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Internet Double Edged Sword in Customer Service

Article date: Tue, 02 Aug 2011 16:17 GMT

UKFast Customer Service round table

The world wide web may have given businesses easy access to a huge audience and the opportunity to remedy customer complaints in public but it's also increased pressure on firms to react quickly without losing the personal touch.

B2B firms are faring badly when it comes to developing an effective strategy that tracks customer feedback and identifies problems with their customer communications.

A round table debate held by hosting firm UKFast asked a panel of customer service experts how businesses should adapt to delivering good customer service in a digital world.

Lynne Mills of the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) told the panel that the ICS is welcoming increased numbers of member organisations looking for advice on improving customer service in the digital age.

"Even companies that are traditionally very good at delivering customer service are recognising that they can't be complacent and are constantly reviewing their game.

"Digital channels are presenting them with challenges that they don't know how to deal with. Some businesses are aware of the phenomenal damage these channels can cause to their brand if they don't address customer service properly, but not all."

David Simons, functional leader for Brand & Membership at The Co-operative Group, recommended training employees in traditional customer services roles how to utilise digital channels, rather than overburdening so-called 'digital natives'.

He said: "I had an interesting visit to a company's contact centre recently where I met one guy who was leading a team set up to deal with people who were experiencing problems on the company website. It started off small with the only most online savvy staff part of that team.

"Now, as much as 30 per cent of their customer contact is made through this team and one guy is dealing with six customers live while talking to me at the same time, because he is of the digital generation.

"That business could only use guys with the right technical skills in their online team. Many of the staff who were brilliant on the phone didn't have the right skills to deal with online queries. It makes things difficult when trying to assign the right number of staff to the most popular feedback channel."

The round table pre-empted the findings of a nationwide survey by accountants and business advisers BDO and written by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) that identified eight trends for the decade ahead. According to the "Service 2020" report, businesses will have to focus on their customer service as it becomes more important than both price and product quality.

More than half (55%) of businesses surveyed recognised that customer service will become the primary competitive differentiator by 2020, well ahead of product quality (33%) and price (9%).

Although nearly seven in 10 companies (67%) consider themselves to be better than average, more than a third (37%) do not track customer feedback and 43% do not have a strategy in place to identify problem areas in customer service.

It said that business-to-business companies were lagging behind business-to-consumer companies with more consumer facing businesses currently having an enterprise-wide system to track customer feedback and complaints and almost twice as many working on implementing a system.

Mills says, "Whether you are in B2B or B2C everybody wants the same thing: products and services from an organisation that work, professionalism and someone who understands their query and can deal with it knowledgably - that's about it."

The panel cited Dell as a good example of a business using customer feedback to dictate the design of its products and services.

Dave Chaffey, CEO of Smart Insights (Marketing Intelligence), said: "I think it's quite exciting how we can use feedback from customers online to shape the product now.

"Everyone talks about Dell as an example but very small businesses can use the same approach. One company I work with used a survey to ask its customers 'what is the number one thing we could do to deliver a better experience?' That client very quickly saw the top priorities floating to the top. That's a very simple but great question to ask. Businesses should be prepared to take the rough with the smooth."

According to the survey, over the next decade: "global competition will drive up service standards; companies must maintain service standards in the face of 'the need for speed' and firms must learn to use the increased transparency brought by social media to their advantage.

"Companies must use new sources and types of data to rethink the way they track and personalise their service; good employees will remain fundamental to good service but with technology as an enabler; more firms will outsource aspects of customer service to new kinds of specialists; the rise of the mass affluent and other customer segments will force companies to find new product or service niches."

Describing UKFast's method of categorising clients and delivering bespoke customer service to different clients, Ross Keeping, UKFast's head of customer service said: "Businesses are recognising the crucial role the internet plays in customer communications and the picture is likely to get more complicated with the growth of the mobile web. We believe it's important to empower our staff, by way of an 'upside down' management structure, to cater for our customers' needs.

"We've also found our strategy of splitting the company into smaller divisions, with key individuals leading those divisions, has been a great way of tailoring our customer service approach for different segments of our clients base."


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