09/11/10

By Craig Pumfrey, Director of Marketing & Communications,NICE Systems EMEA

You are attentive to your customers needs and have always been quick to introduce the lines of communication they want to use to engage with you. The good news is you are doing the right thing. But how you integrate these channels into your business determines if you are doing things right.

The majority of businesses have a linear approach to managing telephone, web, white mail and email, yet customers expect to be able to hop between these channels in one seamless interaction, in the same way as they do in their everyday conversations with friends and colleagues. This disconnect is often one of the major causes of frustration in what is known as customer dynamics — the often complex interchange of communications between the customer and organisation.

Failing to take the initiative in managing these customer dynamics has the potential to create severe and lasting damage to the perception of the brand and the rate at which the deterioration can occur has been accelerated by the growth in popularity of social media.

In the past, when a customer experienced an unsatisfactory standard of service they may have asked to speak to the manager, or sent a letter of complaint to the company. The majority of the frustration would be directed towards the business and the external damage limited to a small grapevine. Today that grapevine has grown like wildfire and it moves at lightning speed. The exponential increase in the use of social networking websites has given consumers a remarkably powerful and far reaching voice. In our ‘always on’ society, it has never been easier for a happy customer to spread the good word and likewise, for a disgruntled customer to ‘publish’ their grievance to a global audience.

In a recent case, a group of hoteliers in the UK became so concerned about the impact of negative feedback they had received on a hugely popular hotel review website they took legal action. These hoteliers recognised that the views of a customer had the potential to impact their respective businesses. A positive experience fosters loyalty and increases lifetime value, whilst a negative experience can lead to high levels churn, a negative brand image and ultimately lost revenues.

So just how quickly can a single customer intention create and impact on a business? Here is an example.

Steve and Claire are taking out a loan to buy a new kitchen. On Monday Steve goes online and makes an email enquiry via a request form. By Wednesday he has not had a reply so he calls the customer service line, but the agent can find no record of his email, so he goes online and repeats the process. A few days later Steve receives two separate letters regarding his two loan applications, so during his lunch break he makes another call. He is kept waiting for 10 minutes, but it is important so he is willing to wait. The customer service agent apologises and asks how she can help, however, the agent needs to transfers him to another department and another wait ensues. This time he speaks to the right person who explains that their will be a delay in processing the loan which will setback Steve and Claire’s schedule for fitting the new kitchen.

Once Steve finishes the call he sends an email to Claire to explain. He has 25 minutes left on his break so gets coffee and logs on to his Twitter page and posts a brief rant about the incident, which is seen by his 320 followers. His Twitter feed updates his LinkedIn profile, so now the potential audience has grown by another 540 people. He then browses Facebook and sees that Claire has updated her status complaining about the bank and two of her friends had already posted a comment, so he also makes posts on her page and does the same on his. Within the space of half an hour and with very little effort, Steve and Claire have broadcast their grievance to almost one thousand people, spreading the word faster than a computer virus!

Clearly, the consequences and impact for this organisation is significant and immediate. The bank might not be losing money, but damage to their reputation is costly, yet crucially the bank is totally unaware. Yet if the channels of communication had been integrated as opposed to linear the incident could have been prevented.

Today, businesses of all sizes, whether they are large banks, insurers, mobile operators, utility companies, retailers or hotels need to keep one step ahead. The case against the hotel review website is similar to locking the door after the horse has bolted. Businesses need to be better, faster and quicker than they have ever been before and that means being proactive in understanding what is driving the intentions of their customers. By gaining insight into these intentions and what is influencing them - there are technologies, such as interaction analytics that are remarkably accurate in helping to reveal the customer dynamics across all of the communication channels - it is then possible to inform the appropriate parties within the organisation to take action. Maybe there is a fundamental problem with the product or service offering, an individual agent, or group of agents in the contact centre that are not up to par, or (as was the case with Steve and Claire) a broken process within one or more departments with the organisation that needs to be fixed.

Understanding the up-to-the-minute issues that are creating negative intentions, then nipping them in the bud before they escalate, has never been more important, in a world where everyone has the power and influence to be a consumer watchdog.