Speed of customer service is crucial because the immediacy of your interactions with customers leaves a lasting impression. People notice when you’re fast, friendly and effective in providing help. They also notice, and care a great deal more, if service is slow and ineffectual.
Recognising this is crucial, because technological advances have altered how consumers define ‘fast’. The always-on nature of digital touch points is desirable to customers that want to engage with a company as and when it suits them. In fact, many people prefer to interact with businesses and service providers via online channels at every stage of their journey —it’s not just so-called digital natives.
Companies have to adjust to changed expectations around digitally-enabled inbound and outbound interactions if they want to compete. This can be challenging for organisations in highly regulated industries.
In particular, meeting compliance and data protection requirements necessitates the careful adoption of systems and processes to manage the customer experience. Being able to see and control the quality and accuracy of your interactions, messages and how they’re delivered across an omnichannel environment, in real time, requires automated business rules and exception handling.
Why real-time interactions are worth striving for
The need for speed and online accessibility when engaging with customers is driven by what the consultancy Accenture has described as ‘the Nonstop Customer’. Drawing on its research, the firm found that today’s consumer now:
- Uses more digital channels and wants more digital interactions than companies currently offer
- Looks for more options and considers more brands before making a purchase
- Listens more to the opinions of other consumers via reviews
- Is more impatient and seeks quicker resolution and fewer hassles
Accenture argues that companies should invest to “address the customer’s needs, not the organisation’s problems.” Even if it seems daunting to embrace an ecosystem capable of instant interactions, it’s worthwhile given how highly your customers value immediacy and communication channel of choice.
Companies have made progress by adopting self-service portals, web forms, and automating many aspects of their onboarding sequences. Even so, it appears many businesses are neglecting newer inbound channels like social media and live chat.
A 2020 study by Sprout Social of what customers expect in terms of response times on social media found that 40% of people expect brands to respond within the first hour of reaching out. The same study found brands are struggling to meet this expectation—with many failing to respond at all to a significant proportion of social media queries.
Companies can’t afford to ignore customers—and responding too late or inappropriately can damage relationships. In order to seize the competitive advantage of being able to deliver a great customer experience, valuing your customer’s time should be at the top of your list of priorities.
Also keep in mind that effective real-time customer engagement hinges on the relevance of your response. If responses are fast but deeply unsatisfying, the customer experience suffers. Shallow responses are usually the result of a lack of insight into customer’s needs—so your efforts to become more responsive must be tied to a clearer view of the entire customer journey—and most of all be informative.
Meeting customers where and when they want most
So, what are the channels that underpin real-time communications and enable you to meet evolving customer expectations? Tech-savvy customers expect to be able to reach out and experience fast responses via their preferred communication channels.
Customer-focused companies must go beyond telephone and email and embrace a variety of inbound channels such as, self-service portals, online claims and application onboarding, social media, instant messaging, chat bots, mobile, SMS, and smart devices. When a customer is ready to ask a question or take action, your team needs to be poised and equipped with customer data that allows them to offer a helpful and personalised response.
The goal is to effectively communicate quickly with customers across multiple communication channels, with seamless and consistent interactions as customers move between those channels. Achieving that level of agility and coherence galvanises your business to satisfy customer demand, even in times of crisis and high volumes of enquires.
Research by the AI (artificial intelligence) firm LivePerson found that during the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life as we know it, there was an almost six-fold increase in Australians using chatbots via messaging channels such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and SMS to converse with brands.
For example, superannuation conversations spiked by 352% between 1-31 March 2020, and insurance conversations almost doubled around the same period. When customers are urgently seeking information and assurance, they don’t want to wait on hold. Real-time options, like AI-driven assistants, help companies handle a high volume of enquiries in these situations and are a preferred option for people looking for a quick response.
Overcoming the perceived risk of real-time channels
Leading companies are successfully enabling real-time interactions that meet customer expectations and augment the efforts of human customer service agents.
For instance, power provider AGL Energy Ltd. launched a chatbot in 2017 to help customers answer basic questions—starting with a narrow spectrum helped the company integrate the bot with back-end systems. Commonwealth Bank empowers customers to carry out financial tasks in real time through its mobile app and chatbot such as paying bills and opening new accounts, while seamlessly linking customers to a real person for more complex tasks.
Yet many large Australian enterprises remain wary. They worry about security, protecting customer’s privacy and data, and adding to the burden on their team in managing compliance.
That’s somewhat understandable given an environment of rapidly evolving regulation and diminishing public trust—especially for industries, like financial services, which are still adjusting in the wake of the royal commission.
However, not investing in the processes and systems that support real-time interactions across a variety of channels is a missed opportunity. It’s a fundamental aspect of meeting customer’s expectations and will only grow in importance as more channels emerge.
Secure, digital first interactions are attainable
Digital first approaches that provide security and compliance that help you to respond quickly are within grasp when you adopt modern, integrated, and data-driven systems designed to improve customer experience from end to end.
It’s important to move away from unlinked multiple communication channels and data sources. These hinder in-depth analysis and don’t connect to the operational processes that lie at the heart of your customer experience strategy. Having a solution that centralises all reporting and audit requirements for every operational and customer interaction ensures not only a single customer view, but allows operational excellence.
A cloud-based customer communications management (CCM) platform not only helps your team to manage all inbound and outbound customer interactions. It centralises, tracks, reports, and secures the data captured during omnichannel interactions and helps ensure you provide accurate, seamless, and consistent information to customers and employees. All this can be achieved via a single customer view, as per example A, which shows real-time reporting of a customer request from multiple channels.
(Example A: Virsaic™ Omnichannel Distribution Reporting)
Companies that transform the way they communicate, by embracing approaches that allow for highly responsive two-way interactions, can improve customer outcomes in a highly regulated world.