Turning the Customer Experience Tide

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Accenture's "2013 Global Consumer Pulse Research," which surveyed more than 12,000 consumers in 32 countries, found that dissatisfied customers continue to look for new providers at an alarming rate. Just over half (51 percent) of consumers in the United States have switched providers because of poor experiences, costing companies an estimated $1.3 trillion annually. Eighty-five percent of those polled do so because companies simply don’t make it easy to do business with them. Businesses would be wise to heed this complaint; 82 percent of respondents globally said companies could have done something to keep them.

Customers are frustrated with the same issues in today's multichannel world as they were a decade ago--albeit in different technology and channels. Two-thirds of consumers (67 percent) are frustrated when a company asks them the same questions or markets the same offers to them repeatedly--up from 59 percent last year--and 65 percent find it annoying to be presented with inconsistent offers through different channels when shopping for the same product or service. Additionally, just over half of consumers (56 percent) are frustrated by being exposed to inconsistent experiences or treatments when using different channels or not being able to access information or buy a product or service using multiple channels of their choice (54 percent).

Pleasing the Digital Consumer

Why has switching become such a massive problem? While many factors play a role, one of the main drivers of dissatisfaction is companies' inability to give customers a seamless experience across the mix of digital and traditional channels they now use to learn about, find, and purchase products and services, as well as access customer service.

Eighty-nine percent of consumers polled use at least one online channel when prospecting, and of the six channels they typically use, three are digital. In fact, consumers think digital channels have several distinct advantages over traditional ones--including speed, convenience, broader assortment and selection, and better information and advice.

Our research further found that consumers increasingly view digital and traditional channels as largely interchangeable--with any and all potentially contributing to the evaluation and purchase of products and services.

Digital channels also are gaining in popularity for customer service. Fifty-one percent of consumers globally use a company's Web site for service, while 36 percent use online chat functions. Greater speed and convenience were also major drivers of the use of digital channels for service.

The implication of these data points is pretty clear: Customers want omnichannel experiences. Executing this well may be the fastest way to grab your customers' attention, but executing it poorly may expose even more flaws across all of your channels.

Companies Struggle to Keep Pace

Unfortunately, many providers--while intuitively aware of the unfolding scenario--have not kept up. Disconnected business processes and incremental improvements to pieces of channels have prevented them from creating the kind of seamless experience that enables consumers to effortlessly switch from one channel to another during prospecting, buying, and accessing service. By impeding the "nonstop customer" flow in this way, providers are frustrating consumers and driving them away.

It's no better on the service side. More than half (55 percent) of respondents find it extremely frustrating, when accessing service, to have to repeat the same information to multiple employees or through multiple channels, and 50 percent find it at least somewhat frustrating when they find a provider's online customer service channels are not optimized for mobile devices.

If the preceding illustrates anything, it's this: Consumers' approaches to prospecting, purchasing, and accessing service are changing dramatically, and companies that don't change their processes and technology, as well as the experience to meet these changing approaches, are in danger of losing huge chunks of their disaffected customer base to better-positioned competitors. That's something providers can ill afford as they continue to seek new ways to drive revenue growth.

Robert Wollan is the global managing director at Accenture Sales and Customer Services.

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