I first met Don Hales – Chairman of Awards International – some ten years ago when I first judged a category with him at the European Contact Centres awards. Ever since I have been a fan of industry award schemes, and this year was the fifth time I have judged at the Customer Experience Awards. So why do I do it? As a consultant you should never stop learning, and each year I learn something new.

This year I was Head Judge for the “Engaging Customers Online” category. As I have spent the last nine months as Interim Head of Customer Experience for Zurich Life, helping them introduce a new digital – direct to consumer – Zurich FutureYou financial well-being service, I felt fully up to speed with the latest thinking in online service design, agile development methods, and digital customer support models. Well informed to recognise excellence.

Our category had a good cross section of finalists at various stages of the digital customer engagement spectrum, each with different business challenges including:

  • EdPlace – an education start-up business who have spotted a gap in the private tuition market by offering online support for parents and their children for the Maths, English and Science curriculum – looking to drive up Customer Lifetime Value
  • Clothes2Order – an online retailer who provide personalised clothes, printed with logos and one-off designs – looking to reduce offline contact
  • Giffgaff– the unique mobile phone provider who use their member community to answer questions from other customers – looking to optimise their support model
  • Intertain – the themed restaurant and night club provider, with brands such as Walkabout – looking to drive up usage of their customer feedback process
  • RHP – the social housing provider based in South West London – looking to drastically increase online customer usage in order to offset the impact of government austerity measures

Based on these initiatives, I was able to extract top tips that we can all learn from:

Tip 1: “Apply what you know” works well in your contact centre to the world of online customers

A good example of the ‘tried and tested’ agent motivational approach of incentives and recognition was applied by EdPlace by allowing a parent to setup specific rewards that their child could then achieve once they had completed particular tasks. Progress could then be tracked on the app dashboard – the digital equivalent of the sticker chart!

Tip 2: Your contact centre data is a powerful evidence base for tracking improvement initiatives

We all know that the reasons for customer contact are the root cause of failure demand.  If you have a good method of logging and categorising your phone when providing digital customer support, email and chat based touch-points, then you can look for improvement trends. This is what the Clothes2order project team had applied to understand where they should be prioritising their development team effort. There was good use of AB testing – taking a new screen design and comparing it from a user behaviour perspective with the current system –which generated a step change in contact reduction.

Tip 3: Online communities are a real innovation for customer support

The giffgaff business model is unique. From day one of launching their mobile business in 2009 they have empowered members to help each other. Community is part of the DNA of their customers. The business results in terms of low offline contact rate and high NPS scores reflect that sense of shared values, pointing towards a new paradigm in how digital customer support can be delivered. For standard enquiries, then let the power of the crowd respond to that query, and when you want to recruit contact centre staff then look for volunteers from the crowd and support them as home based agents. A real glimpse of the future from our silver award winner.

Tip 4: Exploit the ‘free stuff’ you provide digital customers to help meet your own business needs

The online world is full of free stuff that digital propositions provide to their customers. At Walkabout venues, free wi-fi is one of those benefits for just the ‘cost’ of the customer giving their email address. The clever way Intertain have exploited this is to send a customer feedback survey to customers that day after their big night out at the venue. Take-up rates by this method of promoting the survey have been effective, driving up the overall feedback sample size.

Tip 5: To get to the moon you need to reach for the stars

For me it was the ambition of the project team at RHP that created the stand out ‘wow moment’ of the day. Starting from a base of online customer take-up at 20%, and recognising the embedded behaviours of social housing tenants to just pick up the phone whenever they had queries about their home, I would have expected the project team to say that they would grow their online take-up incrementally, by say +10% each year. But no, the team had a stated aim of 90% take-up (allowing for those vulnerable 10% of customers where digital support wouldn’t be appropriate), and are well on the way to reaching that target having already passed the 60% mark within the first year.

What that “reach for the stars” ambition drives is a culture and mindset of doing whatever it takes to make the online journey easier for customers. The best example they gave was spotting that customer statements were unclear and caused people to call, so five days later a change to bill format was in production that cured the issue. An amazing ‘can do’ outcome, worthy of the spontaneous round of applause that our open audience gave the team when they finished their presentation.

A well-deserved category winner – high fives all round!

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