By Olivier Njamfa, CEO and Co-Founder, Eptica
Two interlinked trends are driving customer experience today. In an ever-more competitive, winner takes all world, brands understand the vital importance to the bottom line of engaging more deeply with their customers. At the same time, consumer expectations are continually rising, as they expect more from the brands they buy from.
Recent consumer research carried out as part of the 2018 Eptica Customer Experience Automation Study backs up these trends in three key ways:
Consumers are contacting brands more
Nearly half (47%) of survey respondents said they were getting in touch with companies more than five years ago. Just 11% had fewer questions than in 2013. The average consumer contacted brands nine times per month – although 14% said they interacted on 15 or more occasions.
Queries are more complex
65% of consumers want answers to more detailed questions compared to five years ago. This shows that not only are volumes increasing, so is complexity, putting an additional strain on brands.
Customers want answers on their channel of choice
The rise of channels such as social media, chat and chatbots hasn’t led to older channels such as the telephone or email being used less. Instead, consumers pick the best channel for their particular needs at the time they make contact. The research shows that email was the most popular channel (used for 27% of interactions), followed by web self-service, telephone and social media (17% each) and then chat and chatbots (each 11%).
The cost of increased contact
Essentially this means that brands have to deal with more queries, across a greater number of channels, while rising consumer expectations mean that responses are expected to be both faster and more detailed. Add in that this needs to be achieved with static or shrinking resources and the scale of the issue becomes clear.
Extrapolating the figures from our research across the UK adult population of 52.4 million, brands have to answer 463.5 million contacts every month. That’s over 5.5 billion every year. No wonder that many brands worry about not being able to cope, with increased volumes leading to slow responses that impact loyalty and revenues. 91% of consumers say not answering a question makes them less loyal – and 84% will switch to a rival if they don’t receive a response to their query.
The positive benefits of automation
Increasing automation, such as by using artificial intelligence to analyse queries and provide immediate answers through web self-service systems, chatbots or to agents responding to emails is therefore central to safeguarding the customer experience and meeting consumer needs.
Successful automation helps brands and consumers in four areas:
- Improves the customer experience
Consumers want fast, accurate and consistent responses to their queries. And while for more complex questions this means they want to interact with a human, they are increasingly happy to find their own answers for more routine queries. 83% said they either already use or would be open to using web self-service systems on company websites, and 64% would interact with automated chatbots. Showing the spread of innovation, over half (54%) were happy to ask brands questions through intelligent voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa if it meant getting rapid answers. All in all, this shows that making consumers lives easier through automation actually improves the consumer experience and drives increased loyalty.
- Improves efficiency
Handling routine queries through human agents is inefficient, and prevents brands from dedicating resources to more complex interactions. Applying industry standard cost figures from Contact Babel to the 463.5 million contacts UK brands receives gives us a staggering monthly bill of £1.227 billion. That includes £440 million for answering emails, £338 million for telephone calls and nearly £237 million spent on social media customer service.
Clearly, not all of these contacts can (or should) be automated. However, reducing volumes by just 10% would save £122 million per month, dramatically improving efficiency and freeing up staff to concentrate on higher value transactions.
- Supports and empowers agents
Deploying automation on customer facing channels, such as websites and chatbots delivers measurable improvements to CX and efficiency. However, it can also be used to further increase agent productivity and boost satisfaction by deploying it within contact centre infrastructure. For example, using AI-based automation to analyse incoming emails and to then provide recommended, template-based answers helps agents handle more queries per hour, and to focus on the human side of interactions by using their skills of empathy and understanding, further boosting the overall experience.
- Achieves a real balance between humans and technology
Simply using automation to cut costs is a false economy – failing to deliver the experience that consumers want will cause them to switch to rivals. Therefore, look to create a balance between automation and the human touch. Don’t force consumers to use automated channels – always give them the choice to use whichever method best suits their needs. Join up automated and human-powered channels, making it easy for consumers to escalate or move between them during their conversation, and re-allocate resources so that agents are trained and supported to focus on higher value, more complex contacts. Delivering superior customer experience requires you to offer a full range of channels, from the completely automated to the solely agent-powered.
As our research shows, automation delivers a win-win for consumers and brands alike. It helps customers receive faster, more accurate and consistent answers to their queries, increasing satisfaction, while also boosting efficiency in hard-pressed customer service teams. Brands therefore need to focus on how it can transform their performance and the overall experience, driving greater loyalty and bottom line revenues.