Unfulfilled customer expectations are nothing new. According to Hubspot, the first documented customer complaint dates all the way back to 1750 BCE when the quality of some copper sold in Mesopotamia failed to meet the customer’s standards.
What has changed, however, is just how much customers expect. For example, a study conducted by Microsoft found that 54 percent of consumers have higher expectations for customer service today compared to just one year ago.
One aspect of these heightened expectations is the immediacy with which customers expect their issues to be resolved. Research from Hubspot indicates that 90 percent of customers consider an immediate response (defined as 10 minutes or less) to questions to be important or very important. Meanwhile, a report from McKinsey suggests that the allotted time frame might be even shorter, writing that 75 percent of customers “expect ‘now’ service within five minutes of making contact online.”
This desire for a near instantaneous response has led to a new phase in the evolution of customer experience: real-time CX.
Definition of Real-Time CX
Real-time CX is serving customers at the moment they engage with you. When considering this definition, it’s important to remember that CX includes all of a customer’s interactions with a business, from the earliest stages of customer discovery, continuing on through research, purchasing, and post-sales interactions (including customer support and success). “Serving” can involve anything that meets the needs of a prospect or customer; the key is that the service be provided as close to immediately as possible.
On the pre-sales side, real-time CX might involve an ecommerce site showing items that are complementary to the one the customer is currently browsing (part of a sales strategy known as cross-selling). After the sale, real-time CX is likely to be centered around providing reactive support to resolve issues as quickly as possible, such as enabling customers to reach out via social media or live chat for a fast response. Real-time CX can also extend to customer success, such as directing customers to specific webinars or other training materials at the moment they enter a particular product flow for the first time.
Strategies for Real-Time CX
Regardless of the stage at which it occurs, explains Forrester, “real-time CX does two things: 1) It delights customers now, and 2) it shows sophistication and responsiveness — which enhances a company brand.” Those are obviously awesome benefits, but how can a company implement real-time CX beyond just pushing employees to work faster?
Real-Time CX Channels
The first strategy we’ll examine involves real-time CX channels. When using the word channel, we’re talking about the different communication methods that customers can use to interact with an organization. In days gone by, the phone was the primary channel for facilitating customer interactions. But today, the list of channels is long and varied and includes email, SMS, text and video chat, social media, self service, and more.
In theory, practically any channel could offer near instantaneous interaction. But in reality, certain channels are better suited to real-time communication. And when it comes to speed, there’s no better channel than instant messaging, a.k.a. live text-based chat.
Live chat is typically initiated by a customer through a widget on the business’s website or mobile app. A customer can type their question or concern into a text field and then will be connected with an agent for further assistance. It’s important to note that issues shared via live chat might be tackled by a chatbot rather than a human agent, at least initially. That’s a rich topic that we’ll explore in a future post. But for now, we’re concentrating on live chat manned by live humans.
The primary benefit of live chat for both customers and agents is that it enables multitasking. For customers, this means no time is wasted while on hold or waiting for an agent to find your account or research the problem. The customer can simply switch to another browser tab or app to continue working or enjoy some entertainment while the agent works in the background. When an update is ready, a notification will typically appear to alert the customer to return to the chat window.
The customer shouldn’t have long to wait, however, as live chat enables agents to “work on multiple cases at a time — without sacrificing support speed or quality. That means more customers get the help they’re looking for, in less time,” explains Kayako. In addition, customers “can immediately ask follow-up questions if they don’t understand your agent’s response. You can expect your average handling time to drop because fewer customers will have to open new cases to get more information on previous interactions,” writes Hubspot.
Given all that, it comes as no surprise that Kayako’s research found that “a whopping 79 percent of businesses say live chat has had a positive impact on their sales, revenue, and customer loyalty.”
Real-Time CX Data
While that statistic about the impact of live chat is undoubtedly impressive, it’s important to keep in mind this cautionary note from Hubspot: “Communication channels have no intrinsic value. They facilitate two core types of value:
- Channels connect you with your customers and prospects so you can learn about and serve them better.
- Channels store a full history of customer issues that brings context to new customer inquiries, and that you can use to inform your business strategy.”
The missing ingredient that brings value to a channel like live chat is data. That’s why the second strategy we’ll examine is real-time CX data.
As DataStax CEO Billy Bosworth explains, “Today’s digital lives happen in real time and past-tense data won’t cut it. You must know your customers in real time and deliver real-time customer experiences that delight and satisfy them.” The most important phrase in that passage is know your customers. How can you know them? The answer is data — from personal and professional demographics to purchase history and past support tickets.
The tricky part, though, is how to know customers in real time. Today, many businesses — especially SaaS companies — literally have more data than they know what to do with. To make matters worse, that data often resides in silos spread across an organization making it difficult and time-consuming for agents to find the knowledge they need to help customers. For example, a Dimensional Research study on the customer support persona found that 58 percent of agents reported having to access two or three different systems or information repositories in order to resolve a new customer issue; for 35 percent of agents, it’s four or more different systems.
How can an agent find data stored within three or four different systems quickly enough to assist a customer in real time? It’s possible … with the help of a super sidekick. Just as Robin is to Batman, so is Squelch to customer support and success heroes. The Squelch software is a CX optimization solution that enables these heroes to quickly surface the insights they need, while filtering out the extraneous data they don’t.
So, Is Real-Time CX Crazy or Commendable?
Now it’s time to return to the question set forth in the title: is real-time CX crazy or commendable?
Research shows that customers are clearly clamoring for immediate interaction, and thus we’d argue that it’s commendable for companies to endeavor to meet or exceed customer expectations. On the other hand, pushing employees to respond faster without implementing appropriate communication channels and software solutions to harness customer data is not only crazy but a recipe for disaster. In the end, our conclusion is that it’s a bit of both, and the final verdict comes down to the implementation. As they say, the devil is in the details.
Do you agree with our conclusion? Or do you think real-time CX is clearly in either the commendable or crazy column? We’d love to hear your thoughts via Twitter at @SquelchIO.