Customer loyalty – 4 key steps for online brands

live engagement via chatSome customers don’t stick around. They arrive at your site, browse through the products on offer, make a purchase and then they’re gone. You don’t see them again and the relationship effectively ends when the goods are delivered and the recipient accepts them. It’s a very short customer life cycle.

But others go the distance. The relationship begins in much the same place as that one-off customer. Perhaps he or she finds out about your site through a search engine or an online ad and they drop by to check out what you have to offer. That leads to the first purchase, but this time it doesn’t stop there. Thanks to a combination of good prices and fast efficient delivery, the customer is inclined to buy from you again, maybe not next week or next month but at some time in the not too distant future. And what you have is the beginnings of a long-term relationship.

It’s a relationship that continues to develop. Over time, your site becomes the first port of call when the customer wants to buy a certain type of product. In other words, rather than checking out a handful of competitor sites, your increasingly loyal customer comes straight to you – the business is yours to win or lose.      Continue reading

Why the UK’s ‘favourite’ holding music should be binned

online customer serviceGood news, of sorts, for lovers of Mozart. More than 200 years after his death, the music of Wolfgang Amadeus not only tops the classical charts on a regular basis but is also heard by millions of callers on local government helplines.

According to a Press Association report, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Symphony Number 40 are particularly popular with local authorities seeking to provide council tax payers with a “soothing” aural backdrop as they await attention. And Mozart certainly isn’t the only game in town. Handel and Debussy are also popular with with councils, who have clearly decided that classical is best when it comes to managing the frustrations of callers stuck on hold.

Most of us are probably all too familiar with helpline holding music, which ranges from classical to jazz and even extends to indie-rock and contemporary chart sounds. What we get depends on the organisation and its brand positioning.

And up to a point the music serves its purpose. It’s there to make the experience of sitting in a queue just a little bit more bearable and it has to be said that spending five or ten minutes in the company of Mozart or Miles Davis is probably better than listening to a dead line over the same period. Continue reading

Is this pretty Japanese robot the future of customer service?

online customer serviceTokyo’s Mitsukoshi department store has a new face on its customer service team and she’s everything that a high profile retailer could possibly ask for in an employee. Neatly turned out and friendly, Aiko Chihara is also tireless in carrying out her designated task of keeping customers informed about the store and its events. What’s more, she is always polite, never grumbles and is unlikely to ask for a holiday or pay rise.

Created by electronics giant Toshiba, Chihira is, in fact, a “lifelike,” humanoid robot. She has a realistic face, has a range of gestures and she mimics human movement. Powered by sophisticated technology she’s already taken on a range of customer-facing roles, including meeting and greeting at the store’s entrance and acting as a guide on the seventh floor.

Given that retail tends to thrive on novelty, then Chihira must surely be a customer magnet. After all, who could resist the opportunity to visit Mitsokushi and interact with a life-size humanoid.

So is this just the start of a customer service revolution?  Over the next few years, robots are going to be playing an increasingly large role in our lives. If the technology pundits are correct, we’ll be seeing more of them at home and in every type of workplace, carrying out tasks that are currently the province of humans. And as voice recognition and artificial intelligence technologies advance, these robots will be able to interact with us in an increasingly sophisticated way. Continue reading

5 reasons why customers should bill brands for poor customer service

Whether hanging on a phone line listening to an endless loop of Vivaldi or standing in a long queue, most of us dislike waiting for service. And what starts with minor irritation can quickly escalate towards frustration and even anger as we count up the wasted seconds and minutes.

But just occasionally consumers seek redress. In January of this year a mother from Stoke Gifford in England invoiced her local bus company for £103 to make up for time spent waiting for late or cancelled vehicles. Wind the clock back to 2009 and some of you may remember an IT programmer who invoiced 50 companies at £25.50 an hour for time spent in queues. Some of them even paid.

So should we all be invoicing brands for the time we spend waiting for service. Well, there are some very good reasons why perhaps we should. Continue reading

Online customer service – 7 future predictions (including death of the phone)

online customer serviceThe online marketplace is changing. Consumers brought up in a “digital first” era expect to do everything online. Omni-channel retail is a reality. Mobile devices are accounting for more transactions. And in this environment, customer service is also changing. This is how we see the future.

1. The unstoppable rise of messaging

Messaging  will become established  as the most popular customer service channel for PC and handset users.

Witness a 2013 survey by Econsultancy. The research organisation asked 2,000 consumers about their experience of customer service. When asked about ‘chat’ 73% of those that had used it said they were satisfied with the experience. This compared with just 61% for e-mail and 44% for phone.

Chat is a relatively  new channel and at the time of the Econsultancy report only 24% of consumers had tried it. However, those that did much preferred it to e-mail and helplines. It is set to be the channel of the future. Continue reading

Online customer service – planning for SPIKES in traffic

online customer serviceApril is traditionally a time not just for looking forward but also for taking stock of the financial year just gone and trying to factor the lessons learned into strategies that can be applied over the next twelve months or so.

And for retailers in particular, last year brought something new in the shape of ‘Black Friday.’ Following the US model, retailers offered pre-Christmas discounts for a day (or more likely a weekend) and the results were spectacular. Witness John Lewis who reported a 22% rise in Black Friday sales when compared with the year before.

But before we get too excited, it has to be pointed out that with the impact of a relatively new retail event, John Lewis was highlighting not only the opportunities but also the challenges of an increasingly complicated market.

Those complications include discount-driven sales on Black Friday itself coupled with changing consumer habits across the whole Christmas period. For instance, John Lewis saw its online sales rise 19% in the five weeks to December 27 – no surprises there, perhaps – and also a 56% rise in click-and-collect purchases, with consumers buying online and picking the goods up at a local store. Continue reading

Customer loyalty – 4 reasons why online customers buy again [and again]

customer loyaltyEvery new customer acquisition is a small but significant victory, but it’s a win that will become all the more sweet if that first-time buyer returns again and again. In an ultra-competitive trading environment where customer acquisition can be hugely expensive, establishing a base of loyal consumers is vital to long-term success.

Not every repeat purchaser is a loyal customer. They may choose you once because, say, your site offers the best price on a particular item and return on subsequent occasions for similar reasons. That’s certainly good news but that customer might also be searching through dozens of competitor sites before returning to you. And if they offer a better deal, you lose the business. In contrast, a loyal customer might also search for the best deal, but importantly your site will be the first port of call.

So what are the factors driving customer loyalty?

1. A single positive experience is key

Well when LivePerson carried out a consumer survey back in 2013, 84% of respondents said that a single positive experience could make them a lifetime customer.

But of course that raises a secondary question – namely what constitutes a positive experience in a trading environment characterised by self-service? To some degree, it’s the usability of the site and the ease with which customers can find what they’re looking for. Equally the experience is defined by the information on offer, either in terms of product specs or extras such as video content and customer reviews. Continue reading

How Leeds City Council is building meaningful connections with its customers

Leeds City Council live engagementThis is an era of high customer expectations. Whether we’re buying from a retailer, changing our insurance details or setting up a direct debit, we expect to be able to so on a 24/7 basis, usually through an online channel.

The public sector has also been quick to respond to these expectations and today much of the information we seek  from national and local government agencies is available online, along with a widening range of transactional tools.

But we are also living in an era of limited resources in national and local government. Just as in the commercial sphere, the websites that have become so important as service delivery channels must be developed and improved if they are to reach their full potential. Equally the self-service online offering must be underpinned by support systems to provide advice and help when required. But within the inevitable budgetary constraints, making improvements and providing the necessary support is a challenge.

Challenging but not impossible. By working with LivePerson, Leeds City Council has proved that it is possible to enhance the service provided to its citizen customers at no extra cost.

Serving a population of 751,500 people, Leeds City Council is the second largest metropolitan authority in the United Kingdom. Between 2012 and 2015 the council has been implementing a “Customer Access Strategy,” and within that broad initiative one of the key programmes is the development of digital communications channels, and in particular the council’s website. Continue reading

Why the sound of call-holding music is a customer service FAIL!

live engagementWe’ve probably all had the experience of calling a retailer, bank, government department or utility only to find ourselves on hold and listening to looped music while we wait for a customer service agent to pick up.

The music, be it Vivaldi or eighties jazz funk, is of course intended to provide a more palatable alternative to a long silence and perhaps offer just a little balm to soothe any impatience or frustration that might be building up. The song usually fades out at regular intervals to make way for a taped message reminder that the call is indeed ‘important to us’ despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Collectively we spend a huge amount of time on hold. For instance in a report published in 2013, the UK Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee estimated that Britons spent a total of 76 centuries queuing on the phone lines of government agencies.  And when you look at the bigger picture, callers of all kinds spent 3.6 billion minutes – or 88 lifetimes – on hold, according to LivePerson research.

That represents not only a significant waste of life, it is also an enormous customer service fail on the part of organisations.  And perhaps more importantly, it’s also an unnecessary fail. There are better and more cost-effective alternatives to the telephone helpline. Continue reading

Why customer service 0800 numbers are heading for extinction

Image: Crystian Cruz/flickr ccThe telephone hotline. It’s almost as old as e-commerce itself and for a great many online businesses our old friend the 0800 number is the primary channel for one-to-one communication with customers.

But times change and so do the habits and preferences of consumers. For today’s smartphone-enabled customers, the voice call is just one of a number of communications options and a mounting body of evidence suggests that messaging is often the preferred option.

This has profound implications for online businesses. Put simply, if you’ve built a customer-engagement strategy that is based solely on 0800 numbers and call centres you could be swimming against the tide.

The Messaging Revolution

Here in the UK most households retain a landline – only 15% are mobile according to Ofcom – but that statistic disguises a sea change in usage. The Ofcom market report for 2013 notes a 3.9% decline in overall voice call minutes and although this mainly reflects lower fixed line usage, the number of mobile voice connections also fell in 2013 along with the number of texts. Instead, smartphone users are turning to alternatives such as instant messaging and e-mail. Continue reading

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