How to provide great customer service experiences online

By Kimberley Behnan, Cisco Canada.

Whether you are aware of it or not, consumers today increasingly interact with their family and friends through digital platforms such as social networks, instant message applications and streaming video services.  In fact, the average duration of a mobile phone call has decreased by more than fifty per cent in recent years as we talk less (and message more).  And Canadians are also increasing the time they spend consuming digital media within applications on their mobile devices. In fact, 86% of a smartphone user’s time is spent using apps (and just 14% on mobile web) and 79% of Canadian smartphone owners access apps daily. Naturally, this preference for digital interaction is having a profound effect on how consumers interact with companies.

For example, Forrester’s Channel Management: Core To Your Customer Service Strategy report revealed  that “for the first time … respondents reported using the FAQ pages on a company's website more often than speaking with an agent over the phone” and that “use of the help/FAQ pages on a company’s website for customer service increased from 67% in 2012 to 76% in 2014” while phone interactions have stagnated. Clearly, behaviours are shifting, and when presented with the option of self-servicing their issues online, consumers are doing just that.

For marketers, this change in customer behaviour requires an equal – if not greater – change. Our companies now need to provide great customer service experiences online across multiple platforms and customer touchpoints. The traditional call centre is no longer enough.

To provide great customer service experiences online, companies need to do four things very well: provide instant access to help; enable self-service experiences; regularly train customer service agents; and, implement technology that provides the experience customers expect. As marketers, I believe we should influence all of these areas.

Provide instant access to help

Your customers want instant access to information. In fact, 47% expect a web page to take less than two seconds to load. With patience short and expectations high, it’s imperative that your website be accessible – quickly – across all devices and deliver the same experience to desktop and mobile visitors. And if you didn’t know it yet – Canadian mobile web usage now exceeds desktop-based browsing. Is your website ready?

Once on your website, being able to provide instant access to help is critical to keep customers there. The best way to do this is through live online chats with customer service agents – not only is this immediate and available to customers when they want it, but the online interaction feels comfortable to digital natives.

Enable self-service experiences

Customer self-service is defined as allowing end users to use technology to access information and perform routine tasks without requiring the assistance of a live agent. As shown above, customers are already choosing to self-serve more often than not. But what does that mean for marketers? You have the opportunity to capitalize on these behaviours by publishing FAQs, troubleshooting guides, videos and data sheets. Create the best self-service experience for your customers today, and keep them tomorrow.

Regularly train customer service agents

Digital traffic is forecasted to rise in 93% of Canada’s contact centres within the next two years, while telephone traffic is expected to drop in 44% during the same period, according to Dimension Data. In fact, the same report concludes that “this represents the most significant change in the contact centre business in 30 years, and has profound implications for the way organizations deploy technology to deliver and manage customer service.” And they are right – except that this change doesn’t only affect the technology. It also affects the service agents who need to be trained on how to use the technology to engage with customers and achieve their performance goals. Empower your contact centre staff with product guides, tutorials and training manuals – ensure they understand how to use the tools at their disposal to deliver your company’s key messages and the best customer experience.

Implement technology that provides the experience customers expect

Technology can create a lot of opportunities for marketers in this space - the right technology bringing your customers and service agents together can be very powerful. For marketers, the key is to understand what experiences your customers want and then work with your IT department to implement the technology that can deliver those experiences today … and tomorrow. For Canadian companies, this is a real challenge - 84% say that their contact centre technology won’t meet future needs.

One organization facing these challenges was SickKids Foundation, the largest charitable funder of child health research, learning and care in Canada (second only to our government). The foundation’s contact centre helps raise funds on behalf of The Hospital for Sick Children, and their leadership team recently discovered that, by implementing technology that improved voice quality and eliminated dropped donor calls, they could increase call centre efficiency and improve the donor experience. The result? They were able to raise more funds to help more sick children. And that, at the end of the day, is what really matters.

As our lives become more digital, all customer experiences will become digital experiences. The organizations that thrive in this new economy will be the ones that offer immediate access to help, enable self-service experiences, have the best trained service agents and implemented the right technology.

Will you be among them?