Customer service in 2014 was all about loyalty, with trust indicators such as testimonials and reviews littering marketing collateral and feedback sites such as Feefo and Trust Pilot were theplaces to go to triage your purchasing decisions. Accessibility remained a top concern for businesses, clambering to be in the right place before the right time, anticipating their customer’s next move via increasingly sophisticated insight applications. Many brands were still finding their feet with social media; some excelling, some just getting good at sweeping up the pieces.
What is needed now is a long-term, multichannel approach that reflects the changing needs of the market; fostering trust, listening to the audience and always remembering that everything now happens in a very public sphere.
Ryanair Make a Connection with Customers
Historically, the Ryanair service approach was doggedly no-frills (on-board toilet charges anyone?) with a customer care philosophy that was perfunctory at best. It’s hard to imagine this forming a successful marketing strategy; but via a combination of consumer frugality and the reiteration of the airline’s budget nature in even disparaging press coverage, Ryanair’s star enjoyed decades of ascendancy.
However, since late 2013, undoubtedly responding to streams of customer vitriol on review sites, Ryanair have assertively changed tack. Plans to enter the lucrative business market have led to a more publicly-muted CEO, Michael O’Leary, as well as a more user-friendly website, allocated seating, and a more flexible approach to luggage and booking.
The new strapline, ‘Low fares. Made simple’ acknowledges the carrier’s commitment to the budget-conscious consumer, while pledging to adapt the service to work more efficiently for their customers. In early September, the company announced that it flew a record 9.4 million passengers in August, a 4% increase on last year.
O’Leary and friends still have a long haul ahead of them however. In 2013 the airline was ranked bottom of 100 of the biggest UK brands for customer service by Which? Magazine. Ryanair’s position in 2014? Third from bottom with Npower inheriting the bottommost accolade.
Also in airline news – Australian flyer, Jetstar, offer an alternative approach to customer service.
Can’t Get No Satisfaction
In July the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), which surveys nearly 10,000 consumers fell for a second year. Commentators blamed consumer’s expectations for swifter and more convenient service offerings. Younger age groups proved to be the demographic most likely to be dissatisfied with levels of customer service, a possible signifier of future trends. Amazon and John Lewis remained the top two rated brands, with only Tesco Mobile, Next and Center Parcs showing year-on-year improvement.
This Time it’s Personal
Big data and the appetite for slicker services have created a quandary in modern consumers. Personalisation has matured from mail merge-style name inclusion to exhaustive 1984-esque surveillance, and predictably has attracted advocates and detractors. Sure, I want my local supermarket to give me discounts on my Beluga caviar and Dom Pérignon, but I balk at these profit hounds rolling in riches generated from selling mypersonal data!
Horror stories aside, creating a balance in marketing communications whereby you reward and encourage loyalty without instilling dystopian shivers in your customer base can only be a good thing. Travel companies that send you city maps a few days before you embark on a holiday you purchased with them? Ideal. Retailers that inform you of a relevant sale or event in your local area? Perfectly fine. Businesses that stalk your inbox and mail with irrelevant vouchers and “newsletters”, whilst misspelling your name? Not so much. It is also advisable to test your e-marketing processes before sending e-shots, as per this doozy from United Airlines in October.
Comcast Gets Creepy
Earlier this year, AOL Product Manager Ryan Block called his cable provider, Comcast, to cancel the service and was treated to a litany of obstructions from a member of their customer service team. Despite reiterating his request seemingly dozens of times over an 18 minute call, the rep insisted on repeating his own increasingly agonised appeal for feedback on why Ryan wanted to leave – which Ryan was not happy to provide.
The rep is obviously following orders to gather as much information as possible for marketing purposes or to build a case for winning the customer back. The problem lies with the arrogant and disrespectful manner in which the rep’s requests were made. Ryan had no obligation to offer this information and it is highly unlikely that repeated demands for this would achieve a favourable result. If a customer wants to terminate a service and does not respond to a feedback request, let them bow out with good grace.
We’ve listened to it, so you don’t have to – but if you are feeling brave, here it is.
It’s passé now to refer to a “connected” or digital world. It’s just the world. The pervasion of remote working, coupled with the need to act swiftly on customer insights have firmly placed mobile CRM apps on the must-have list for collaborative sales and customer service teams. You must be available to your customers whenever they need you, or your competitors will be. Mobile CRM apps give brands the ability to improve customer support, manage social media, such as LinkedIn, and ultimately drive conversions and increase brand awareness. Cost to business is reasonable, weighed against the benefits, and there is an alarming array of choice out there. This will not be a trend for 2015, it will be a standard.
Alleviating Social Anxiety
2014 saw a little less of the social customer service shaming that was so relished in the previous year; though a few high-profile brands learned some valuable lessons about just how public a public forum is, and when and how to take communications off-line.
Response times to online and social queries appeared vastly improved, as did response and engagement quality; brands were learning from the errors of their peers, unwilling to take their place in the stocks. Businesses also got wise to having a separate Twitter handle for customer service, detailing SLAs and opening hours in their profile to manage customer expectations. Tone of voice also improved and without inside knowledge the average customer would find it hard to tell if the account was outsourced or managed in-house. As it should be.
Of course, there were a few casualties, including a mischievous “Tecso” customer service Twitter account as well as the usual trolling and outrage that only anonymity can provide… But on the whole, a good year for social customer service – and customer care in general – for both brand and consumer.