Companies place a great deal of importance on meeting customer expectations. According to Forrester, nearly 95% of leaders say that providing a good customer experience is a top strategic priority, and 75% want to use customer experience as a competitive advantage.
But it’s a big, crowded marketplace out there, full of consumers that want different things at different times via different channels. Given that, you would think that it’s hard to make a sweeping generalization about what “all customers” want, where customer service is concerned. Luckily, research tells us that there are some commonalities we can look at when setting the bar.
It’s complicated, and yet it’s simple. Customer frustration stems from a discontinuity between the expectation of a service interaction, and what’s actually delivered.
A study from the MIT Sloan Review found that that customer expectations had two levels: desired (what the customer hopes to obtain) and sufficient (what the customer would actually find acceptable). But of course, there’s a third level: unsatisfactory, where companies miss the mark entirely. The difference between these relative levels is significant and is surely something reflected in the corporate bottom line.
The key is to measure and understand customer expectations; only then can you begin to manage them. Many businesses have learned that it’s often advantageous to “underpromise and overdeliver” in order to increase the likelihood of exceeding customer expectations. Others take pride in high expectations, knowing full well that they can deliver the goods.
Regardless of the approach, it’s imperative for companies to manage customer satisfaction.
2. Customers want options in how they contact you.
There’s a wealth of recent data citing the importance of channel preference on customer satisfaction. In a nutshell, customers expect companies to communicate with them on their preferred channel, be it in person, online, or on the phone.
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The devil is in the details here, though. Studies (like this one from Amex) show that channel preference depends on the type of interaction. For example, for “simple” inquiries (like “what’s my bank balance?”) online self-serve and email are the preferred channel. However as the inquiry gets more complex, speaking with a live agent becomes the dominant channel choice.
Being where the customer is – wherever that may be – is the key to meeting customer expectations.
3. Customers expect a timely response.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a store, on the phone, or online – no one likes to wait. Accordingly, the response times of channels you provide service on should be reasonable.
What’s reasonable, of course, depends on your customers and their channel preference. For example, one study shows that on Twitter, 53% of customers expect a brand to respond in under an hour. That number jumps to 72% when they have complaints. In the call center, it’s often hard to determine what the right service level is. For example, see Shai’s recent blog post on the subject: “Why 80/20 is Probably the Wrong Service Level for Your Call Center“.
When it comes time to do something about wait times, remember that technology can be your ally. For example, call-back solutions like Fonolo can help eliminate hold time, while also reducing abandon rates and telco costs in the call center.
4. Customers want relationships (or, at least, a personalized experience).
Though we live in a seemingly anonymous culture (where “self-service” is so prevalent), customers increasingly want a personalized experience when it matters most. For example, a study by Wells Fargo found that 60% of banking transactions are made by customers who still prefer to do business with a teller (prompting Wells Fargo to tie their various platforms – ATM, online and in-person – together, to create a seamless, personalized experience between channels).
Today, technologies like CRM allow businesses to extend relationships with customers to the call center. For example, agents can greet callers by name and have a complete history of their interactions with the company (purchases, transaction history, etc.), so those customers don’t have to repeat information every time they call.
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This approach can also extend to proactively contacting customers, for example, sending electronic communication about relevant promotions, follow-up calls to ensure satisfaction, etc.
Fostering relationships with customers can significantly increase the likelihood of exceeding their expectations, turning them in to advocates of your brand.
5. Customers want you to solve their problems!
At the root of every customer inquiry is a desire for a quick resolution. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that customers don’t want to jump through hoops to get their problems fixed and questions answered.
Empowering your front-line agents so they have the ability to resolve customer issues is key. With each transfer, subsequent call or email, customers lose patience with your organization, resulting in a loss of goodwill which can significantly affect your ability to retain and grow your customer base.
Solving customer problems right away is a sure-fire way to avoid issues from your customers down the line.
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