In a social whirl

Vivienne Rosch asks: how well are retail organisastions serving customers across their various channels and what role does social media have to play?

Today's consumers have more information and technology at their fingertips than any previous generation. They expect to communicate with retailers in real-time across multiple channels. They gather information on the web and swap notes on social networking sites about products and customer service. And they take action when they feel badly treated.

David Carroll's YouTube hit United Breaks Guitars and the Busts-4-Justice campaign on Facebook show how social networking can help publicise unresolved customer complaints. Twenty per cent of respondents to the Harris Interactive Customer Experience Impact Survey of 2,000 consumers in December 2009, commissioned by customer experience solutions provider RightNow, had posted a negative review on a company's website. Others left commentaries on Facebook or blogs about their experiences. Seventy two per cent reacted by boycotting the organisation. "To be successful in 2010
and beyond, retailers must understand that the consumer controls everything," says Joe Brown, RightNow's general manager (EMEA).

Yet those who recognise the social media revolution's potential will thrive. Retailers as diverse as Asda and Burberry are promoting their brands on Twitter. Interflora has gathered new customers on Facebook and increasing numbers of companies are integrating social media communications into contact centre operations to improve customer service.

James Petherbridge, contact centre manager at Dyson, the engineering firm behind the bagless vacuum cleaner, which was top performer in its sector in The Times' Top 50 Call Centres of 2009, explains his company's approach: "Excellent service is our aim, regardless of how people have chosen to contact us. We are Tweeting and blogging on social networking sites. This gives us more flexibility in speaking to Dyson owners. We monitor Twitter and several other sites every day, review all comments about Dyson and proactively send a response. We receive many 'retweets' from customers who are impressed that we talk to them in this way."

RightNow's Cloud Monitor automatically monitors social media communications. "It's about speed of reaction," says Brown. However, it is essential that companies think through their social media strategy first, and decide which messages to respond to, how, and through which members of staff.

The bottomline

How well, how swiftly and how consistently companies communicate across all channels directly affects their bottomlines. Enterprise software supplier Genesys published a report in September 2009, with Datamonitor/Ovum, entitled The Cost of Poor Customer Service. It estimated that UK enterprises lose £15.3 billion a year due to defections and abandoned purchases as a direct result of poor customer experience. Seventy three per cent of UK consumers have ended a relationship for this reason.

Mike Bielinski, CEO at retail solutions provider Vodat, which recently implemented systems for Beaverbrooks and Jaeger, thinks companies are getting the message: "Most big retailers have a good communications infrastructure in place already. Now we're seeing more interest from tier two players too. Jaeger will use our system to improve their customer service, enabling customers to contact them by phone to the store, by phone to the organisation, through online, through chat and by leaving voicemails."

Channels must not just be available, but also consistent. "Retailers must look at their whole multi-channel approach," says RightNow's Brown. "And the role of the contact centre as one channel in a consistent multi-channel strategy." Brown recommends building a product knowledge base, providing consistent answers across stores, web, e-mail, chat, and through the agents in the contact centre.

Most customers still prefer live agents for customer service. In a survey of over 2,000 consumers and 90 call centre managers last August by enterprise mashup company Corizon, with Yougov, 75 per cent of consumers opted for the live call as a channel of choice, 70 per cent chose e-mail, 43 per cent the web.

"To deliver that customer experience effectively, the contact centre needs to provide its agents with the right tools," notes Corizon's CEO, Eric Guilloteau. Yet 37 per cent of call centre managers say switching between applications is
still a problem, 75 per cent that their agents use three to five different
software applications (Corizon/Yougov). Corizon's mashup software, which
helped BT improve first call resolution by 20 per cent and call centre productivity by 40 per cent, combines disparate applications into an easy-to-use interface containing all the data and functionality agents require.

By integrating channels with one another or into the call centre, their effectiveness may be greatly improved. Genesys' survey reported that over 90 per cent of transactions initiated over the web are abandoned, and more than 83 per cent of consumers would welcome proactive engagement when stuck on the web, such as being offered webchat or a "call me" button asking a call centre to call them back. By introducing an effective self-learning knowledge base online, RightNow reduced e-mails to Comet's customer care team by 50 per cent. New processes ensured a 100 per cent first time resolution rate for the remaining customer e-mails.

Almost half of respondents in Genesys' report found voice self-service "challenging". Yet intelligently integrated with live agent access, it can be a valuable tool, reducing call waiting time and enhancing call centre efficiency. Genesys' intelligent Customer Front Door, relying on real-time and historical customer data and business logic, decides when to route a customer in self-service to an agent. It improved South African digital media provider MultiChoice's transaction completion rates by up to 75 per cent, reduced times-to-answer, reduced zero-outs by 35 per cent and halved the number of misrouted calls.

Monitoring communications also helps improve a contact centre's performance.
Craig Pumfrey, director of marketing communications for specialist business solutions provider NICE, explains: "Our systems deliver solutions that help organisations derive insights from customer interactions." Interaction analytics applied to voice, text and screen interactions with customers monitor these for individual words, talk patterns and heightened emotion levels. This is not only useful in agent training, but can help uncover customer service issues at an early stage. Noble Systems, who with Genesys supported The Times' Top 50 Call Centres of 2009, also offer speech analytics through their partner Nexidia.

The consumers interviewed for Genesys' report knew what they wanted: better cross channel integration, greater proactivity, and a more personalised approach: these are all achievable in a world in which the customer is king, with technology on hand to help.

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