Why Customer Service Is Marketing—and How to Get It Right

Customer service is marketing: When a customer interacts with a business's Web site, over the phone via the interactive voice response (IVR) system, or through a mobile app, a valuable opportunity is presented for marketing professionals to create or reinforce a positive brand perception, an important factor in customer retention. Yet this notion gets frequently overlooked, and ultimately the brand, the customer experience, and the overall bottom line suffer as a result.

A recent Wakefield Research survey of 1,000 U.S. adults quantifies the impact. Eighty-seven percent of respondents reported that customer service has a significant impact on their decision to do business with a company. Two thirds reported that when an experience with a company is negative, they ceased doing business with that company, a figure significantly higher than what was reported in 2014 (56 percent). This means that customers are becoming even less willing to accept inferior customer service. And the prevalence of social media venting means that marketing professionals must be vigilant about maintaining a positive brand perception.

Intelligent Multichannel Self-Service

To avoid a hit to a brand and to the bottom line, businesses are deploying intelligent, connected customer self-service solutions that maintain context and persistence of interactions across multiple channels. For example, when a customer receives a flight delay text message with a number to call to take an action, an intelligent, connected self-service system will have the context when the customer calls, greeting them with a personalized message and the specific facts about their situation, saving time, easing frustration, and improving the experience.

Using speech recognition, natural language understanding, and other conversational forms of engagement, organizations can make the service experience easier and more "human," allowing customers to simply say what they mean instead of forcing them through phone trees, menu mazes, or multiple taps.

Many organizations are using intelligent virtual assistants in mobile apps and on Web sites to provide customers with the answers and outcomes they need quickly and easily, and these assistants can even anticipate needs by analyzing data from customer responses. In many cases, customers can converse with a virtual assistant as naturally as talking with a human agent, and mobile app assistants can leverage consumers' comfort in conversing with their phones rather than a live agent at the other end. A good virtual assistant highlights the relationship between customer service and marketing in today’s digital world, in that a virtual assistant can adopt a persona that matches the company’s branding.

Virtual assistants also provide highly personalized service, greeting customers by name and asking if they're calling about tomorrow’s reservation or items just added to their online shopping cart. If a customer needs to speak with a live agent, the assistant can send the agent information about what was being addressed in the app so callers don't have to waste time providing the same information again. These kinds of fast, stress-free interactions can drive sales because customers are more willing to listen to a pitch once the agent is finished. All of this adds up to a concierge-style customer service experience that makes customers happier and more receptive to hearing about new products and promotions.  

Eliminating the Security Gauntlet

Arguably, the biggest frustration for customers is navigating security hurdles in authenticating identity, which is why many banks and other businesses are implementing voice biometrics. This technology eliminates the need for PINs, passwords, and security questions, allowing customers to record a brief phrase—such as "My voice is my password"—that becomes their voiceprint. Subsequent interaction with that business's IVR or mobile app compares their voice to the voiceprint for simple identity verification.

Additionally, voice biometrics slashes authentication time to as little as five seconds, a reduction of up to 80 percent versus traditional methods. It's no wonder that so many of consumers who've used voice biometrics say they prefer it over traditional methods.

Wakefield Research's survey showed that consumers tend to take positive action after a good customer service experience. Voice biometrics and virtual assistants are two examples of technologies that can improve that customer service experience, whether they call, use their mobile app, or visit a Web site. These interactions are key marketing opportunities, so by providing a positive customer service experience every time, no opportunity to secure positive brand perception goes wasted.

Gregory Pal is vice president of marketing, strategy & business development at Nuance Enterprise Division, responsible for customer self-service solutions that are used by leading organizations around the world to automate and optimize customer care experiences—from the contact center to the Web and mobile devices. 

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