Over many years we’ve studied what customers want. A lot of things don’t change: they always want products and services that work, value for money, and, when things go wrong, they want to be able to resolve them easily and quickly. Some things do change, though: as customers become super-powered by the new technologies and channels that they have access to. Our new digital customer research (conducted in partnership with Cisco) takes a look at what consumers across ten key markets want from organisations.
The research paints a slightly different picture to the CEO survey.
Although 73 per cent liked the control that digital self-service tools gave them, 92 per cent experienced problems using these tools. Difficulties ranged from basic design issues (inability to find the information that they needed or find the back button) to having to wait too long to speak to someone who could help. Sixty-six per cent found dealing with customer service issues exhausting (depressingly, up three per cent from our previous survey in 2015).
The smartphone has accelerated into the top spot and is now the customers’ window on the world - with laptop and tablet usage going down. Although the instinct of many organisations is to ‘build an app for that’, customers don’t tend to download apps that they won’t use regularly. They don’t have infinite capacity on their phone and probably prioritise photo and video storage over multiple apps. The more pressing priority is to ensure that digital self-service is optimised for mobile use.
Omni-channel is an industry buzzword, it isn’t one that customers use. They are goal-directed, rather than obsessed with channels. Sixty-one percent will change how they contact an organisation depending on their situation. Eighty-one per cent want organisations to offer a choice of channels to meet their needs. In moments of crisis, 52 per cent want fast access to a well-trained human employee over the phone. Eighty-one per cent of people want organisations to clearly display a phone number on every web page or on every app.
Chat has experienced a massive growth in preference from 45 per cent in 2015 to 65 per cent in 2017. The instantaneous nature of chat was seen to be one of its key strengths. The other was the ability to have a written record of the conversation. However, the phone is still dominant in terms of taking on the more complex issues that the self-service tools can’t. For older customers, the phone is still a key contact channel. For younger ones, it’s an escalation point when digital channels fail. The perception was that the phone channel tended to come up short due to a lack of strategic attention or investment, as newer, sexier channels steal the limelight. New channels don’t necessarily replace old ones but supplement and complement them.
With the growth in chat, there was also a favourable growth in customers’ acceptance of chatbots — another rise since 2015. Increasing familiarity with technologies like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana seems to have created a belief, from 73 per cent of customers, that chatbots would help organisations enhance their customer service. Bots are currently in their honeymoon period. But badly designed bots that lead customers to dead ends, or don’t give them the ability to access a real human being could give them the same bad reputation that interactive voice response (IVR) got. If they are designed well, bots could solve simple queries without human intervention. If they fail, they can better triage the customer to the agent with the right skills. This frees up human agents to do the complex and emotive queries, and / or allows them to train and upskill.
Security is still very high on the customer agenda. This is not entirely surprising, with all of the high-profile hack attacks which have been in the press recently. Yet customer identification and verification is still an issue. As someone who forgets at least five passwords a week, it is sometimes less than easy to verify that I am me. I have currently locked myself out of two of my bank accounts because I have forgotten my password / code / special fact / favourite vegetable, but I can now get into my computer by just looking at it. When my password is my face, my thumb, or any other part of my body I can present to my smartphone, things can become both easy and secure.
Video is another growth channel, with increasing numbers of customers using video conferencing in their work and personal lives, and a ‘YouTube generation’ searching video content to resolve issues with products and services (47 per cent admitted to this).
Another upward trend from 2015 is customers’ willingness to share data about themselves. The appetite for sharing location information has increased by 12 per cent since 2015 to 57 per cent in 2017. Similarly, positive attitudes toward sharing social media information went up 18 per cent to 48 per cent. Sharing comes at a price though — customers want free things, special offers, or access to better, faster, easier, more personalised, or proactive service. If there isn’t a compelling proposition for sharing, they probably won’t — and, in an age of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), they're unlikely to agree to share their data unless they know what the advantages are.
The quest for excellent customer experience is an elusive one. ‘Digital’ creates an expectation of quick, easy, and connected experiences. What was cutting edge service yesterday isn’t necessarily today. CEOs can’t become complacent about customer experience. If they want to know how they are doing, they need to keep listening to their customers and quickly adapt.