3 Ways to Get Ahead of Evolving Customer Needs

customer service agent

Recent earnings reports make it clear that the retail industry is shifting. Recently, Credit Suisse estimated more than 8,640 retail stores could close this year – and already a record 2,880 stores have shuttered as of early-April 2017, compared to 1,153 at the same time last year. To put this in perspective, at the height of the Great Recession in 2008, 6,163 retail stores closed.

There is no question – the retail environment is being redefined, and retailers are being challenged to think differently about consumer demands.

Our increasingly tech-savvy world expects everything to be available at the touch of a button, and customer service is no different. Fast, easy, consistent, accessible service is what is needed for consumers who want support on their preferred devices, with customer service agents available beyond normal store hours. And customer service has a huge impact on brand loyalty – a Convergys survey of more than 6,000 people even found that 50% of customers who were unsatisfied with their customer service experience wanted to abandon the brand.

With these high consumer expectations, it can be hard to decipher where retailers should focus their efforts. After conducting a large scale survey, some ideas of the most effective behaviors a businesses can leverage to drive results became clear.

Cut the Chitchat.

Customers are no longer interested in chatting about the weather or where they’re from. While this may have made individuals feel welcome in their local stores, making small talk with consumers doesn’t have the same impact today. With that being said, personalization does matter when it comes to taking the time to understand the details of a customer’s issue and finding a solution that fits their specific needs, rather than reading a non-specific, scripted response. Our survey respondents identified these four key behaviors as what they want from personalization:

  1. Sincerely acknowledge the issue and offer thoughtful advice
  2. Make it apparent that their issue is your priority by showing urgency in fixing it
  3. Provide a timeline, detailing specific next steps needed to solve the issue
  4. Clearly explain the solution and take the time to answer questions

We have found that personalization is happening a vast majority (80%) of the time – but our research also says that just because it’s happening, does not mean it’s effective. For instance, the most common form of personalization is using a customer’s name, which, as it turns out, is the least important to the consumer. At the end of the day, personalization comes down to issue resolution. If a customer’s problem is not resolved in the first interaction, even the perfect use of personalization will not make up for the lack of a solution.

Time is of the essence.

Gone are the days when Grandma and Grandpa didn’t know how to text; from grandparents to preteens, consumers of all ages are taking advantage of the latest technology, and expect their preferred technology-enabled solutions when seeking customer-service support. Forcing consumers to go from channel-to-channel (aka, channel hopping) decreases the chance that they will have their issued resolved, and that they’ll be happy with the interaction. If a customer service representative needs to escalate a call, the survey revealed transferring early in the process would keep consumers from feeling their time has been wasted. Intelligent automation, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), can also reduce costs and streamline both customer facing and back office processes.

Invest in your agents.

With the proper training and technology at their fingertips, agents can be empowered to find appropriate solutions for customers without putting them on hold. Implementing adaptive hiring and training practices will drive learning and success, which will also better utilize technology. Through initiatives like collaboration with community partners to educate the public and grow the pool of job applicants, and game-based learning and interactive media, companies can find better candidates, and once they become agents, they can better engage with them and expand their skillsets.

Technology can reduce effort and speed resolutions with innovative agent-facing tools that proactively deliver the right content at the right time, optimized by real-time feedback. But this technology can only be as effective as the people behind it. Systems that optimize feedback allow supervisors to improve performance in real-time, and representatives not only learn from their own experiences, but also from the experiences of their colleagues. This allows customers to resolve their issues quickly, and it also frees up agents to move on to the next customer faster than ever before.

The evidence is clear: investing in customer service, and the processes that help agents work more efficiently, will undoubtedly boost customer experiences. Great customer experiences will keep consumers coming back, giving retailers a competitive advantage when others are struggling to keep their heads above water. Where will your team invest first?

 Kathy Juve is Senior Vice President of Global Marketing and Product Development for Convergys

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