Customer engagement. Customer service. No matter the way you describe it, this facet of a consumer interaction with a brand must be stellar and memorable.

Julie Pukas, head of U.S. Bankcard and Merchant Services at TD Bank, told Loyalty360 in June that customer experience is such an integral piece of the customer loyalty puzzle−one that loyalty marketers have to embrace every day.

“Consumers’ desire for seamless transactions is permeating every industry and there are some game-changers who are really upping the ante when it comes to payments and customer experience,” Pukas explained. “The companies that will win will do so by prioritizing seamless and frictionless customer experiences, followed closely by offering on-demand service. Today’s consumers are savvy and want immediate delivery of services or goods. It’s a tall order to fill, but companies who master that will find a customer base that is fiercely loyal to their brand and poised to transact again and again.”

As much as there is written about the overwhelming importance of customer experience and customer service, most brands don’t heed the message.

According to the Northridge Group’s State of Customer Service Experience 2017 report (which surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. respondents), most consumers are increasingly frustrated by how much effort is required to get the help they need from companies:

At least 50 percent of consumers say they do not feel companies make it easy to contact them.

While most consumers still prefer the phone for mission-critical issues, more than 70 percent experience long wait times and have trouble navigating the automated system to reach a live agent.

As consumers migrate to digital channels, 57 percent of consumers frequently have trouble finding answers on a company’s website.

And despite social media increasing as a preferred channel among consumers, 25 percent never even receive a response when they contact a company through social media. That’s up from 21 percent in 2016.

“Seems like many companies have missed the memo on the importance of a well-executed, customer-centric service model and the business costs are real,” said Pam Plyler, executive practice lead of customer experience at The Northridge Group. “More than half of consumers we surveyed (51 percent) say they’re willing to spend more with a company that provides an excellent customer experience. Yet 64 percent of those same consumers report frustration about being asked to repeat their information to customer service representatives multiple times, and 35 percent say they frequently experience service agents who are impolite and unfriendly. The financial repercussions are hard to ignore, with 81 percent of consumers reporting they’d likely stop doing business with a company after a poor service experience, and of those unhappy consumers, only half (53 percent) may return. It’s a simple concept. By making it easier for customers to efficiently connect with businesses about service issues, companies can significantly increase customer satisfaction, protect brand reputation, reduce costs, and grow profitability.”

While some channels like email are declining in use for customer service, other digital technologies are emerging to fill the gap between existing tools and evolving customer needs. In fact, about half of consumers are likely to use an Interactive Virtual Assistant (IVA) to contact a company in the coming year.

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