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Been hearing plenty about how ‘customer experience’ has become make or break for businesses – before the COVID-19 crisis began hijacking the headlines, that is?
You’re not alone. Customer experience (CX) – commonly defined as the sum total of interactions between an organisation and its customers over the lifetime of their dealings – is now a critical business issue. Ecosystm’s ongoing global CX Study shows decision makers, in Australia and globally, view improving their CX as more important than revenue growth, cost reduction and innovation.
Here’s why: customers today are spoilt for choice, in most spending categories, and as a result have become a fickle bunch. Brand loyalty is on the wane, with consumers and businesses alike ever-more-ready to switch to suppliers which are able to surprise and delight them, rather than merely meeting their needs and wants.
Preparing to compete in a changed economy
That’s something that’s unlikely to change in the post-shutdown (but still socially distanced) era we’re preparing to enter, here in Australia. At a time when many companies and individuals will be compelled to keep their spending in check, businesses will need to work harder than ever to capture and retain their custom and offering a superlative customer experience may be one way to do so.
That could pose a significant challenge for Australia’s 2.3 million-odd small businesses; many of which will emerge from the COVID-19-induced economic hiatus with depleted reserves and skeleton staff, according to Ecosystm principal advisor, Audrey William.
Contact centres are a key component of CX because, for most organisations, they’re the dominant interface with customers, prospects and partners and set the tone of the ongoing relationship – for better or worse.
Historically, high set-up costs and excessive complexity have made contact centre solutions a deterrent for family-owned businesses, and enterprises which employ a team of fewer than 30 contact centre agents, William says. The fact they can be expensive to install and operate has led to the perception that they’re primarily the purview of larger organisations.
Solutions to help SMEs deliver consummate customer experience
So how can Australian enterprises of more modest proportions utilise this technology to provide their customers with the personalised, proactive and efficient service that underpins a high-quality customer experience, without blowing their budget in the process?
The answer, according to William, is to seek out software that requires minimal modification and which addresses the specific business requirements of SMEs.
For some organisations, that could be a simple solution that manages inbound and outbound calls, call recording, workforce optimisation and basic analytics features – with the option to add additional channels if demand warrants.
Sure, there are other touchpoints like self-service applications, web chat and messaging they could also cover off the bat. But, unless customers are technologically savvy or there’s reason to believe they want to communicate via these digital channels, doing the basics, and doing them well, may well provide the optimum return on investment, in the short term, at least.
Ecosystm research shows SMEs globally are investing in email, outbound services, integrated Customer Relationship Management solutions and strengthening their voice capabilities.
Choosing a cloud-based contact centre solution that can be scaled up or down reduces the expense typically associated with system upgrades and makes responding to peaks and troughs in customer demand straightforward. It can also help to provide something, the value of which only becomes evident when trouble strikes: business continuity. The cloud model lends itself to multiple back-up and redundancy measures, which makes it easier for an SME to keep on keeping on, even if an incident or outage has knocked its headquarters out of action.
Organisations which are serious about customer experience know it’s a process of continuous improvement, not a one-off exercise. A contact centre solution which incorporates user-friendly reporting and analytics tools can help a business gauge the quality and effectiveness of its interactions with customers.
Metrics such as the average time taken to resolve enquiries and the number of contacts which are resolved in the first instance can be used to inform employee training and set performance goals and targets.
Preparing for a more customer-centred future
Australian SMEs have had their operations disrupted and their bottom lines battered by an economic and public health crisis of unprecedented proportions this year, and the upcoming months and years may be challenging ones.
Enterprises which take steps to improve their capacity to deliver a consistently high-quality customer experience give themselves the best shot at winning and retaining business, in good times and bad.
* Daniel Harding is director of Australian Operations at MaxContact