When was the last time you interacted with a brand and came away from the experience feeling really good - as if they really understood you and appreciated you as a customer? Unfortunately, for many people this is a difficult question as it is easier to remember all those difficult customer service encounters than to remember the good experiences.
My company is one of the world leaders in helping others to improve their customer service, so we recently asked 69,000 people in eight countries for their views on how they feel as customers. The results showed that an average of only 44.5 per cent were satisfied or very satisfied with their most recent customer service experience.
At the same time, the survey also revealed that the percentage of happy and loyal customers exponentially increases after a positive experience. A 33 per cent improvement in the perception of a brand can be achieved by ensuring that customers go way happy and satisfied after a customer service interaction.
These figures are enormously important - for us as customers, but also for the brands that are trying to improve the way that they offer customer service.
There is a traditional view of business, particularly in retail, that the company sits at the centre of the relationship with customers coming in and out of orbit - like satellites orbiting a star. The reality is that it is the customers who are at the centre of any relationship with brands. The brands circle each customer, coming into a close orbit as the relationship improves.
Our survey showed clearly that Generation X and Y, born after 1965, are leading the adoption of online and social media channels through smart-device use, integrating them not only into their daily interactions with brands and businesses, but also into their life expectations, including those underpinning customer experience.
Technology is essentially changing expectations, not merely facilitating them. Forrester analyst Thomas Husson says: "Customers have experienced a mind shift. Technologies packed into mobile devices enable people not only to instantly consume, but also create and maintain control in their everyday lives."
These words are important. Think back a decade and it was always the brand who defined how a customer relationship could take place. Physical stores were open at defined hours, customer service could be emailed on a specific address, a free phone number could be used to get help... the brand created the pathway to service. This has entirely changed, with the customer now defining how and when service should be offered.
If a customer reviews your restaurant on Tripadvisor it's now expected that you will provide some feedback on that channel. If a customer tweets a rail company to ask why a train is delayed, they expect a rapid response on Twitter. If a customer leaves a long Facebook message to a retailer asking why they did not have a product in stock, the retailer needs to answer on Facebook.
This move to customers using multiple channels at all times has been supported further by the prevalence of smart phones. Internet access from almost anywhere is easy today and the culture of engagement has been accelerated because of this. But our survey revealed that there could be trouble ahead - even though 68 per cent of companies think that managing mobile customers is important, only 25 per cent have a strategy in place to manage this.
We now live in a world dominated by information 24/7. Big Data and the Internet of Things are changing our jobs, our homes, and how we interact with companies. Yet the customer does not want to be aware of the complexity of getting it right. They just want the company they are speaking with to respond in a way that helps them - no matter the channel used.
Great service is still great service regardless of how it is delivered.