Become a Multispeed Organization

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"Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line or you can visit our Web site to resolve your query...."

We've all been there—waiting to speak to a customer rep when we have exhausted other ways to address a service issue. We may have spent the time wondering if the online service and call center are sufficiently integrated. Or we may have reached the conclusion that neither sufficiently satisfy the different ways customers want to engage with their service provider.

The recently released Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Research, which has tracked consumer attitudes and behaviors toward marketing, sales, and customer service around the world for the past decade, reveals just how much digital technology has reshaped consumer behavior. Your days are numbered if you have slow, inefficient customer service, which helped drive the 53 percent of U.S. consumers who switched providers last year in at least one industry. On the other hand, a headlong rush to digital poses a danger as well. Many customers still encounter significant barriers to adopting the digital service channels they want. As a result, customer switching has put an estimated $1.6 trillion in revenue opportunity in play in the U.S.

Switching due to poor service is especially prevalent with retailers, banks, and Internet service providers, which have consistently had the highest consumer switching rates over the past 10 years. In the past year alone, nearly half of the customers who had a poor service experience shifted a portion of their spending from existing to new providers. Nearly half! Can you really afford to keep disappointing customers—in physical channels like call centers, and in digital channels, by failing to keep up?

Consider a wireless customer who wants to add, say, replacement insurance to his account. After combing the company Web site without finding that option, he calls customer service, spends too much time on hold, and then is told to find a store to get his request processed. This scenario is far too common, and most customers won't tolerate it.

It's clear there's been more investment to address digital's impact on the customer and, ultimately, customer service. But there's a risk your efforts will go unnoticed because your investments are going toward doing the same things better rather than doing things differently.

Companies need to adopt new customer-centric practices to help them become a "multispeed" customer organization—one that acts at the same pace as consumers now act. Our research revealed three tips for improving customer service in a digital landscape.

Focus on the customer, not the company. Too often companies over-emphasize efforts they can directly see and more immediately gauge, such as cross-selling, but avoid less measurable programs such as long-term customer retention. But the real opportunity is investing in programs that customers use and like best, and in doing so you should focus on why customers stay, not simply chasing those who leave.

Find the right mix. Before adding new services or channels, listen to what customers truly value, and customize offerings for each customer segment. Instead of offering all options to all customers, choose a group you know you can make a difference with and make an impact there first. It’s about finding the right mix of digital and traditional to improve the customer experience—one group at a time.

Tailor experiences to drive loyalty. Customers are not loyal to providers; they're loyal to experiences, and they like personalization. Companies see more evidence that the best one-size-fits-all approach can always be trumped by a more relevant experience that runs across the physical-digital spectrum.

Keeping up with today's consumers can be a challenge, and there’s no secret formula for success. The most impactful efforts we see include physical and digital channels that are designed to engage customers differently—and drive significantly more profitable relationships. The conscious leveraging of physical and digital channels just might actually convince customers they are important to you.

Robert Wollan is the senior managing director at Accenture Strategy, Sales, and Customer Services.

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