The earth’s surface is far from the solid rigid entity we take for granted on a daily basis. Tectonic plates float across the molten core and anyone that has experienced the release of pressure deep below the surface will attest to the destructive power of these earth quakes. Like this geological process, the business world is also going through a dramatic shift in the way companies interact with their customers and try to boost their loyalty. Digital disruption has shaken the foundations of customer service, sparking a tectonic shift in power towards consumers.

This is because we now live in a truly connected world; a smart phone in every pocket, continuous access to the internet and social media platforms from which we broadcast opinions and experiences far and wide. Not only is company reputation at stake when consumers voice negative opinions, but it is now easier than ever for them to hunt for better deals and switch providers.

So, what is it that customers want most from brands and what will encourage their loyalty? Verint conducted global research of more than 18,000 consumers across nine countries to find out. A staggering 89 percent say good service makes them feel more positively about brands. But what constitutes “good service”?

Rebuilding from the foundations

Our research reveals that companies have simply not been laying the right foundations for customer service. They are failing to get the basics right in this dynamic world where it’s all about speed and convenience. Forty six percent of consumers feel that companies that deal with their query quickly deliver a better service than others and 81 percent just want their questions answered. It sounds so simple, but achieving this across the myriad of potential contact channels demands a lot of work from behind the scenes.

One of the most important places to start is with the employees themselves. Customer service agents represent your brand and, while cheaper pricing remains the single biggest motivation for switching providers (31 percent), customers rank rude staff (18 percent) and too many mistakes (16 percent) second and third on their list. Customer service agents need to have the required skills and knowledge to handle all manner of requests and be motivated to deliver exceptional, customer-centric service. As Richard Branson at Virgin says, “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.”

This involves giving them the right tools for the job. Concurrent with customer demands for speed and convenience, it’s important they have a complete 360 view of the customer at their fingertips. For example, having real-time information of a customer’s past interactions and behaviour across all contact channels will allow them to identify issues and deal with enquiries quickly. To harness this data effectively, frontline staff must also be provided with adequate training and be empowered to make decisions themselves, rather than reverting to their managers for answers.

Getting the balance of personalisation right

In a generation where we’ve seen the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon using customer data to deliver smarter search results with tailored service and product recommendations; personalisation is an intrinsic part of customer service in this digital age. Data analytics can and are being used to turn otherwise generic interactions into unique, one-to-one relationships with customers. However, our study reveals that only half of respondents (52%) prefer customer service that is personalised to them and their interests.

Herein lies one of the current major challenges for businesses – customers want an element of personalised service. For example, getting questions answered quickly requires knowledge of background and past purchases. However, nearly half of consumers are suspicious about how their data is used to do this. In fact, one in five (20%) consumers don’t trust any provider to keep their data safe.

This suggests that more needs to be done to improve consumer perceptions of how data is collected and used – businesses need to be more honest and transparent with them. Beyond this, there must be greater commitment to showing how consumers will benefit from sharing their data in order to build their trust and enhance relationships. It’s all about striking the right balance between personalisation and privacy.

Why take a customer-centric approach to service?

Our research has shown that having a proactive and intelligent approach to delivering outstanding customer service is the best way for brands to improve loyalty from an increasingly digital savvy and demanding customer base. Such experiences can have a powerful impact on customers’ attitudes to brands. In fact, 61% of consumers will tell friends and family about their experiences, while only 27% would sign up to the company’s loyalty scheme. This approach is the old-guard and organisations need to invest in the future of customer service.

The business world has been shaken by the disruption of a renewed demand and focus on outstanding customer service. New challenges are faced but our research reveals that the solutions actually lie in getting the basics of speed and simplicity right. Achieving this however means embedding a customer-centric culture across the entire organisation.

To find out more about the rules of customer engagement and how to implement change, you can read our report: Customer-Centricity: The Rules of Engagement.

By Rachel Lane, Director Voice of the Customer Analytics EMEA, Verint