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Industry Research : Social Media Rises in the Customer Experience Mix

As co-founder and Director of The Customer Experience Company (CEC) - a consultancy that helps companies improve their ‘customer strategy’ - Chris Severn has led a number of large and small projects for companies such as IAG, Woolworths and Macquarie Telecom. He has also managed projects for Westpac Bank related to customer experience.

With these projects behind him, Severn has some points to make about the customer experience industry and how social media is becoming part of the mix as businesses realise the value of online communities and how social media can help retention of customers and how customers can help each other.

"Customers still want to speak to people and build up trust so that aspect of customer experience hasn’t changed very much, but it is very much a trade-off between scale and cost," Severn says.

There has been a spate of calls to radio stations recently with listeners sharing ways they have found to bypass the queue and speak to a person quicker. This relates to dissatisfaction with contact centres and the need to talk to a human being quickly, without being placed in an endless queue.

Severn says, "When banks provide phone banking through an integrated voice response (IVR) system, most simple transactions usually work. For example, one of the big four banks fields 70 million calls a year with only 12 million of those calls having to go through to a person - so that is a successful customer experience. When the cost perspective is considered to answer 70 million calls, it makes sense to have an IVR system that works. Banks are not stupid, they know IVR works for phone banking otherwise they wouldn’t do it."

The insurance company AAMI boasts in its advertisements that you get through to a real person when you call its contact centre. Severn says this is a concierge service, and the person who answers simply passes you on to someone else, and you may have to queue for some time to talk to that second person.

Severn says, "IVRs are dying slowly.

"Gradually demographics are changing and most people are using the internet to transact. While the death of the IVR is not imminent, it will be a slow death, with IVRs slated to be around for another two decades.

"IVRs are being replaced by speech recognition engines, though customer experience is mixed so far. Companies such as Interactive Intelligence are doing speech recognition well," says Severn.

In mid-July, Interactive Intelligence announced and demonstrated the latest version of its Customer Interaction Centre (CIC) software suite, which includes a real-time speech analyser.

This allows an agent or supervisor to be alerted to any problems customers might be having with their contact centre call, by listening for key word sets and intercepting the call to alleviate the problem. Interactive Intelligence has spent millions of dollars on R&D for CIC version 4.0 with speech specialists assisting in the development. There are different versions for different countries taking language into account. So far CIC 4.0 is for analysis of words only, but the company has plans for recognition of emotions in future versions.

Severn says: "The National Bank has a good speech recognition system, whereas one of the three large telcos had an incredibly bad speech recognition system which didn’t work, so they are pulling it out.

"With fixed line telephony about to be exceeded by mobiles, and most mobiles being connected to the internet, we are on the cusp of a voice to internet convergence which means the rise of social media as a way companies interact with consumers," he says.

Severn says this will not be the end of the contact centre.

"Rather, the rise of social media will accelerate the growth of the contact centre, as consumers increasingly talk to companies through social media.

"It’s now no more than a cottage industry, with modest teams responding to customers through social media, and being driven out of the marketing team rather than the contact centre, but eventually as it matures it will come out of the contact centre.

"Social media is really best suited to matters that are not so private or personal, so companies like Optus and Coles are now using it," said Severn.

RightNow has released its third annual customer experience survey for ANZ that was conducted by StollzNow, where 719 people of all ages were interviewed.

Telcos came out the worst in poor customer service experience, but the biggest change from the 2010 survey was that companies are paying attention to lapsed customers and are trying to drive up the retention rate of customers.

Brett Waters, Vice President Asia Pacific-South, RightNow, said, "All consumer-facing companies need to be involved with social media, otherwise they will fall behind their competitors if they don’t have a social media pathway. This is also critical for customer interaction with other customers."

Just as Severn says, Waters says, "The growth in mobile devices connected to the internet provides a lot of scope for growth in social media."

Amanda O’Donnell, Head of Customer Experience, Virgin Mobile Australia, says the company has implemented technologies from RightNow, including its social media features.

"This has enabled Virgin to have a one-to-one relationship with customers by responding online. We want to get to the stage where we encourage customers to help each other using social media," O’Donnell says.

Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent

Today's Tip of the Day - Keep Cost In Perspective

Read today's tip or listen to it on podcast.

Published: Friday, August 19, 2011

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