Awards season comes early at Esendex

Tuesday 14th June 2016 was a bit of an exceptional day for Esendex, featuring not one, but two Awards dinners! The first celebrated Esendex’s position on The Sunday Times BDO Profit Track 100 league table, which ranks private companies in the UK with the fastest growing profits.

Paul Eagland, Managing Partner-elect of BDO LLP, commented:

“Businesses like yours will play a leading role in creating a ‘new economy’ that benefits the entire nation.”

Three of our directors, pictured below, accepted Esendex’s award and enjoyed an evening of fine dining, world-class speakers and networking in the process.

Paul Burton, Paul Gardner and Simon Baker of Esendex

L-R: Paul Burton, Paul Gardner, Simon Baker

Meanwhile, at a black tie event held at the Birmingham Council House, our CEO Geoff Love was attending the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards ceremony.

Geoff was surprised to be nominated for this award, as he doesn’t consider himself to be an entrepreneur in the ‘high-risk, high-stakes’ sense… Nor is Geoff the founder of Esendex, which is the classic interpretation of an entrepreneur, but he absolutely has steered Esendex to our commanding position in the business messaging market.

Geoff was instrumental in identifying and developing Esendex’s values, which are the cornerstones of our success: passion, innovation, ownership and integrity.

Paul Spencer and Geoff Love

Paul Spencer and Geoff Love

Our congratulations to the ultimate winner of the award, Marg Randles and John Woodward of Busy Bees, and a little self-congratulation to the Esendex team for embodying our values, and being exceptional on a regular basis!

3 ways to stem the tide of energy company complaints

Lightbulb

Utility Week today reported that one in six (17.4%) of dual fuel customers is now with an independent supplier, a growth of 9% each quarter since 2015.

This follows Cornwall Energy’s analysis that 2015 saw the highest number of households switch energy suppliers since 2011, and 40% of those migrated to independent suppliers. It’s been facilitated by recent Government reforms; in 2010 there were just six energy suppliers, but by 2015, there were 31.

This has been widely regarded as a positive move by industry commentators and the public:

“The Big Six have repeatedly failed to deliver a decent standard of service so it’s no wonder customers are starting to leave them in droves.” – Richard Lloyd, Which?

But are the smaller energy suppliers able to deliver where the ‘Big Six’ failed?

Well, maybe it’s not quite as easy to satisfy customers as it might have appeared. Uswitch recently reported that almost four million energy customers were overcharged in 2015, with the most common reasons being:

  • The wrong tariff being applied (36%)
  • Incorrect fees applied (31%)
  • Using the wrong meter reading (27%)
  • Setting inaccurate Direct Debit amounts (24%).

Fortunately for consumers, the Citizens Advice Bureau publishes an energy supplier performance league table every quarter, comparing how energy companies rank on handling complaints from best to worst.

Their January-March 2016 report showed that of the worst performers, eight out of 10 were small suppliers.

“Some suppliers have again proven they’re effective at dealing with customer complaints while others lag far behind.” – Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice Bureau

It appears that the smaller energy firms grew too quickly, without the resources in place to handle large volumes of customer complaints. The quick fix? More contact centre agents, with Extra Energy hiring over 150 new customer service staff.

That doesn’t address the cause of the complaints, however.

From personal experience, we’ve identified three ways in which energy suppliers could improve their communication to customers, and in doing so, stem the tide of billing errors which lead to complaints.

Don’t rely on email…

…When requesting meter readings, for example. Emails fall through the cracks, and the volume received means that even if your message is seen, it’s likely to be forgotten. A well timed SMS or automated voice call is less easy to dismiss, and considerably less expensive than sending an engineer round!

Pick your moments

Receiving a ‘please provide a meter reading’ message on a Monday at 11:47 AM is unlikely to result in immediate action. A CRM system tied to your communications platform should enable you to identify the best time to contact people based on their age and occupation, improving the likelihood that they’ll be home and able to supply the data.

Leverage smartphone use

Equally important is that your web page, to where customers are directed to enter meter readings, is mobile optimised. Customers need to be able to see, clearly, which fields on your form relate to which dial on the meter, and to be able to complete those fields quickly and easily from a mobile.

Can Esendex help?

We work with some of the best performing energy companies in the country, and have over 10 years’ experience delivering intelligent multichannel communication strategies that deliver an exceptional ROI. Call us on 0345 356 5758 to talk to our Utilities team.

5 years of Gold Partner status with Vodafone

Esendex Vodafone Gold Partner

L-R: Paul Gardner, Esendex; Sarah Edwards, Vodafone; Duncan Rose, Esendex

Esendex has been awarded Vodafone Gold Partner status for the 5th year running!

This recognises the high standard of customer service Esendex provides for our customers, both in terms of sales and technical support, and further strengthens our partnership with Vodafone.

Our direct connection with the Vodafone network means our customers’ messages are delivered reliably and quickly, essential attributes for Esendex’s discerning user base.

We’ve forged a close relationship with Vodafone over the past five years, sharing their commitment to innovation and integrity. Thanks to Sarah Edwards for delivering the award – here’s to the next five years!

A first birthday with a difference – Give Blood

First birthday Blood Donor Centre Nottingham

Left to right: Stacey Smith, Ryan Bowden, Sophie Stanley, Sam Wessel & Debby Walsh

Today a few members of our team popped down to the Nottingham Blood Donor Centre, the second largest of its kind in the UK, with a specially made cake to help them celebrate their first birthday!

It’s estimated that only 4% of the UK gives blood and that more than 6,000 blood donations are required each day to treat patients across England (Give Blood).

Having given more than 30 donations collectively as a group since the centre first opened last May, Esendex have been one of the most supportive businesses over the past 12 months, the most recent of which was in April.

Customer support advisor Debby Walsh usually takes on the reins as the organiser and has already set up the next round of donations.

She said: “Booking as a group at the centre is so easy and we felt it a great idea to encourage group participation for moral support.

“The staff are great, and I even get to find out where my donation ended up with the addition of a text message – such a nice touch!” – Debby

Centre Manager, Sophie Stanley and Marketing Coordinator, Neil Simms were on hand to receive the cake and thanked the team for their support over the 12 months.

“We are very proud of our centre in Nottingham and humbled by the difference our donors make to the community. We look forward to continuing our fruitful partnership with you.” – Neil

Technical Manager, Sam Wessel added: “With the donation centre being so close by, giving blood is easy and convenient, and it’s an amazing feeling knowing I’m helping someone who needs it. It’s a great way of paying it forward.”

The next Esendex blood donation is set for September, and we can’t stress enough how important the difference giving blood can make. It’s simple to book an appointment and register online.

A vital part of our healthcare system, and saving lives each day: we wish the Nottingham Donor Centre a Happy 1st Birthday!

Smartphones are overtaking computers for online payments – are you mobile-ready?

How important is mobile as a channel for receiving payment for products and services?

Asked that question, most people think about eCommerce / retail, and that’s certainly where much of the ‘noise’ is. As at February 2016, the amount of orders received on mobile devices out of all eCommerce had increased to 30%, up from 26% in 2015.*

However, the conversion rate rate for shoppers accessing a site on smartphones is just 3.05% in the UK, compared to 5.39% on a desktop – which indicates that retailers have some way to go to combat the distractions and difficulties that come with smaller screens.*

This isn’t news to most people. What you might not be aware of is the considerable growth in people who choose to pay bills online, and more particularly, via their smartphone.

Paying bills online is more popular than buying items online

Paying bills online for utilities, service charges, deposits, loans etc. doesn’t get nearly the same coverage as online shopping, but a recent study by Ofcom demonstrated that it’s a considerably more popular activity.

Weekly use of transactional services online by age

As the table illustrates, the group most likely to pay bills online is 25-44 year olds (50%) followed by 45-54 year olds (42%).

Looking at this in more detail, we can see that there’s a growing number of people using their smartphone as the device they’re most likely to use for this purpose, particularly women aged 16-34.

Devices used for online bill payment

If you’ve already made it possible for your customers to pay their bills via your website, you’re definitely headed in the right direction – but it’s clearly increasingly important that they’re able to make payment via their smartphone.

Given that the change is being driven by millennials, who accounted for 24% of the adult population in the EU in 2013*, I’d expect to see the smartphone overtake laptop and desktop computers combined over the next couple of years.

People aged 16-45 are more likely to access the internet on a smartphone (86.3%) as opposed to a desktop computer (76.3%). Source: Ofcom

Does this mean you have to have an app?

Another interesting finding of the Ofcom research is that currently, 41% of users prefer to use an app, and 43% prefer to use a browser.

Our team have researched whether an app or a mobile website is a better fit for your business needs, and for the most part, an app is prohibitively expensive to develop and promote. But to compete with the user experience on an app, your mobile website will need the following:

  • Fast load times, even in slow internet connection areas
  • Few distractions so that the goal (making a payment) is easy to reach
  • Finger-friendly field sizes and selections
  • To be PCI compliant, protecting your customers’ data.

Getting started

A lot of the companies I’ve spoken to in 2016 have already spotted that their current payment offerings aren’t mobile friendly, and they need to adapt to meet the requirements of their customers.

We’ve worked with them to create a payment Mobile Journey to complement their existing IVR and web based payment channels. This makes it convenient for their customers to make payments at any time, from any device, completely securely.

Mobile Journeys provide an app-like experience without the expense or challenges associated with app development and adoption. Not yet convinced? Perhaps Darwin can help:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin

*Sources: Smartinsights, Ofcom, Pew Research

Apps vs. Web – Is there a happy medium?

Web vs. Apps

Mobile devices have quickly become the go-to for a wide variety of digital services, from sending a text message to completing a purchase. The platform has progressed from another method of consuming content to helping us accomplish more all day, every day.

In the midst of 2016 we’re, now, past the mobile tipping point, with estimates that by 2017 65% of users will be using them to access the internet through their devices (Statista). The desktop is dying and it’s no longer a case of asking if mobile marketing is important – we know it is!

Mobile media time is now significantly higher at 51% with desktop at 42% (Mary Meeker) which is why making moves to mobile in business is so important. So should you opt for a  mobile website or app to improve customer engagement with your brand?

Don’t worry, be ‘appy?

The most famous stat for app usage was that 88% of smartphone activity was spent on mobile applications, with social networks accounting for a quarter of that time, closely followed by games and radio. (Digiday)

But counter that with IAB research, which suggests that only 18% of smartphone users favour apps and you’re left confused, right?

It all comes down to purpose, what are your business aims and goals?

56% of respondents to a 2015 global survey suggested they prefer making purchases from within an app than on a mobile website (Venturebeat)  but yet no payment applications emerge in the list of apps users frequent in that 88% of time. 

69% of mobile users have carried out some sort of banking activity by mobile while 66% have completed a mobile transaction on the mobile web (Venturebeat).

Designed with traditional buyers and sellers in mind, mobile payments, from online payments through to mobile wallets, can be highly profitable, making it even simpler for purchases, donations and actions to be completed via the technology your customers already use, every single day.

Mobile audience growth has been driven much faster by mobile web properties and are now twice as large as app audiences, growing at a faster rate than native mobile applications (Marketing Land).

This means it’s far easier to build an audience on the mobile web than it is via an app.

So, we have a winner…

A mobile website has a number of inherent advantages over apps including broader accessibility, compatibility and cost-effectiveness.

Reach & Accessibility

Mobile websites can be accessed across multiple platforms and easily shared via users through a simple link in an email, social media post or text message or found via search engines, meaning reach is far wider than native apps.

Time & Cost

The development of a mobile website, whether for payments or promotions, is considerably cheaper in time and cost than app development particularly if you want a presence across varied platforms such iOS and Android. A survey of app developers found that the average cost to develop an app was $6,452. Are you going to regain that cost back from consumers by charging for your app?

Immediate & Instant

Accessible via a browser across various devices, a mobile website is instant. Apps require knowledge of their existence through targeted marketing in order to get them to be downloaded and installed in the first instance, and then you have to encourage their use. This presents a barrier between engagement and action.

Designed with traditional buyers and sellers in mind, adoption of mobile within business offers companies the opportunity to increase growth through maximising sales as well as improving engagement across multiple touchpoints.

If you want to make your business a part of the mobile revolution by adopting a tailored Mobile Journey to your needs then contact a member of our team and create one complete end-to-end mobile experience for your customers.

3 top tips to ‘future proof’ your SME

Top tips to future proof your business or SMEMay is a popular month for calendar events: two bank holidays, May Day, Star Wars Day, Accounting Day and many more. However, one awareness initiative began across the Atlantic this week as National Small Business Week kicked off.

The week aims to celebrate entrepreneurship and business aptitude – and unsurprisingly is very relevant in the UK.

It is estimated that small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2015 (FSB). With this in mind we’ve decided to recognise and celebrate small and medium-sized businesses everywhere by bringing some top tips to maximise engagement, performance and of course profits:

1. The customer owns your business, not you

As an entrepreneur it’s often easy to lose sight of the fact that you depend on your customers, particularly when you’re caught up with pursuing the development of an idea. But without customers, where would your idea be?

SMEs sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that real-time, person to person customer service is an optional extra, to be established after the business has started to generate profit. It’s true that self-service options are more popular than they used to be, but 40% of customers want to engage with you directly (Zendesk), and  95% said good experiences would keep them coming back when in need (Business Reporter).

Always consider the method that you’re communicating with your most important investment: customers. From regular, low-cost methods of communication of developments via social media, email or even SMS, through to a reliable support channel – investing in the right tools could see your customers invest more in you.

2. Get to grips with the technology and adapt

It’s no longer enough to know how to set up a website; you now have to understand how the technology works behind the scenes. From SEO through to plugins and integrations, it’s easy to miss what’s important to your customers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, 11% of almost 2,000 SMEs surveyed as part of the UK Business Digital Index stated that they simply didn’t use the internet, indicating not only a lack of skills but also a lack of interest as a reason (Click-accenture).

However, as we enter a mobile-first generation where smartphones reign as the supreme communication and go-to device for information, SMEs must not only have a website but must also be adaptable to the changing needs of their intended consumers. Only 41% of SMEs are thinking this way and have adapted their websites for tablets and smartphones (Real Business).

Do your customers prefer to make fast payments, or simply consult your website for reference? Not sure? In which case it’s important to…

3. Place value in your existing customers – feedback

It’s more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain existing ones. Keep your customers close, communicate with them regularly and listen to feedback. Create loyalty by checking in with them regularly, and ask them about their experiences of your product or service using that feedback to make improvements as your business grows in size.

95.3% said they’d be likely to respond to an SMS Survey request (IPOS), which is unsurprising considering that 93% of UK adults both own and use a mobile phone and 61% own and use a smartphone, both of which have SMS capabilities (Ofcom).

Speak to your customers in a language they know.  Ask questions and get valuable feedback you can use and identify and solve problems quickly, saving costs in time and resource by avoiding repeat complaint calls.  

78% of SMEs saved time due to digital automation and communications, and 51% saw improved sales when adopting digital technology (Computer Weekly), so why not join them?

Contact a member of our team today to take a free trial of SMS Surveys with 500 free SMS credits* and see how simple it can be to transform your business communication.

*T&Cs apply

3 lessons utility companies can learn from Scottish Power

Use an intelligent voice response to transform your contact strategy

Earlier this week it was announced that a hefty fine of £18m would be dished out to Scottish Power, by Ofgem, after more than one million complaints were received against the energy supplier over a two year period.

“Unacceptably” lengthy call waiting times, complaint resolution, as well as late final bills were all at the crux of the investigation by Ofgem, which highlighted their failures to provide even the basic level of service required during and after the supplier’s implementation of new IT systems.

The fine, which is the third largest to be dished out by Ofgem, in addition to consumer research from the likes of Which, all highlight the need for sufficient contingency plans and the need to better position consumers at the heart of service quality every time. Either that or pay the price.

Almost 80% of contact centres feel that their current customer service infrastructure doesn’t support the anticipated, future needs of their consumers (Parature). Are you among them?

Incorporate the right amount of pre-planning and the right systems and you can ensure a smooth handover in the adoption of a new digital communication strategy.

1. Minimise call waiting

25% of customers switch providers because they are tired of being kept on hold (New Voice). It’s only natural to get frustrated when you can’t get the answers that you need, at the time you need them. Implementing a Voice Callback solution enables customers to request a call from your company at a time that suits them.

Reduce the time your customers spend on the path to a live agent by decreasing the number of options they’re given on their call path. Adopt an Interactive Voice System that automates, communicates and better understands customer requests.

2. Avoid delayed billing

Reliance on direct mail to communicate with your customers can often leave a sour taste; wasted paper, lengthy delivery times, lost post, a heavy reliance on staff to send them, in addition to the possibilities of them being going unread. More than 300,000 customers received late final bills from Scottish Power which meant some customers were left out of pocket.

Consider sending automated emails or text messages for instant delivery of critical information about balances or methods of payment. Where you want to direct customers to make payments, adopt a Mobile Payment Journey to provide one complete and engaging solution.

3. Proactively seek to resolve complaints

It is estimated that 35,309 complaints were received by the Energy Ombudsman concerning customer service and communication between January and June 2015, a huge increase of 55% on 2014 statistics. (USwitch) If you’re not making moves to resolve your customer’s issues then it’s likely they’ll no longer invest in you.

Consider sending a quarterly SMS Survey out to your customers to see how you’re doing before it’s too late to make a change.  Only 24% of customers stick around to see if the company will resolve their issues within a reasonable amount of time (Zendesk); make sure yours stick with you by making informed improvements.

82% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company because of bad customer service (Zendesk), but Ofgem’s investigation showcases that customer service isn’t just about investing in the right people, but the right technology.

To find out more about how Esendex’s product suite can help build your multichannel customer experience contact us on 0345 356 5758.                      

Is poor communication affecting your productivity?

Improve internal comms blog picture

It’s been widely reported that the UK is one of the most unproductive countries in Europe (BBC), and experts point the finger at three main causes: limited investment in technology, an uneducated workforce, and poor staff management.

Addressing poor staff management, one of the most effective ways that managers can increase employee engagement is through clear and effective internal communications (Rapidbi).

There are a ton of statistics to back this statement up. 91% of companies with internal communication problems tend to find motivation at low level (MaxComm). Less motivated employees are usually less engaged, and studies show that companies with less engaged employees are 43% less productive than businesses with them (BrandonGaille).

Employees who feel more connected with the company they work for are 20-25% more productive (Enplug), and companies described as highly effective communicators achieved a 47% higher return compared to those considered the least effective communicators (Watson).

Despite this, 50% of employees feel their companies are not investing heavily enough in the right communication channels with them (TheSocialWorkplace).

What’s being used now?

Most businesses rely on email as a channel to transfer information, but what happens when  the information being communicated is mission critical or requires an instant response? Relying on email alone could leave many requests with a late response or left completely unanswered due to the low open and response rates email suffers from, and in urgent circumstances that can cause big problems.

How could you communicate better?

Nearly 70% of employees think their organisation should use text messaging to communicate with them, while 86% state it shouldn’t just be reserved for customer communications (Vitiello). Personalisation of messages to staff also plays a huge role in increasing their engagement, a great way to maintain motivation (TheOpenRoad).

As a quick and easy way to contact staff, SMS benefits from open rates of 98% and an average response time of 90 seconds (Digital Marketing). SMS messages are as easy to tailor to an individual as they are to send to the whole workforce, perfect for critical communications.

Give your employees a voice with SMS Surveys, enabling your business to gain feedback and valuable insights to help motivation. Employees are twice as likely to be disengaged if they feel they’re being ignored (Hubspot), so SMS Surveys is a great way to show your staff how much you value their opinions.

For more information on using our product suite to enhance your communication with and among staff then please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team on 0345 356 5758.

It’s more than just bots – why Facebook’s Messenger Platform is good news for businesses

Esendex Bot early stages of development with Facebook Messenger Platform

Following on from last year’s announcement of a “Business on Messenger” initiative, this week saw the beta launch of Facebook’s highly anticipated Messenger Platform, an offering that scales up its peer to peer Messenger app with automated chatbots and a Send/Receive API – and we’re ready to embrace it.

The Messenger Platform presents an exciting opportunity for businesses to interact with their customers through a previously untapped conversation space. For those integrating with Esendex, Messenger has the potential to improve customer engagement even further by incorporating a widely used instant messaging channel alongside established SMS, voice and email transports. Our developers have already been exploring some of the possibilities. 

More than just bots

Plenty of the buzz around the Messenger Platform this week has understandably been devoted to chatbots, with Facebook clearly seeking to catch up with recent AI developments from rivals Microsoft, and bot integrations from other chat platforms such as WeChat and Slack.

While chatbots themselves are nothing new, integrating them into instant messaging channels presents  opportunities for automating and scaling existing business workflows, from booking confirmations to delivering enhanced customer support.

Taking a step back from all the focus on bots, what we’re particularly excited about at Esendex HQ is a fresh commerce and communication channel that has more than 900m users worldwide.

Esendex’s customers recognise the value of engaging with their users, and are already automating their communication workflows using our industry-leading APIs. The Messenger Platform has the potential to further increase user engagement as part of an intelligent multichannel messaging solution.

We’ve already started to explore the possibilities of Messenger…

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