customer experience company 24, agrees that the consumers’ world is now mobile-centric, channel-agnostic and continually connected. ‘They don’t think in channels and expect retailers to deliver one holistic experience,’ he says.
A recent study by 24 suggests that online retailers need to make better use of the data they hold on their customers, particularly retaining context when customers change channels. In a survey of more than 2,000 UK consumers, one in five said they got frustrated when retailers did not know who they are or what their issue is, despite having interacted via another channel previously. ‘Consumers now expect online retailers to know who they are, anticipate their needs and then guide
them to their desired outcome, whether that’s a sale, customer service issue or something else,’ says Schyma. ‘Retailers hold a lot of data on their customers and need to use that in real time to deliver more intuitive customer service, allowing consumers to change channels and retain context when they do so. People have shown they are prepared to shop elsewhere if the customer experience does not meet their expectations.’
Home enhancement retailer, Homebase recently won the 2014 UK Customer Satisfaction Award for ‘Best Use of Customer Insight’. The company has partnered with customer insight agency, SMG to implement a nationwide customer feedback programme called ‘Paint Us A Picture’, which enables it to analyse customer opinion, respond to purchasing trends in real time and provide a consistent level of service.
Homebase managing director, Paul Loft, says: ‘We understand that to really make a difference to the customer experience, we needed to listen to our customers, across all channels, in order to make them feel welcome and looked after. Our partnership with SMG and the ‘Paint Us A Picture’ programme has allowed us to make business decisions based on actionable insight from the data.’
Today’s consumers expect all of the touch points in the customer journey to be consistent and fully synchronised, states Sadiq Mohammed, business development director at Serco Global Services, and by knowing and understanding each customer’s contact history, retailers are not only able to adjust the way they engage with each customer but can also adopt the most appropriate tone and style of conversation to reassure and reduce effort.
In the words of Hyken: ‘It is the consistency of great service that builds customer confidence in you and your organisation, which in turn will eventually create loyalty.
‘Customer loyalty,’ he says, ‘is about the next time - every time, so strategise about customer loyalty one month, perhaps April, and then carry it through for the year.’
Christopher Schyma, VP sales EMEA - retail, travel and leisure at customer experience company 24, shares his top five tips to improving customer service.
1. Make it simple for consumers to get things done. Put time back in their hands.
2. Create richer, more personalised experiences for each customer, in each channel, every time. Take something and make it better, for example augmenting current voice interactions with a speech-to-screen experience.
3. Provide unified experiences that enable context to be persistent as customers cross channels and devices, regardless of location and time.
4. Leverage real-time prediction to understand and anticipate customer intent in-journey and service them accordingly whether it’s through self-service (which can be dynamic and unique) or through agent-assisted service, where the experience can be content rich.
5. Be outcome focused. There should be a collection of metrics (focused on outcome) you should align your business to. Standard monitoring and reporting are not enough. Have the commitment to continuously improve customer service and sales to make the experience effortless and natural for customers to connect with companies to get things done.
Main image: Westfield shopping centres offer an array of services from hands-free shopping to valet parking and home delivery.