Customer service in continental Europe is often bad-mouthed. However, best practices in that area do exist. I interviewed Alexandre Oddos, COO at Vocalcom, a French-based worldwide vendor of customer relationships solutions, to understand the true meaning of a 360-degree customer view. What is it and how does it work, beyond the buzzword? What are the most advanced industries in that area? And how should one try and implement such an approach? Alexandre shed a bit of light on this in the context of the COVID crisis, and he also delivered his no-nonsense advice on how to deploy Chatbots.
360-degree customer view – Post COVID
What are the most advanced industries in terms of the 360-degree customer view?
Alexandre Oddos —There are four main verticals at the forefront, which are the banking and insurance, retail, energy and telecommunications sectors.
We are also witnessing that new industries, such as education, now have a vested interest in CRM. The COVID crisis has profoundly altered business processes and ways of doing things. CNED, for instance, a French quasi-governmental body for education, moved a considerable proportion of its education services online.
Besides, all universities and business schools have a clear need to launch marketing campaigns on and offline, to generate inbound calls, maintain contact with candidates, and manage students when they go abroad during their gap years.
The COVID crisis has profoundly altered business processes and ways of doing things
New industries like Education now have a vested interest in looking into CRM
I was discussing this with the headmaster of GEM in Grenoble. In this instance, we are talking about 1,500 students, half of whom are located outside of France. In this context, one has to manage all the students’ expectations, problems and questions. Customer contact must be possible via email, SMS or voice.
Visionary Marketing — What is the role of social media in that shift towards a 360-degree customer view? More than a decade ago, we all expected a real customer service revolution through social media. Since then, software vendors have started to incorporate social very early on their platforms. How mature is the use of these tools in the overall CRM toolbox?
AO Indeed, social media was very much flavour of the month 7 to 8 years ago, especially LinkedIn and Twitter. CRM Software vendors had to have LinkedIn, and Twitter bundled in their offer, for fear of not being part of an invitation to tender.
The use of Social media in CRM remains marginal
When we look at the current situation, the use of such platforms is rather marginal. On the contrary, Facebook is emerging, particularly when it comes to engaging with end consumers.
Facebook is also one of the go-to places for information about service quality. And people share much more on Facebook than on any other platform today. In this context, we see requests coming in from time to time through Instagram, but it’s still negligible. WhatsApp, which is quite different from Facebook, is also a medium that is on the rise.
Then, depending on the geographical area, there may be other channels such as Apple for Business, WeChat in the Asia-Pacific region or Viber, with a strong presence in some areas.
Thus, there is a need for social media. Yet, it all depends on how businesses use it, and whether we are dealing with B2B or B2C.
VM At the end of the day, did social media manage to reinvent customer relationship marketing through the provision of a 360-degree customer view?
It did become a significant part of it. The latest studies show that the two most used media are still the telephone and email, in all circumstances. Social is the cherry on the cake.
The consumerisation of IT that has taken place over the last decade with consumers becoming increasingly IT savvy to share, exchange and interact has put pressure on businesses to incorporate social media into their strategies.
This has forced CRM solution providers to adapt their offer. As of now, social media has thus become a channel like any other. How pertinent social media platforms are concerning customer relations depends on their typology.
VM What about Chat as a new channel? Which sectors are using it, is it becoming, at last, more prominent?
AO Indeed, there is a rise in the use of Chat, especially in the e-commerce sector. World Travel Holdings is one of our clients. It’s the world’s number one luxury cruise company. Their cruises range from a few thousand to several tens of thousands of euros.
They resorted to a Chat solution, coupled with voice.
For them, what is essential is to initiate the customer relationship from the moment the Internet user arrives on the website. Web tracking is in place, and this information is then fed into the system so that the Customer support agent can retrieve as much information as possible. But very often, customer interaction is initiated through Chat.
Introducing Chat with the 360-degree customer view
After a certain amount of time using the website, a pop-up appears that attracts the Internet user’s attention and aims at making his or her search more relevant. This is a mechanism used more and more frequently.
Worthy of note though, is that agents must be available in the back office to respond to questions when they arise. Chat remains mostly driven by humans, not AI. If nobody picks up the phone, your customer experience will be a disaster, and Chat will be counterproductive. Internet users will ask a question and will require an answer after just one minute. Beyond that limit, they will start looking the other way.
VM What is the weight of implementation in the success of a CRM Chatbot initiative?
AO If you are a user of public transport, and you use the chatbot, but if it’s not connected to the rest of the customer information system, it defeats the object.
We’ve seen a lot of Chatbots used during the COVID crisis. Companies and governments needed to equip themselves with solutions very quickly to cope with soaring demand.
To answer questions related to the COVID crisis, what GPs were available, etc. As a result, we’ve seen a significant emergence of this topic. In Poland too, with the Ministry of Health and in Czechoslovakia, Chatbots were set up with IBM Watson. In Africa, also, governments have set up chatbots or call centres very quickly, depending on available resources.
Customer relationship interactions will increasingly start with Chatbots, which allow the identification of a question according to the keywords it contains. But it is only suitable for simple interactions. As soon as inquiries become more complex, Chatbots are no longer able to address them.
We somehow realise that many consumers are put off by their limitations, after a while, despite over 34% growth in interactions.
Chatbots do not yet have the same learning capacity as humans. Therefore, once a contact has been established, it is necessary to redirect the call to a secondary channel, more suited to direct customer interaction.
VM What are your top tips for integrating as many channels as possible into the customer relationship to maximise customer experience?
AO The first thing you should do is to analyse your personae, your consumer segments, and install proper customer service tools.
My second piece of advice is to adapt your customer service strategy according to your image. A top-of-the-range company like Thalys, for example, delivers superior service. Thalys has a platform of around a hundred advisers in Brussels, and all interactions are done by telephone, 24/7. They, therefore, need to have a platform where they can answer all questions (timetables, train changes, ticket changes, etc.). It is in synch with their job, their vision, their strategy and the service they want to deliver. Other players, on the contrary, will favour access to knowledge bases, Chatbots, etc. and eventually return to human-driven support, as Apple is doing, for instance.
VM Thalys, a Belgian company, Apple, an American company. What about the French who are often criticised for poor quality customer service? Who are the winners in the field of 360-degree customer relations on the continent?
AO There are good practices in France too. Let us mention Garanka. It’s a business that provides services pertaining to energy, boilers, water heaters and air conditioning.
With the deregulation of the energy market in France and the opening of market access to new entrants, Garanka is one of the few operators which was able to renew its offer and overcome the GDPR barrier. Initially, they were making a lot of outgoing calls; now they have reinvented their marketing practices to bring consumers to them.
They have achieved this through a marketing effort spanning different channels. They did this with a lot of Web-related work and a lot of SEA and SEO. Eventually, this new strategy transformed its marketing from outbound to inbound and turned the company around.
When you move into a new flat, the first thing you should do is have the boiler inspected to make sure it is up to standard and get all the issues solved. Hence, you hook up on the Web and look for “boiler troubleshooting” or “boiler maintenance”, and other similar keywords.
Garanka has set up a system that allows automatic callback from the Web. Depending on how busy they are, you will be called back by an agent within 15 minutes to an hour. This agent is directly interconnected with the calendar database for all its repairmen. He or she will be able to arrange an appointment without delay and confirm it to you by text the day before, and later two hours before the job needs to be done.
Once the maintenance has been carried out, you will receive an online satisfaction survey to find out how it went.
Garanka is a second-to-none example of a 360-degree customer relationship: a relationship that starts on the Web and ends with a satisfaction survey.