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How to Delight Your (Unreasonable) Customers in an Omni-channel World

It’s less about putting together elaborate plans and more about implementing solutions across channels that get to the heart of the pain points.

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Plan Less, Do More
Here are key takeaways when thinking about better understanding and pleasing your customers:

  • Companies like Amazon, Uber and Apple are changing your customers’
  • Smart social listening is the most rapid, cost-effective way to stay in tune with evolving consumer expectations.
  • Smart consumer engagement software has enabled companies to dramatically reduce the time spent training new agents.
  • Put the knowledge customers want directly in their hands through web and mobile self-service. 
  • Focus on the task the consumer wants to complete, not the channels on which she will do it.

As consumers interact with companies through more and more channels, they’re increasingly frustrated with their experience. These consumers have a number of reasonable demands that often go unmet. Unfortunately, there’s growing evidence that consumers are becoming even more demanding. It’s probably not polite to say it, but many of us are becoming downright unreasonable. We know what we want and we want it now. (Actually, we wanted it about an hour ago.)

Fortunately, there are a number of practical steps you can take to delight your consumers in an omni-channel world. Here are eight:

1. Start by acknowledging that your consumer is the boss—and she’s unreasonable.
When A.G. Lafley led a dramatic turnaround at Procter & Gamble early last decade, his mantra was simple: “The consumer is boss.” Your consumer is the boss. She’s demanding, but she’s the boss, and multiple studies show she’s not happy:

  • 25% of consumers who complain about products on Facebook or Twitter expect a response within one hour. (Source: HubSpot)
  • Almost half of online customers expect brands to provide customer service on Facebook, but only 23% do so. (Source: Buffer)
  • Nine out of 10 enterprises say they use social media to respond to customer service inquiries, yet 58% of consumers who have tweeted about a bad experience never received a response from the offending company. (Source: Bluewolf)

It’s easy to look at these stats from the perspective of a customer care leader. You’re intimately aware of the challenges that make it difficult to meet and exceed consumer
expectations. The key is to walk in your consumer’s shoes. Challenge yourself to experience your company’s customer care from your consumer’s perspective.

For example, when you listen to recorded calls, suspend your focus on assessing your agent’s performance and hear the conversation only from the consumer’s point of
view. When you review unflattering social-media posts, imagine that you are the consumer’s friend, and she’s telling you about someone else’s company. Empathy is a powerful tool, and it will help you embrace your unreasonable consumer
with open arms. 

2. Use social listening to understand your consumers’ “liquid expectations.”
Your consumers have high expectations, and those expectations are evolving and rising at an accelerating rate. Increasingly, consumers’ expectations for customer care and customer experience are not determined by what you are doing or even what your direct competitors are doing. Their expectations are leaking over from entirely different industries in a trend that Accenture has dubbed “liquid expectations.” Companies like Amazon, Uber and Apple are changing your customers’ expectations.

You need a way to understand these liquid expectations. Market research, especially ethnography, is an immersive and powerful way to understand your consumers’ evolving expectations. Unfortunately, it’s expensive. Worse, it’s slow.

Smart social listening is the most rapid and cost-effective way to stay in tune with evolving consumer expectations. The key is to employ social listening software that automatically escalates issues to your attention. If you’re only reporting on predefined topics and hashtags, you could miss emerging themes and consumer needs. Your social listening platform must understand the intent of user posts, group posts into meaningful themes, and automatically flag emerging issues in their infancy.

3. Demand that your software be as smart as your best people.
With their extensive knowledge and well-honed skills, your best agents deliver seamless omnichannel customer care that delights your customers. But what about the representative who just joined your team? New agents need software that makes their job easy and helps them perform like seasoned pros.

Smart software guides your agents through the interaction. By linking to a knowledge base, your CRM can equip inexperienced agents to answer a wide range of complicated questions. Smart software dynamically presents the right fields on the data entry screen so that inexperienced agents do not have to remember what information is needed in specific situations. Smart software automatically suggests appropriate actions and next steps based on the verbatim notes captured by your agents. Implementing smart consumer engagement software has enabled companies like E. & J. Gallo, Michelin and Domino’s to dramatically reduce the time spent training new agents.

4. Help your consumers help themselves.
One of the easiest ways to satisfy consumers who demand instant answers is to put the knowledge they crave directly in their hands through web and mobile self-service. In fact, 78% of consumers prefer to get answers to their questions by going to your website, according to a Forrester study.

You can build a workable knowledge base in about two weeks. Then, over the next 90 days, you can author content to address specific questions you receive that weren’t addressed in the initial knowledge collection effort. Creating this “virtual agent” not only enables you to quickly address consumer questions, it can dramatically reduce contact center interactions. For example, by implementing self-service on 16 of its brand websites, L’Oreal reduced email inquiries to the contact center by 80%.

5. Manage all your channels from within one tool.
Many companies are still using different and disconnected software applications to manage interactions across different channels. Your consumer engagement software should enable agents to manage interactions across multiple channels from within one interface. Agents should be able to conduct a call, chat with a consumer, reply to email and respond to a post on Facebook using a single tool. If that’s not technically feasible because of legacy systems, explore the implementation of a “thin layer” that sits on top of your current applications and brings information from disparate systems together for the agent or for your consumer.

6. Start by fixing the biggest complaints about your industry and your competitors.
As you create plans for better omni-channel customer care, the sheer number of improvements you’d like to make can be overwhelming. Since you can’t fix everything at one, focus on the biggest pain points in your industry.

DIRECTV has done this masterfully. For example, it recognized that the monthly bill is an industry-wide source of frustration for cable and satellite TV customers. In fact, nearly 50% of calls to customer care from new subscribers were triggered by billing questions or concerns when they received their first statement. DIRECTV worked with the customer care team and consumers to design a simple, clear, no-surprises billing statement. Not only did the redesigned bill dramatically reduce calls to customer care, it has enhanced the company’s equity relative to its competitors.

7. Design customer care processes and technologies around consumer needs and tasks, not channels.
With so much evolution in communication channels, it’s easy to focus your technology investments on adding channels or adding capabilities within a channel. QVC, a leader in omni-channel commerce, has taken a different approach to technology investments. According to Linda Dillman, QVC’s chief technology officer, the company focuses on the task the consumer wants to complete, not the channel(s) on which she will do it. 

QVC plans technology investments based on the consumer need it wants to satisfy, then builds the capability to satisfy this need across all relevant channels (TV, phone, tablet, mobile, etc.). This focus on the desired consumer experience (and the associated tasks) ensures the company doesn’t create friction across channels. This approach is a key reason why QVC now generates 40% of its revenue from channels beyond its iconic television programming.

8. Stop the talking and planning about omni-channel; start doing.
Omni-channel is a topic that has spawned hundreds of conferences, thousands of articles and blog posts and countless cross-functional meetings throughout corporate America. Yet consumers remain frustrated by disconnected customer service across channels. Forward-thinking companies like Panera are consciously deciding to plan less and do more. 

Panera has made dramatic progress in addressing the challenge of omni-channel with its “Panera 2.0” initiative. Consumers now place 45,000 digital orders a day with Panera, accounting for 9% of total orders. Blaine Hurst, chief transformation & growth officer at Panera, credits the company’s progress to the right balance of planning and execution. He recommends that companies “architect a little and work like hell. It’s not about having the best solution, it's about having the best solution the earliest.” 

Tapping into the experience of software vendors with omni-channel customer care solutions can help you move more quickly to execution. The right partner will have worked with others in your industry to understand your omni-channel consumer and will have tackled most of the challenges you face. They have business analysts and implementation specialists who can understand your current processes and gaps, share best practices and design solutions that marry industry best practices with the nuances your consumers demand.

Borcherding_headshotJeff Borcherding is sr. vice president of marketing for Astute Solutions, a top provider of consumer engagement software. A former P&G brand manager, he believes passionately that the consumer is boss and that the boss should be happy.