Customer service expectations – comparing Asia and the West
Across the world consumer expectations are continually rising when it comes to the service they receive from organizations. However, there are still significant differences between what consumers demand in different regions and cultures.
For example, in the US delivering excellent customer service is seen as vital to differentiate your product or service, spawning the slogan “the customer is always right”. Yet, at the same time service staff expect tips as standard, rather than as a discretionary addition. In France service staff, such as waiters or shop assistants, see themselves as being on the same level as the customer – with this equality meaning they don’t always put the consumer’s needs above their own. All of these differences affect what local customers expect – and therefore the levels of service they receive.
Asia is obviously made up of multiple countries, all with their own cultures. For example, Thai customers value courteous, informed staff much more than South Korean or Malaysian consumers, while 63% of Chinese respondents in a survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said they’d immediately switch brands if they received poor service, compared to under 25% in India.
However, research demonstrates that in many areas Asian consumers have the highest customer experience demands of all. 76% of consumers across the region say that customer service should be a company’s top priority, according to the EIU, while a BT study found that the region has the highest concentration of demanding ‘autonomous customers’.
There are multiple factors driving these fast-rising CX needs. An emerging, more affluent middle class has high standards, while the population has a higher proportion of digital natives who heavily use the latest technology than many countries in the West. 72% of corporate executives believe access to online information is the key driver behind rising expectations.
Demographics also plays its part. 45% of Asians are currently millennials and by 2020 the region will be home to 60% of the world’s population of this group. There is a relentless focus on innovation and novelty in everything that people do. Finally, there are long-standing traditions across the region that make good service a central part of culture, meaning that people of all ages expect their needs to be catered for.
Based on this, what should brands in Asia be doing to meet customer needs? And what lessons should organizations in other parts of the world learn from the Asian experience – after all, it is likely that similar needs will emerge in the future in other places.
1. Embrace technology
Consumers in Asia are advanced users of new technology, and expect to be able to use the latest devices and channels to communicate with brands. That means at a minimum ensuring that organizations are offering mobile-friendly service options, such as mobile chat, as well as embracing self-service and chatbots. But technology has to be joined-up, seamless and easy to use – no consumer likes to waste time or to have to repeat themselves if they escalate to a different channel or speak to a human.
2. Put the customer at the heart of your business
Amidst all the complexity and technological advances, the best way to understand and engage with customers is to ensure that you are always putting them first. Build your business to be customer-centric and continually check everything you do to make sure it fits with consumer requirements. Listen to their feedback and act on it, and make sure that everyone within the organization is focused on customer needs.
3. Demonstrate the human touch
Traditional Asian service revolves around personal service. It is vital to understand that even in an age of technology, consumers still want to deal with people for specific transactions and at particular times. So make sure that you have clear escalation paths to human agents from systems such as self-service in order to deliver the joined-up service that consumers demand. Help agents by augmenting their skills with technology, such as by automatically analyzing incoming emails and social media messages and suggesting particular responses using artificial intelligence.
4. Continually innovate
A large number of Asian consumers class themselves as early adopters, meaning they are always looking for the next new thing. That means brands can’t stand still when it comes to customer experience – they must be continually looking at how they evolve and innovate when it comes to the service they provide. And it doesn’t matter what industry you operate in – consumers expect the same levels of innovation and service. So look beyond your immediate competitors and see what lessons you can learn from leaders in other industries and ensure you have strong processes in place to encourage internal innovation within your teams.
According to the Asian Development Bank by 2030 Asia will make up 43% of global consumer spending (US$32.9 trillion). With customer experience a central factor in which brands Asian consumers choose, organizations need to ensure that they are meeting expectations now if they want to thrive and grow moving forward.