It’s one of the biggest irritants in today’s hyper-technological, mega-communicative culture: Your phone rings. You fumble in your pocket or purse to pull it out. You slide the button over. You say hello. Then nothing happens. There is a pause. You say hello again. Finally, somebody who seems startled to be actually talking to somebody, asks you who you are.
At which point you want to dash that phone on the pavement.
Of course, you know it was an automatically dialed call and the startled person on the other end likely goes through hundreds of such calls each day.
But it’s that awful pause that makes all that mind-numbing, soul-crushing effort worthless. And now there’s scientific proof. inContact, which provides cloud contact center software, hired Harris Interactive to poll people on how they felt about being called out of the blue by companies. A surprising 87% said, sure, they wouldn’t mind being proactively called by an organization or company, and 73% said that they actually have had a pleasant surprise or positive experience with an incoming call.
But that pause. Forty-nine percent said they’d simply hang up; 55% said that if there was no delay or pause they would be more receptive to what the caller might have to say; and 17% said the delay/pause conveys that they are not really important to the caller.
All of which runs counter to what such calls are supposed to do—engage the customer and provide something of value, such as giving a notification of fraudulent activity on an account, or setting an appointment, or resolving questions they may have had about a transaction.
It’s ironic, because the buzzword in retail banking for the past few years has been customer-centricity: providing products and services that customers want, when, where, and how they want them. Nevertheless, a global poll of banks by GMC Software Technology concluded that most consumers feel their bank does not value them as customers.
That’s right. In the United States, only 27% of consumers said their bank values them as customers, a rate that steadily drops across countries: Germany, 20%; Great Britain, 10%; and France, 6%, according to this study.
“It’s time the banks started to show that they value their customers by listening and allowing customers to be involved in decisions that affect the banking experience. Banks should provide multiple channels of communication, but they should ask consumers which ones they want to use, not tell them,” says Bill Parker, chief marketing officer at GMC Software Technology.
Bank CEOs across the country must be tempted to pound their head into the wall at such a statement, no doubt saying, “What do you think we’ve been trying to do?”
Still, there is evidence that considerable work still needs to be done to win over customers. Accenture looked into the whole customer satisfaction situation and found companies in general, and retail banks in particular, lacking. Its research found that 51% of U.S. consumers switched service providers in the past year due to poor customer service experiences, up 5% from 2012. The switching rates were highest among retailers, cable and satellite providers—and retail banks.
Customers were frustrated in a number of ways: being required to contact a company multiple times for the same reason, being put on hold for a long time; and having to repeat their issue to multiple representatives.
Accenture sorted through companies that did provide great customer service and found five “high-impact capabilities”:
• Hyper-relevance: Show customers the company learns from every interaction and applies it at a more personal level, including customizing their channel and interaction preferences, so customers don't have to repeat themselves or hit unnecessary roadblocks. This means using predictive analytics to provide a more tailored customer experience with more customization and personalization.
• Relationships at scale: Digital gives businesses rich channels through which to communicate with customers in much more personal ways and manage relationships with customers at scale. Use digital to bring the intimacy of the corner store to all customers and then give them more convenient access and more tailored services that matter to them.
• Seamless experience: Creating a seamless experience requires a multichannel approach. Integrate information and processes that enable customers to flow easily across different channels when and how they choose.
• Inherently mobile: Learn from customers about what they want to do differently with mobile, and invest in mobile services and support capabilities that stand out to customers.
• Naturally social: Harness social media in order to deliver up-to-the-second customer preferences, greater levels of trust, a mechanism for direct and dynamic interaction, and more and more usable data upon which business decisions can be made.
It all sounds great, but how do you do all this in the real world? It turns out there are methods ranging from the highly technical to the laughably simple, each of which can be leveraged with technology.
On the technical side, various tech companies offer plug-in systems that promise customer-pleasing interactions.
For example, Teradata Applications just introduced “Customer Interaction Manager in the Cloud,” that “enables real-time, dialogue-based customer interaction across the full spectrum of digital and traditional communication channels.”
Microsoft also recently entered this field, with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The tool promises to be “an enabler that detects trends, facilitates decisions, and suggests actions that lead to successful outcomes and relationships.”
On the laughably simple side, there’s this: Companies seeking to get closer to their customers simply need to remember and acknowledge their birthdays, according to a survey by Fulcrum, an analytics and marketing technology provider.
“Firms deploying campaigns to celebrate their customers’ birthdays tighten consumer relationships while also creating the opportunity to market additional products and services,” says Tara Piazza, senior vice president at Fulcrum.
Technical or simple—just as long as they get rid of that dang pause.