Happy Friday! ‘This week in CX’ brings you the latest roundup of industry news.

This week, we’re looking at new devastating report about employee sickness, brand engagement attitudes, and how customer service teams are set to cope in the busy final quarter.

Key news

  • While IT departments are expected to grow this year, it doesn’t mean they need to spend more. Freshworks found that companies in the U.K are spending on average £2.7 million a year on software contracts but also estimate that they could save nearly £450,000 each year if they reduced the IT spend to only include absolutely necessary software. The number of software applications on IT teams’ work computers in the UK increased 160% over the last yearDespite this, IT professionals only use one-fifth of the applications available to them daily (just 7 out of 34), compared to nearly half in 2022.
  • Two-in-five self-employed UK workers would opt for a salaried job for the same income, a new report has found. Mental distress and flatlining incomes amid higher living costs are the key factors driving this trend.
  • Two new surveys have revealed the pressures on working parents as more employers introduce return-to-office mandates. Childcare provider Pebble surveyed 2,000 parents and found that costs for nursery and primary school-age children have increased by £664 per month. Two in five parents said they were struggling to afford the additional cost, and half of those surveyed said they were considering quitting their jobs in order to find positions that allowed more remote working.

Employee sickness at its highest for over a decade

According to CIPD’s latest report, 76% of organisations have had staff absent because of stress in the past year. The Health and Wellbeing at Work report, released this month, reveals that high workloads are by far the most common cause of stress-related absence, reported by 67% of those surveyed, followed by management style, cited by 37%.

The causes of absence are similar to previous years. Minor illness is most commonly responsible for short-term absence while mental ill health, musculoskeletal injuries, acute medical conditions and stress are the most common causes of long-term absence. COVID-19 continues to impact sickness absence – it’s the fourth main course of short-term absence. 50% report their organisation has employees who have experienced, or are experiencing, long COVID in the last 12 months. 

Mental health remains the most common focus of wellbeing activity. More organisations are using a range of approaches to support this including an employee assistance programme, mental health first aid training, wellbeing champions, access to counselling services and the promotion of flexible working options.

Lack of line manager skills and confidence is the most common challenge for employee wellbeing and ‘management style’ remains among the top causes of stress related absence. Overall, 68% provide line managers with tailored support and 59% provide some training in absence-handling. 

Just over half of those taking steps to reduce stress provide stress management training for line managers (55%). Organisations are more likely to train mental health first aiders (66%) than managers (43%) to support staff with mental ill health. 

For more insights on this topic, check out:

CXM’s top 10 article on employee mental health and wellbeing

The rise of the “open relationship”  in brand engagement

Twilio’s Relationship Economy Report 2023 – which surveyed over 6,000 consumers and 1,800 marketers across Europe – revealed that consumers have an emotional affinity towards an average of 4.75 brands. This points to a readiness among modern consumers to seek out variety and challenge the traditional notion of long-lasting brand loyalty. 

Despite this non-monogamous behaviour, consumers universally value trustworthiness and consistency from brands. They prioritise brand honesty (44%) and reliability (41%) above all else, mirroring the qualities they most value in their personal romantic relationships.

Practicality over emotional connection 

In this new landscape, expertise and efficiency are taking precedence over emotional connection, reinforcing that loyalty stems from company action and is no longer a given based on the product or service alone. 

The study revealed that 31% of consumers prioritise expertise when contacting brands, while 24% place a premium on efficiency – far surpassing the 15% of people who prioritise emotional connections. This represents a notable shift in priorities: just last year, the ‘E3 formula’ of efficiency, expertise and emotion were considered equal building blocks of customer engagement. 

However, it appears that brands may have “overcorrected” in their efforts to meet consumer demand for functional efficiency, as only 27% of European consumers reported that they are regularly made to feel special by brands.

Consumers swiping left 

The research revealed that some brands are struggling to keep pace with this dynamic consumer environment. Keeping up with evolving customer needs and behaviours emerged as the top challenge faced by marketing leaders (44%), ahead of knowing enough about their customers (42%), understanding their boundaries (42%), keeping things exciting (40%) and maintaining consistent experiences across channels (35%).

Consumers appear to agree that marketers are not always getting it right, with over four in five (81%) respondents reporting that they have “dumped” a brand. Following a lack of reliability (44%), the biggest brand turn-offs include a lack of communication or difficulty in getting a response (30%) and constant calling or messaging (28%).

First party data as the key to success  

The study found that marketers are pinning their hopes on first-party data to build more respectful relationships in this new consumer environment. 

Over half (56%) of marketers believe that use of this data will enable more accurate personalisation, and 53% believe it will also create better customer experiences, helping to improve customer engagement. Other advantages cited include more transparent data use as a vehicle to build trust (50%), and the ability to put the customer back in the driving seat (37%). 

The emergence of AI will also make it easier for brands to build these unique interactions with every single customer and create longer lasting relationships, making it more likely they’ll be in the inner circle of their customers. 

Customer service teams will struggle as golden quarter looms

The upcoming golden quarter could be set to spell trouble for businesses that are not fully prepared for an influx of customer service enquiries.

New research suggests that just 38% of in-house customer service teams currently offer 24/7 customer service or support outside of regular working hours – which can be critical for coping with enquiries during peak periods.

Data from FM Outsource revealed many organisations are lacking customer service processes which could be critical during the all-important golden quarter. For instance, only 18% said their offering provided multilingual customer service. This service allows a greater range of customers to access the right support, given data suggests that almost 10% of the population in England and Wales don’t speak English as their main language, cannot speak English well, or cannot speak English at all. 

Meanwhile, investment in assistive technologies, such as chatbots, that lessen the burden on customer care teams during peak periods and speed up response times was low. Under a third (27%) of in-house teams claim the technology is available to support them.

The adoption of multiple communication channels such as WhatsApp, live chat, and social media was also low. Just 28% of in-house teams utilised multiple customer service channels, which could provide customers with greater flexibility to access support in a way that best suits their needs.

Thanks for tuning into CXM’s weekly roundup of industry news. Check back next Friday for the latest updates of the week!

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