Today’s businesses understand that good relationships with their customers help build loyalty and strengthen their reputation. This can create such a critical advantage that marketing leaders believe that customer experience will be the key competitive area in years to come.
Of the many touchpoints that constitute a customer’s experience with any company, customer service tends to get the short shrift. Many businesses prefer to focus on other aspects, such as marketing or social media. Customer service is treated as a cost driver; inbound calls are routed to overseas call centers, while chatbots handle online interactions.
Yet a collective shift towards digital technology adoption has created widespread change across industries. And the use of multiple online channels and data analytics to increase customer engagement also promises to transform the future of customer service. Here’s how you can adapt.
Speed isn’t everything
Over the last couple of decades, businesses have experimented with different solutions in their handling of customer service. Outsourcing became a common practice. Early self-help options gave customers a limited ability to look up and answer basic questions or resolve issues.
The primary virtue of these practices was cost-effectiveness from a business standpoint. They didn’t actually add value to the customer. However, over time, improvements in automation allowed businesses to deliver some value through efficiency. Filling out an online form or going through a series of options over the phone could, if executed properly, speed up the whole interaction. The information would be used to route contacts to the correct person or team to handle their issue.
The inherent flaw with this model is that customers aren’t just after speed. Automation works at its best behind the scenes. In an assembly line setting, a liquid filling machine handles repetitive tasks in a rapid and precise manner to create value. But customer service is about being at the frontlines of human interaction. You lose that genuine connection whenever you let a robot or a third-party provider take over those interactions.
Meeting the new expectations
Today’s customers aren’t focused on speed. Sure, efficiency matters, but so do choice and flexibility. In the past, companies may have gotten away with using customer service as an area for cost-cutting measures. Moving forward, that option will be even less viable.
Millennials already comprise the majority of our workforce. This is a demographic that’s well-known for being at home in the digital realm. They have been heavily influenced by social media and its “me”-centric ethos. And the up-and-coming Gen Z promises to share many of the same attitudes as its predecessor.
Every company must face these growing changes to its audience. People now expect personalization as part of the customer experience. And when they contact your customer service, they aren’t simply looking for a quick response. They want to be given a greater breadth of quality options and control over how queries are handled. Customer contacts will span a wide range of issues and personas; more than ever, each customer will expect to be treated individually, based on where they lie on that continuum.
Solutions moving forward
The growing adoption of digital technology lies at the heart of this change. And it also presents different solutions through which improved customer service can be achieved in the future.
Rather than view customer service as an opportunity to engage in budget slashing, businesses should be smart and reallocate their spending. AI can continue to be an asset, for instance, in an unobtrusive or behind-the-scenes role. Investing in better AI could provide more effective tools for customer-facing agents. You retain the human element of the interaction while giving frontline representatives the ability to respond efficiently and in a personalized manner based on the customer’s previous records and profile.
Give customers the full range of options in how they want to interact with your service team. If it’s convenient for them to chat or message you on social media, those representatives should have full access to records of interactions over the phone or email. You may have a bunch of different departments handling each channel, but by leveraging an enterprise-wide cloud infrastructure, everyone can collaborate. In effect, the customer only sees one fully-functional team effort. They get the flexibility and control they desire over the interaction.
Finally, don’t forget to use data analytics with intent and effectiveness. Lean methodology and organization-wide collaboration should enable you to gather data for improving your business in areas of need. Use those technologies to actually listen to what customers are saying, and you can make the necessary changes.
Businesses that continue to pay lip service to the importance of customer interactions will fall behind in the arena of customer experience. But if you elevate your customer service, this one element of the overall experience can distinguish your brand in the future.