Online is King But Your Customers Still Want the Human Touch
Here's how to find the right balance between your online and offline interactions
While there have been calls for businesses to engage with their customers online - ignoring your customers' communication needs offline can be as detrimental as not having an online presence.
This is because while it's common for customers to do most of their research online, many will still make a purchase in-store, says trend commentator and founder of Flux Trends, Dion Chang in an interview with SME South Africa. They may also want to communicate with your business offline.
So what are business owners to do?
A new study has been released that sheds light on how businesses can achieve the right balance between traditional and digital interactions.
The research from Verint and Opinium Research reveals that "customer experience (CX) is considerably more nuanced than many businesses realise" and they should focus on both if they hope to keep up with South African customers.
According to the study, 86% of consumers in South Africa still want direct person contact and 80% of consumers prefer human customer service interactions to digital alternatives.
"Digital channels such as websites, email and self-service portals are almost as prominent as telephonic conversations to resolve simple enquiries. However, once a complex query is involved, customers reach for the phone or head to a local branch. When the going gets tougher, we want a human to talk to," says Marije Gould, Verint VP of marketing EMEA, at a Customer Experience World presentation held in Johannesburg.
"83% of consumers in South Africa do not like dealing with companies that do not provide a phone number on their website"
She urged companies not to forget the human touch adding that the organisations that embrace digital may be on the pathway to success, but those who do so at the expense of traditional customer service, risk falling behind.
Here are do's and don'ts you should keep in when taking your business online.
Do experiment with various communication methods
Gould says that although more people are choosing to interact digitally, the more traditional touchpoints, such as the telephone and branch visits, should not be ignored.
"Instead, the scope of interactions is expanding," she says, "Companies must be prepared to explore the new avenues, learn proactively about their customers."
Do try to walk in your customers' shoes
Businesses should keep in mind that sometimes interacting with a brand or service provider can be complicated, Gould says, and so requires businesses to consider the process from the customer's perspective.
This can give you an idea of how your customers may choose to interact with the business and help you make the process easier.
Do look at the nature of your interactions
According to the report, the more complex the request from a customer is, the more they will want to engage in person with the business.
"When asked how they would interact with their service providers in a fairly simple customer service request, 64% of consumers will choose digital channels. As the requests become more complicated, the reliance on human interaction becomes even greater. For complex enquiries, 60% of consumers will choose human interaction, Gould says.
Do keep the personal touch even with the digital channels
Digital channels bring you closer to your audiences and 8 out of 10 customers want more personalised touches to their services, the report states, a number that has grown substantially since the previous year.
"The vast majority also noted that they would use digital channels more often, if the systems were intuitive and faster. South Africans, choosing the phone instead of the web, may be doing so in response to poor online interfaces," says Gould.
Do keep a keen eye on security
Customers have a very high level of interest around how secure their information is, Gould says. "Nearly 90% of all the respondents rated this as very important and only marginally fewer wanted to know if their information could be accessed by third parties," she says.
This means that as you build your brand online you should not leave security arrangements and assurances as afterthoughts, she adds.
Don't forget to always provide a telephone number on your website
The study revealed that as much as 83% of consumers in South Africa do not like dealing with companies that do not provide a phone number on their website. So including a telephone number on your website will help you engage with the vast majority of your customers.
Don't pay attention to just one communication channel
Customer preferences differ radically and for you to keep in touch with as many of your customers as possible you should not focus on just one contact point.
"Companies must listen across multiple channels if they hope to create the best customer experience," says Gould.
Don't ever stop learning about what your customer wants
Technology is giving people more ways to communicate, and the landscape is constantly evolving.
"If you want to keep hearing what your customers have to say, never stop asking how they would like to be heard," concludes Gould.