Where are you? Data woes leave customers in the lurch

anger1The Covid pandemic may have triggered a rise in the number of digital channels that consumers can use to contact businesses but firms’ failure to use the customer data they hold means Brits are finding it harder than ever to actually get through.

That is according to the findings of new research released by Twilio, which has uncovered how businesses’ digital acceleration in 2020 has led to a wealth of channels that now need to be consolidated into nuanced, personalised customer engagement strategies in response to today’s consumer needs.

With customer retention a crucial metric amid economic uncertainty, failing to address this challenge could cost businesses significantly, Twilio claims.

The research examined the methods of contact offered by 100 of YouGov’s most popular UK brands and contrasted this against consumers’ surveyed experiences.

Findings demonstrate that businesses have made significant strides towards digitisation since the pandemic, with 48% of the top 100 companies now offering online chatbots as a customer service channel.

Yet without taking advantage of first-party data to understand their customers and personalise their approach, businesses are missing key opportunities to engage with customers, the report maintains.

For instance, nearly one in five have cut their phone lines (18%), despite 87% of customers wanting to speak to a person directly to solve a query, and 37% of phone lines are not freephone. Consumer opinion reflects this missed opportunity: 39% feel that it is more difficult to reach UK companies now than it was in the past, despite there being more channels available than before.

As the UK has moved from the pandemic into the cost of living crisis, businesses now need to adapt to consumers’ greater desire for personalised, convenient engagement methods. Those that still rely on the channel strategies that offered a lifeline in 2020 will find their customers are now more likely to go elsewhere if the experience feels disjointed.

With half of UK consumers (54%) agreeing that customer service could change their mind about a company, using data to understand how customers want to interact and equip customer-facing teams to deal with issues effectively is crucial.

The research also unveiled ways in which businesses would benefit from approaching customer engagement strategically rather than taking a reactive approach.

A bid for efficiency has yet to pay dividends. Many companies offer digital options for engagement before phone lines: 36% offer online chatbots, 12% email and 7% in-app communication. Yet despite the opportunity offered by automation tools that can streamline digital engagement, over half of consumers (55%) still think their queries aren’t dealt with efficiently.

This suggests that the technology stack is not yet living up to expectation and businesses would benefit from back-end systems that can join the dots between interactions.

Businesses are also over-reliant on options that don’t offer the opportunity for personalisation. Over half (54%) offer generic FAQs and 19% contact submission forms before the customer reaches a phone number. While these options may be necessary, many are missing out on the opportunity to better understand customer needs via the first-party data that could be gleaned here, for instance through using a customer data platform (CDP).

Many are yet to take advantage of technologies that meet customers where they are. Just 3% offered WhatsApp as an engagement option, while only 5% offered accessible options such as British Sign Language-enabled calls tailored to deaf customers. Considering all customer needs is crucial in today’s economic context, as customers are likely to shop elsewhere if they are not catered to.

By looking at their customer engagement ecosystem holistically, businesses can evaluate digital tools and ensure they’re using the right mix to offer balanced, convenient and efficient engagement. Implementing an effective strategy will improve customer retention rates and have a positive effect on businesses’ bottom lines, because customers who feel understood and valued are much more likely to return.

Twilio customer engagement consultant Samantha Richardson: “We all know that feeling when we need to get an answer from a company but we’re forced to jump through hoops to get the response we want.

“This frustration is usually a symptom of an unhealthy digital ecosystem. Many organisations aren’t taking advantage of first-party data tools like CDPs to build an engagement strategy, so they aren’t reaching their customers in the right way. Personalised, data-driven customer engagement can allow brands to interact with customers on their terms, remove friction, encourage dialogue, and ultimately improve their lifetime value to the business.”

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