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Asia’s “autonomous customers” drives the future of customer service

Customers want to buy more if only businesses can make it easier for them to do so. This sounds ironical in today’s world where there are more ways than ever for companies to communicate and reach customers efficiently. But the reality is many companies are not aware they are making life hard for customers.

In fact, most customers say they are frustrated when dealing with customer service. As much as 62% of customers worldwide said in a recent survey that the experience for them was exhausting, and more shockingly only 13% said they got the help they wanted on the first contact.

This gap exists as customers in Asia and round the world become savvier. Today, there’s a new generation of “autonomous customers”, who are called as such because they spurn automatic brand loyalty, looking instead to family, friends and online users unknown to them to support their purchasing decisions.

Super-charged by access to online information, autonomous customers dig into details and scrutinise them closely before buying anything. They use websites, social media and mobile apps to “self-serve”, preferring to stay in control and interact with organisations on their own terms.

These were among valuable insights from the recent “Autonomous Customer 2015: On hold for Intelligent Customer Service” global survey report by BT and Avaya, which revealed a number of key opportunities for companies to connect better and re-engage with customers, ultimately building trust and creating more profitable relationship.

This new generation of customers hold huge potential buying power, especially in Asia, but they are difficult to engage. Companies need to understand them more in order to win them back.

Making it easier is the first step towards a more productive partnership with autonomous customers. This should be a top priority since these customers are busy people and put a lot of effort into dealing with organisations, and they will only buy more from those who make it easier for them.

This resonate the most with customers globally but is even more important for those in Asia, especially among fast growing economies. Overwhelmingly, 90% of customers from China, 84% from India and 81% from Singapore, put high value on convenience.

Customers in Asia are also setting the standards for how organisations should set up better customer contact. As much as 91% of customers in China, 87% in India and 84% in Singapore prefer to have different customer service channels to meet their needs.

This is why companies need to have a more comprehensive omni-channel approach. This means more than just adding online self-service and email to phone service, but adding functionalities that make customer journey easier.

With more consumers using more devices, there are definitely wider options for customer engagement. The crucial element here is ease of switching between channels, whereby people can start an interaction through an app, for example, but then use messaging or tweeting to speak on the phone with an advisor handling the query. These are not just “nice to haves” but they really add value to customers.

The challenge lies in fragvergence, which is a phenomenon where consumers use a fragmented range of channels, but expect data to converge and be available across media. The key would be for companies to “go where the consumer is” for sales as well as customer service.

This means making self-service attractive by ensuring it is well-supported. Customers like self-service but when it goes wrong they want to talk to a person for help right there and then. Organisations need to understand that consumers clearly value being offered a range of channels through which they can get help. Customers in Asia Pacific, particularly in Indonesia, India and China said a phone number should be available on every website page.

Video is also starting to play a bigger role in customer service. There is growing interest, particularly in India, China and Indonesia for companies to provide video chat. In addition, one in four customers globally is using social media for service. Customers in India and Indonesia, for example, prefer to reach out to companies via Facebook.

With customer service extending across various channels, organisations need stronger security and faster way to identify customers and verify payments. Customers have expressed great enthusiasm in voice biometrics with three in four saying they would like to see more of this technology in place.

Finally, autonomous customers are waiting for organisations to give them a more intelligent approach to customer service: “do more for me, remember me, and listen to my feedback”. It won’t be easy as organisations need to work harder to reassure customers of privacy if they want them to provide more information about themselves. But the end result will definitely be worth it – greater engagement and a more productive partnership with customers.

The writer is Vijay Venugopalan, head of customer relationship management, Asia, Middle East & Africa, BT Global Services.

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