Management / How technology makes for a smoother customer experience

How technology makes for a smoother customer experience

A well-planned, carefully managed CRM system can help companies to keep more of the money that might otherwise leak out of the business. With the right technology, companies can build a system that connects multiple channels together and serves customers quickly and without inconvenience.

multichannel

But it can be hard to know what to invest in and investment often requires a business case that can be difficult to construct. This was the key theme to emerge from an Inner Circle Breakfast Meeting supported by Genesys and attended by senior figures from across the travel industry.

Shane Simpson, of Secret Escapes, said that any money spent on CRM is often seen as taking money away from the parts of the company that grow the business, such as marketing. Of course, CRM has a role to play in that process but is easily overlooked. Alastair Campbell, of GLH Hotels, said that building a connected CRM can require a separate business case for each piece. It’s not enough to say that the company will benefit when the work is completed.

Companies don’t stand still, so even if the business agrees to invest in the CRM system, the planning needs to consider expected growth. That means the CRM manager has to be kept informed of the company’s plans – something that doesn’t always happen.

The situation is often complicated by the need to connect to third party systems. In the travel industry, customers might book their holiday or journey with one company but it could be another company that is actually supplying the service.

Providing a satisfactory customer experience means that both companies need to know about the arrangement. Mr Campbell said that customers are often issued with several reference numbers and matching them in the CRM system is costly.

If the customer and the supplier are in different time zones then things can be even more difficult. A traveller who runs into trouble in the US doesn’t want to find that the UK call centre is closed. And if support for other time zones is supplied by another company then, once again, the CRM system needs to be connected so that the details are passed to the right person.

The digital age has increased the number of communications channels that businesses need to offer, or at least consider. Email and web chat have now been supplemented by Twitter and Facebook. Social media channels often start out as marketing exercises but customers, who seldom respect corporate boundaries, quickly begin using them to raise problems, which means they need monitoring too.

Social media doesn’t just increase the breadth of available channels, however. It also increases speed. Simon Shaw, of Eurostar, said passengers were often informed of service problems through Twitter before the train staff had been told. That puts train staff in a difficult position and can increase customer frustration, particularly in the case of a severe problem. As a result Eurostar is rethinking how train staff are kept informed.

New channels arrive all the time. Xavier Vallee, of STA, which caters to travellers who are mostly in their teens and 20s, says that his customers now expect to be able to contact the firm via channels such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat. That means staff have to understand them so as to be able to use them effectively. Instagram, for example, is a picture-based medium, which requires a rethink in how you communicate with customers.

Even those delegates whose customers do not expect the latest internet channels said they are considering experimenting with – or have already experimented with – video chat as a way to resolve problems. Mr Shaw said that Eurostar was considering video FAQs (answers to Frequently Asked Questions) for its website and even supplementing physical ticket desks with video chat-based services at stations.

However, most delegates said the phone remains the core method of contact. Philip Purdy, of Travelzoo, said that in some regions – such as Germany, for example – customers strongly prefer to use the phone to finalise a booking or get important information. Sue Anderson, of Malmaison, said that the likelihood that customers would want to talk to the company on the phone increased with the amount of money they were spending.

That doesn’t mean that phone contact can be offered in isolation – and this is another area where the issue of connecting channels is paramount. Customers might be happy to initiate contact via a web chat and then decide they want to speak to a person. Being able to switch that customer from the web to the call centre and have the person they speak to have access to their details is not easy.

Overall, a picture emerged of an area of the business that is working hard to keep up with constantly changing customer needs. Technological solutions can help to make this task more manageable.


Click here to catch up on our coverage of Customer Focus Live 2015.