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Companies struggling to cope with multichannel customer service

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The speed of answering emails and tweets has improved dramatically, according to the report. In 2014 it took an average of 61 hours and 39 minutes to get a response on email – this year it has been reduced by more than half, to 29 hours 27 minutes. 

However, this masked major discrepancies – one retailer successfully answered an emailed question in nine minutes, yet another took over 30 days. In the digital era can businesses really afford to fail in responding to 59 per cent of tweets and 61 per cent of emails?

Twitter remained the fastest channel for customer service, with average response times dropping from eight hours 37 minutes to five hours 27 minutes. Replies were received in just two minutes from two food and drink retailers. Unfortunately faster replies came at a price, with 11 per cent of emails and tweets simply not answering the question, requiring consumers to send follow up communications or to switch to more expensive channels such as the telephone.

For consumers looking to find out basic information, the web remains the best channel, with an average of 64 per cent of questions answered online, a marginal improvement of one per cent from 2014. At the same time a gulf is developing between best and worst – 37 companies scored above 80 per cent online, yet eight could only answer 30 per cent or fewer questions.

“Customers have never been more demanding, and many brands are responding by investing heavily in the customer experience,” said Julian Sammells, sales director UK & Ireland at Eptica. “We’ve been researching the state of the UK customer experience annually since 2011, and this year we saw little overall improvement from 2014, with 52 per cent of questions going unanswered and the performance of many brands worsening either overall or on specific channels. 

“The chasm between the leaders and laggards is growing. This should act as a wakeup call to underperforming brands – they need to improve the customer experience if they want to be successful moving forward.”

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Banking was the most improved sector, answering an average of 91 per cent of questions, moving it ahead of fashion retail (78 per cent). Much of banking’s gains came from the use of web self-service systems which 90 per cent had deployed. In contrast, just four insurers had web self-service, and the sector fell to the bottom of the rankings, answering an average of 40 per cent of questions online. 

Five out of ten sectors performed worse year-on-year, with just 36 companies improving online. There was a wide range of scores within sectors – the report explained that one utility answered 100 per cent of questions, another managed only a single, accurate response.

Consistency was also lacking, with companies that were strong on particular sectors weak on others. For example, banking was the top sector for web customer service, but was joint bottom for email, with a single accurate response. Telecoms companies answered 60 per cent of tweets, but only 20 per cent of emails. And 44 per cent of companies only answered on Twitter or email, rather than both, while 15 per cent failed to respond on either channel.

“Companies are facing an enormous growth in the number of queries they receive from consumers, across an ever-increasing range of channels,” said Olivier Njamfa, CEO and co-founder of Eptica. “Many are struggling to cope, with some essentially switching off entire channels and focusing their efforts on one or two. Rather than multichannel, we’re seeing a growth in unichannel as companies cut back. This is short-sighted – customers want to be able to use their channel of choice, not be forced into particular methods of communication. Centralising customer service and sharing information between channels is essential for brands if they want to meet consumer needs and deliver fast, accurate service that underpins business growth.”

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