The Evolution Of Customer Service
For consumers the future of customer service cannot come soon enough. The customer experience landscape is ripe for disruption. Companies are slowly making progress toward more seamless and simpler customer experiences.
Today only a select few companies leverage all the technology at their fingertips to enable customers to use the technology they use daily in their personal lives when dealing with the brand. A company on the forefront includes Amazon. Amazon has made progress building a compelling customer journey. It’s not just the vast and efficient marketplace they’ve built–Amazon is innovating on all sides of the consumer equation. They have connected their Amazon virtual assistant the Echo (affectionately called Alexa) with purchases customers make. A customer can order more of a product by just verbally asking the Amazon Echo for it. Want to know how many grams in a kilo? Ask Alexa. Want to play your Spotify list in your kitchen? Alexa will gladly do that for you. Outside of technology innovation, Amazon has the most hassle-free customer service and return process I have seen. Another great company is Sephora. Sephora is using messenger apps like Kik to provide personalized content and buyer experiences to customers. They seek to create interactions that feel tailored to the customer, and one on one. Most companies still haven’t mastered social media, yet alone mobile messaging.
Today the technology for most customer service operations is still not savvy enough for customers to avoid the burden of the old phone call. Customers prefer self-service, but will call when it’s a more complicated matter says Kate Leggett, Analyst at Forrester. That includes account closure or booking a complex airline ticket with multi-city travel. It’s only a matter of time until the game changes entirely because of improved technology. Let’s face it, the younger generations do not want to call brands–and those younger generations will soon be the bulk of your customers (not to be morbid or anything, but it’s the truth). We’re at an awkward inflection point where some companies are doing an amazing job of being on the forefront of customer experience technology, and others are still struggling with the basics. In the future customer experiences will be much more simple. I have created an infographic with nine predictions for you on the future of technology versus the past (and where most of our brands are still today). Please see the infographic below and feel free to share the image.
Prediction #1: Technology Makes Experience Better
For the consumer it can feel like the brand is hiding behind bad customer service technology. Examples? On the phone tree pressing zero does nothing—there is no human to save you from the bad interactive voice response system. Even though it’s 2016 sometimes customer service technology makes things worse.
In a recent article in CIO Magazine an Accenture study was highlighted. Conducted with over 25,000 consumers, it became clear that “Companies have lost sight of the importance of human interaction and often make it too difficult for consumers to get the right level of help and service that they need,” says Robert Wollan, a senior managing director at Accenture Strategy.
I now live near Safeway and I often check out at the self-help kiosk. But I always look to see the cashier lines packed. People don’t want to deal with the technology—because it’s ineffective. In fact every time I check out at the kiosk there is at least one problem. And this is in line with the Accenture research. More than 80% of customers surveyed by Accenture said they would rather solve a problem with a person than interact over digital channels. Hasn’t technology made our lives easier in so many ways? One thing is clear, it still remains a problem for many companies who rely on less than ideal technology environments to service customers. According to CIO Magazine, “Accenture calls the over-reliance on digital media ‘human-less’ customer service, which push customers away at a startling rate; 52% of respondents said they switched brands recently because of poor service. Banks, retailers and cable or satellite providers were the worst offenders, according to Accenture.” However in the future technology will get better and so will the company’s approach. One cannot blame the technology or the company—because both are implicated. In the future there will be better options.
Prediction #2: Customer Service Is Open 24/7
Customer problems do not only happen five days a week eight hours a day. We live in the global economy where companies must serve customers during many time zones. At the same time customers expect fast responses at night and on weekends. According to influencer and author Jay Baer, 32% of consumers expect a response within 30 minutes through social media channels.
The same report found 57% of consumers expect the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours. Companies tomorrow must operate in a 24/7 world. Otherwise they risk losing business.
Prediction #3: Customer Is In Control Of Where Interaction Happens
Remember when everyone was talking about how brands have lost control? It was kind of a big deal. Brands felt nervous about how customers now controlled the conversation. Social media turned everything on its head. Customer service became part of many very public conversations. This was great for the contact center, it catapulted this department into the limelight, giving more responsibility to knowledgeable employees—improving customer service’s relationship with marketing. However, brands took their strategies and attitudes about customer service and continued to try to control the conversation on social media. We set up customer service outposts on social media. For example on Twitter, along with the main brand’s Twitter account, we set up customer service Twitter accounts. If the brand is @XYZ on Twitter the help account would be @XYZ_help. Many Facebook accounts were set up the same way, with even a separate Facebook page to help customers.
The problem with this approach is the proliferation of service channels. Where as today often customers have to tag customer service accounts or write on a brand’s Facebook wall for the brand to find them, in the future you will see less and less of the tagging of service accounts. With the proliferation of channels there is no way for brands to operate with the same approach they have in the last few years. Every week there is a new latest channel customers talk to each other on. They are sending Snaps to friends, Kik, WhatsApp messages, Weibo, WeChat, texts, tweets and Facebook messages. The proliferation of channels is upon us.
The challenge for big companies is speed and scale. Brands need to explore technologies that will allow agents a unified workflow solution that moves seamlessly from channel to channel. The technology should allow the brand to focus more on finding the customer, regardless of channel—and allowing the agent to easily pop in and offer service.
Prediction #4: Company Knows Information From Every Channel
The No. 1 customer frustration according to Harvard Business Review is the customer having to repeat themselves. Internal dysfunction, old CRM technologies and lack of a customer oriented culture all contribute to poor customer experiences like this one. In the old days you could differentiate your product by delivering it cheaper, or maybe faster, but now it’s a different game. It’s not just about solving the customer problem quickly and effectively. Brands need to ensure they are doing all the work, so customers don’t need to remember every single piece of information to provide to the company. What happens when a customer contacts the company from a rural highway in the middle of nowhere? That customer might not have their account information or verbal password. The company will need to make it easier for the customer.
Prediction #5: Mobile Messaging Volume Is High
As mentioned earlier, phone use for customer service has steadily decreased over the past six years. Analyst Kate Leggett said, “we predict it will dip even further as customers increasingly adopt digital channels.” People spend an average of three hours and eight minutes on their smartphone every day doing non-voice activities (Source: Yahoo! David Iudica). The bigger the phone, the more usage. That said, customers are enjoying the ease of communication via messaging in their personal lives—whether it’s through text or even Snapchat, Kik, WhatsApp, WeChat or Facebook Messenger. A few brands (Sephora mentioned earlier) are doing great work on messaging apps—but most companies are slow to take advantage of mobile messaging. In fact it seems that the sharing economy is one of the biggest superuser industries of mobile messaging. Examples include Uber, Airbnb, Etsy and TaskRabbit to name a few. Customers enjoy the ease of use and not having to call the call center. It feels as easy and seamless as an interaction with a friend or family member. This is the future of customer service.
Prediction #6: The Content Finds The Customer
Today a customer’s first attempt to fix a broken product (on their own) is through Google. Google will lead the customer to the most closely related community thread or article. But this isn’t ideal, sifting through customer service content can be messy and time consuming. In the future companies will take advantage of data through the internet of things, where content is sent to the customer as soon as the product realizes something is wrong for the customer. Another scenario includes sending helpful just-in time content such as recipes. For example, Absolut is working on making its vodka bottle smart—meaning the bottle will talk to the consumer offering useful content in real-time. Mattel’s “Hello Barbie” listens to consumers and engages back to that consumer based on what she heard. Eventually customers will not have to search through tons of community threads and articles, but the company will ensure content is automatically sent to the customer at the right time.
Prediction #7: The Product Fixes The Product
Today when something breaks customers must take the proper steps to fix it. That includes contacting the company that sold them the product. However in the future as our products get “smarter” the products will be able to fix themselves. An example of this comes from Tesla. Tesla is the only car that’s completely run on software. You can update and service your car while you’re taking the dog for a walk. In the future more of our intelligent products will be able to fix themselves. This is the beauty of the internet of things.
Prediction #8: The Agent Works Through One System
Today agents are plagued with system overload. They’re working in ten different systems that include CRM systems from 30 and even 40 years ago. Not only is this terrible for the employee experience but it’s terrible for the customer experience. Having to wade through 10 systems makes the employee want to pull their hair out—additionally it adds a ton of time to the customer experience. In the future our CRM technology will allow agents to seamlessly move in and out of different customer service channels while staying in one customer service tool. While it will look very different for the customer, it won’t look different for the agent—it will be one easy, seamless experience.
Prediction #9: Customer Service Gets Marketing’s Budget
You rarely hear about the Chief Service Officer. Sometimes you might find a Chief Customer Officer or Chief Experience Officer but rarely is there a c-level officer devoted to service specifically. However you would never see a company without a senior marketing leader such as a Chief Marketing Officer or EVP. But now we know that being helpful can be the best form of marketing. In fact most of the messaging that happens from the customer toward company has to do with customer service—consumers that need help. Customers are not on your website looking for the latest marketing asset. Let’s talk about social media for a second. Social media programs are launched by marketing or PR and handed over to customer service after it becomes apparent that service is the only group qualified to answer these questions. But budgets are still not granted to customer service like they are to marketing (or even sales). There’s a reason today you can’t get through to a human on the phone. There is also a reason things are often broken when it comes to customer service programs. Customer service often does not have any money. The budgets go to marketing and sales—but in the future customer service will be the darling of the organization with the money it needs to do right by the customer.
What would you add to this list?