Are businesses failing their customers and can they win them back?

You’re probably familiar with the scenario: Waiting on hold as you get transferred to the second, third or fourth customer service agent that is in ‘the right department’ to resolve your issue. You’ve told them your account details, answered all of the security questions but when you finally get through, they start by asking for your account number (again). 

For anyone who has experienced this – and that’s most of us – it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. But the real question here is, what are businesses doing to end this cycle?

Zendesk’s recent Customer Experience Trends Report, which looks at data from 45,000 companies worldwide, tells a story of how this sort of experience is far too common. And it starts on the phone, with more than two thirds (68%) of customers typically resolving their issues by calling in. Dig a little bit deeper into the insights, though, and it’s clear that the best customer experiences go well beyond the phone line.

Do the maths

Our research has shown that over the past five years, incoming contacts from customers (or daily tickets) have increased by 145%, far outpacing the growth in headcount of customer service teams, which sits at 66% over the same period. At the same time, almost half of customers (46%) say they have higher expectations than they did a year ago. It’s no wonder, then, that businesses feel overwhelmed with customer service requests.

It’s also led to a gradual decline in customer satisfaction – with the overall average declining 2.2% over the past five years, from 94.6% to 92.5% as the gap between customer expectations and the experience they get is getting wider.

As I speak to customers from the call centre manager to the CEO, I consistently hear that businesses are challenged with keeping up with those fast-changing customer expectations. This gap exists because competition in experience isn’t limited to their own industry. They’re now competing with every great experience a customer has ever had – and these same customers now define a “good experience” as one that is as simple as a click or a swipe. For many brands, the ‘front line’ of this experience is their customer support. More than four out of five customers (84%) say customer service is important and, as a result, you should value it just as highly.

With the pace of change, businesses will struggle to keep up by simply growing the headcount. Instead, it requires contact centres to get smarter rather than bigger to meet the needs of the customer who is more demanding, less loyal, and more powerful than ever before.

Building better platforms

The phone is still the most used method of communicating with businesses but that doesn’t mean other channels should be neglected. A growing contingent of customers, particularly younger people, are comfortable with self-service. Almost three-quarters of Gen Z respondents and more than half of millennials said they start with a search on a company’s help centre. And yet, only 20% of teams are currently offering self-service. Younger people also tend to be more likely to seek support over chat, social media, and text. Your customers are trying to connect with you on a whole range of channels to get the service they need – when and where they want – and you need to make sure you’re there and ready for them. 

The aim here isn’t simply to bolt on additional channels to your existing customer support offering. If we want to avoid customers repeating themselves when moving between agents or channels, there needs to be a single open, flexible platform that can give a full view of the customer and their history.

With powerful APIs, teams can store and connect data across multiple systems to quickly see, update and search records to support their customers better. Pushing data in and out of support software using API and app integrations can help businesses see a complete view of their customers. In fact, with an open and flexible platform that uses APIs and integrations, companies can resolve tickets 21% faster, and their customers spend 35% less time waiting for agents to respond, all while managing more than three times as many requests.

Smarter ways to deal with customers

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools can also drive efficiencies across your team. At the moment, businesses are only scratching the surface of what is possible with AI. Surprisingly, 85% of large support teams aren’t currently using AI – but the potential gains here are huge, without the need for big investments or long implementations.

Companies using AI-powered features by Zendesk have saved 225,000 agent hours and given 2,800 years back to customers. Meanwhile, Gartner estimates that by 2020 a quarter of customer service interactions will involve some form of AI technology.

AI shouldn’t be adopted simply to have the ‘next new thing.’ Rather, it’s important to consider how AI tools can help your team better understand your customer, gain faster insights and also support your agents in delivering a seamless experience. In the best cases, AI is approached as an assistant to make teams more productive, rather than trying to replace processes altogether.

For example, when AI is deployed to recommend self-service articles or respond to simple requests, agents can be freed up to answer more complex issues. In fact, Dollar Shave Club has seen the benefits of deploying AI in this way. The company deployed Zendesk’s Answer Bot to offer automated responses to customers on repeat conversations like: “How do I pause my account?”. Each month, this deflects between 12-16% of tickets, so agents can focus on more consultative conversations.

AI can also help teams to innovate quickly with actionable insights drawn from large volumes of customer data and interactions. For example, machine learning models can identify what the best response is to a particular ticket and suggest next best actions on how an agent should proceed. This could be particularly useful in complex cases where agents need extra guidance.

Collaboration is king

An effective customer service team is one that is just that – a team. With customers becoming more demanding, the goal isn’t to present them with more tools, but to give them a better overall service. By empowering both agents and customers with the right technology to make the process simple and seamless, building the best customer experiences is now well within reach. And once you have that, you’re ready to convert any customer complaint into an opportunity to build a loyal ‘customer-for-life’.

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