With this week’s report, the 4Q2013 Customer Service Update, we complete our tenth year of quarterly updates on the leading suppliers and products in customer service. These updates have focused on the factors that are important in the evaluation, comparison, and selection of customer service products.
- Customer Growth
- Financial Performance
- Product Activity
- Company Activity
Taking from the framework of our reports, for Company Activity, we cover company related announcements, press releases, and occurrences that are important to our analysis of quarterly performance. In 4Q2013, three of our suppliers, Creative Virtual, KANA, and Nuance, published the results of surveys that they had conducted or sponsored over the previous several months. All of the surveys were about customer service and the answers to survey questions demonstrated customers’ approach, behavior, preferences, and issues in their attempts to get service from the companies with which they’ve chosen to do business. The responses to these surveys are the Voices of the Customers for and about customer service. This is wonderful stuff.
Now, to be sure, suppliers conduct surveys for market research and marketing purposes. Suppliers’ objectives for surveys are using the Voice of the Customer to prove/ disprove, validate, demonstrate, or even promote their products, services, or programs. Certainly, all of the surveys our suppliers published achieved those objectives. For this post, though, let’s focus on the broader value of the surveys, the Voice of the Customer for Customer Service.
The objectives in many of the survey represent the activities that customers perform, the steps that customers follow to get customer service from the companies with which they choose to do business. By getting customer service, we mean getting answers to their questions and (re)solutions to their problems. Ordering our examination and analysis of the surveys in customers’ typical sequence of these steps organizes them into a Customer Scenario. Remember that a Customer Scenario is the sequence of activities that customers follow to accomplish an objective that they want to or need to perform. For a customer service Customer Scenario, customers typically:
- Access Customer Service. Customer login to their accounts or to the customer service section of their companies’ web sites, or call their companies’ contact center and get authenticated to speak with customer service agents
- Find Answers and (Re)solutions. Use self-service, social-service, virtual-assisted service, and/or assisted-service facilities to try to help themselves, seek the help of their peers, seek the help of customer service agent for answers and (re)solutions.
- Complain. If customers cannot get answers or (re)solutions using these facilities, they complain to their companies.
Here, in Table 1, below, are the surveys that examine how customers perform these activities and how companies support those activities. Note that these surveys are a subset of those surveys that were published by our suppliers. Not all of their surveys mapped directly to customer activities. Note that our analyses of survey results are based on the content of the press releases of the surveys. This content is a bit removed from the actual survey data.
||Privacy and security of telephone credentials
||Telephone authentication issues and preferences
||Email response times for customer service
||Find answers and (re)solutions
||Twitter response times for customer service
||Find answers and (re)solutions
||Resolving problems using web self-service
||Find answers and (re)solutions
||Web self-service users, 18–45 years old
||Issues with Web self-service
||Find answers and (re)solutions
||Windstream Communications customers
||Usage of email vs. telephone for complaints
||Customer communication channels for complaints
||US consumers, 18 years old and older
Table 1. We list and describe customer service surveys published by KANA and Nuance during 4Q2013 in this Table.
Let’s listen closely to the Voices of the Customers as they perform the activities of the customer service Customer Scenario. For each of the surveys in the Table, we’ll present the published survey results, analyze them, and suggest what businesses might do to help customers perform the activities faster, more effectively, and more efficiently.
If questions and problems are related to their accounts, before customers can ask questions or present problems, they have to be authenticated on the customer service system that handles and manages questions and problems. Authentication requires usernames and passwords, login credentials. In these times of rampant identity theft, security of credentials has become critically important.
Nuance’s surveys on privacy and security of telephone credentials and on telephone authentication shed some light on customers’ issues with authentication.
- 83 percent of respondents are concerned or very concerned about the misuse of their personal information.
- 85 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with current telephone authentication methods.
- 49 percent of respondents stated that current telephone authentication processes are too time consuming.
- 67 percent of respondent have more than eleven usernames and passwords
- 80 percent respondents use the same login credentials across all of their accounts
- 67 percent of respondents reset their login credentials between one and five times per month.
Yikes! Consumers spend so much time and effort managing and, then, using their credentials. We’ve all experienced the latest account registration pages that grade our new or reset passwords from “weak” to “strong” and reject our weakest passwords. While strong passwords improve the security of our personal data, they’re hard to remember and they increase the time we spend in their management.
In voice biometrics, Nuance offers the technology to address many of these issues. On voice devices, after a bit of training, customers simply say, “My voice is my password,” to authenticate account access based on voiceprints and voiceprints are unique to an individual.
Find Answers and (Re)solutions
KANA’s surveys on email response times for customer service and Twitter response times for customer service examine response times for “inquiries.” When customers make inquiries, they’re looking for answers or (re)solutions. In the surveys, KANA found:
- According to Call Centre Association members, response times to email inquiries was greater than eight hours for 59 percent of respondents and greater than 24 hours for 27 percent of respondents.
- According to a survey by Simply Measured, a social analytics company, the average response times to Twitter inquiries were 5.1 hours and were less than one hour for 10 percent of respondents.
While it’s dangerous to make cross-survey analyses, it seems reasonable to conclude that customer service is better on Twitter than on email. That’s not surprising. Companies have become very sensitive to the public shaming by dissatisfied customers on Twitter. They’ll allocate extra resources to monitoring social channels to prevent the shame. Customers win.
However, remember that these are independent surveys. The companies that deliver excellent customer service on Twitter might also deliver excellent customer service on email and the companies that deliver not so excellent customer service on email might also deliver not so excellent customer service on Twitter. The surveys were not designed to gather this data. That’s the danger of cross-survey analysis.
If your customers make inquiries on both email and social channels, then you should deliver excellent customer service on both. Email management systems and social listening, analysis, and interaction systems, both widely used and well proven customer service applications, can help. These are systems that should be in every business’s customer service application portfolio.
Email management systems help business manage inquiries that customer make via email. These systems have been around for way more than ten years, helping businesses respond to customers’ email inquiries. Businesses configure them to respond to common and simple questions and problems automatically and to assign stickier questions and problems to customer service staff. Business policies are the critical factor to determine response times to customers’ email inquiries.
Social listening, analysis, and interaction systems have been around for about five years. They help businesses filter the noise of the social web to identify Tweets and posts that contain questions and problems and the customers who Tweet and post them. These systems then include facilities to interact with Tweeters and posters or to send the Tweets and posts to contact center apps for that interaction.
Find Answers and (Re)solutions Using Web Self-Service
Nuance’s surveys about web self-service really show the struggles of customers trying to help themselves to answers and (re)solutions.
In the survey about consumers’ experiences with web self-service, the key findings were:
- 58 percent of consumers do not resolve their issues
- 71 percent of consumers who do not resolve their issues spend more than 30 minutes trying
- 63 percent of consumers who do resolve issues, spend more than 10 minutes trying
In Nuance’s survey of Windstream Communications’ customers about issues with web self-service, the key finding were:
- 50 percent of customers who did not resolve their issues, escalated to a live agent
- 71 percent of customers prefer a virtual assistant over static web self-service facilities
The most surprising and telling finding of these surveys was the time and effort that customers expend trying to find answers and (re)solutions using web self-service facilities. 30 minutes not to find an answer or a solution seems like a very long time. Customers really want to help themselves.
By the way, Windstream’s customers’ preference for a virtual assistant is not a surprise. Windstream Communications, a Little Rock, AK networking, cloud-computing, and managed services provider, has deployed Nina Web, Nuance’s virtual agent offering for the web. Wendy, Windstream’s virtual agent, uses Nina Web’s technology to help answer customers’ questions and solve their problems. The finding is a proof point for the value of virtual agents in delivering customer service. Companies in financial services, healthcare, and travel as well as in telecommunications have improved their customer services experiences with virtual agents. We cover the leading virtual agent suppliers—Creative Virtual, IntelliResponse, Next IT, and Nuance—in depth. Check out our Product Evaluation Reports to find the virtual agent technology best for your business.
Customers complain when they can’t get answers to their questions and (re)solutions to their problems. KANA’s surveys about complaints teach so much about customer’s behavior, preferences, and experiences.
- In KANA’s survey on usage of email or telephone channels for complaints, 42 percent of survey respondents most frequently use email for complaints and 36 percent use the telephone for complaints.
- In KANA’s survey of UK consumers on communications channels for complaints, 25 percent of UK adults used multiple channels to make complaints. Fifteen percent of their complaints were made face-to-face.
The surprising finding in these surveys is the high percentage of UK consumers willing to take the time and make the effort to make complaints face-to-face. These customers had to have had very significant issues and these customers were very serious about getting those issues resolved.
The key results in KANA’s survey about customer complaints by US consumers were:
- On average, US consumers spend 384 minutes (6.4 hours) per year lodging complaints
- In the most recent three years, 71 percent of US consumers have made a complaint. On average, they make complaints six times per year and spend one hour and four minutes resolving each complaint.
- Thirty nine percent of US consumers use the telephone channel to register their complaints. Thirty three percent use email. Seven percent use social media.
- Millenials complained most frequently—80 percent of 25 to 34 year old respondents. Millenials are also most likely to complain on multiple channels—39 percent of them.
- Survey respondents had to restate their complaints (Retell their stories) 69 percent of the time as the responsibility to handle their complaints was reassigned. On average, consumers retold their stories three times before their issues were resolved and 27 percent of consumers used multiple channels for the retelling.
The surprising findings in this survey are the time, volume, and frequency of complaints. Six and a half hours a year complaining? Six complaints every year? Yikes!
No surprise about the low usage of social channels to register complaints. Customers want to bring our complaints directly to their sources. They may vent on the social web, but they bring their complaints directly to their sources, the companies that can resolve them.
Lastly and most significantly, it’s just so depressing to learn that businesses are still making customers retell their stories as their complaints cross channels and/or get reassigned or escalated. We’ve been hearing this issue from customers for more than 20 years. Customers hate it.
Come on businesses. All the apps in your customer service portfolios package the facilities you need to eliminate this issue—transcripts of customers’ activities in self-service apps on the web and on mobile devices, threads of social posts, transcripts of customers’ conversations with virtual agents, and, most significantly, case notes. Use these facilities. You’ll shorten the time to solve problems and resolve customers’ complaints. Your customers will spend less time trying to get answers and (re)solutions (and more time using your products and services or buying new ones).
4Q2013 Was a Good Quarter for Customer Service
By the way, Customer Service had a good quarter in 4Q2013. Customer growth was up. Financial performance was up as a result. Product activity was very heavy. Nine of our ten suppliers made product announcements. Company activity was light. Five suppliers did not make any company announcements. Most significantly, KANA was acquired by Verint. And of course, three suppliers published customer service surveys.