Isn’t it interesting how many financial services companies advertise that customers can actually talk to real people as a competitive differentiator today? From Wells Fargo’s “When People Talk Great Things Happen” campaign to Discover Card’s “We Treat You Like You’d Treat You” — banks and insurance companies want to talk to us again, making the company that doesn’t personalize the customer experience a relic of the past, an outcast of how companies used to behave. One of the best examples of this is Ally Bank’s ad, which brings a real-life example of how absurd it is to force customers to talk to machines. Moreover, the brand promise of insurance provider Geico is that just “15 minutes of your time can save you 15 percent or more”, a clear call to action to pick up the phone and engage them if there ever was one.
There’s an unfortunate irony here that today’s Customer Experience leader needs to beware before we declare talking to customers as the holy grail of customer engagement. According to research done last year by the Tower Group, the four leading causes of bad experiences all relate specifically to talking to people. Those range from ‘policies that limit employees’ ability to resolve problems’ (ranked as the leading cause) to lack of first-call resolution (ranked as the fourth leading cause) as the top sources of bad customer experiences.
Therein lies the ‘talk to a person’ paradox – not only have most companies not prepared their front-line staff for the brand promise they are creating in their advertising strategy (a recurring theme), but the bigger question we have to ask ourselves is ‘do our customers want to talk to us’? With more and more consumers armed with intelligent devices, applications on those devices that can provide engaging self-service applications offer unlimited potential for us to overhaul the outdated voice-automation systems that treat every customer the same, and that don’t personalize the experience.
Proactive engagement brings better visibility to web interactions, and offers the potential to engage customers when they need help, without the feeling of a lurking company spamming them with chat offers at the wrong time. Outbound notification applications are diffusing the need for customers to engage in the first place, providing reminders of upcoming appointments, technician visits, product shipments, etc.
The point isn’t that talking to a person is better, the point is about making that interaction count when its needed most, and when both company and customer have a reason to engage. Its about making that interaction informed and contextual, so that both the person delivering the experience is doing so with the information they need – at the right time, to make the interaction count. For example, when a customer moves from a web channel to phone, the person they engage from the company should have a view into what the customer was doing on the web, and be ready and able to help. If a customer is calling at the end of a billing cycle, automated systems should offer ‘billing’ as the first option the caller hears.
Finally, its about giving the customer choice about when and how they want to interact, accounting for personal preferences, lifestyle, and location to name a few. And equally, it’s about empowering the people who deliver the customer experience the authority to make decisions that help both the company and the customer. These decisions require new policies, new processes, new platforms, and a new way of thinking about customer engagement. The question we need to ask ourselves is not are we ready to talk to customers. Instead, it should be are we ready to talk to customers the way they want to be talked to. How ready are you?
To help answer this question take a look at this report from Forrester: Navigate The Future Of Customer Service.
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