We have seen a huge revolution in customer service in recent years. Savvy millennials are setting the bar higher than ever before for what is expected. They are better informed, demand better service and are more likely to change brands if they do not receive it.
The customer experience has never been more important. Millennials want fast service. We live in an age where access to information is virtually instantaneous. This has given rise to an increase in the popularity of self-service support, from informative web-sites and marketing videos, combined with efficient and encompassing FAQs.
Some companies are stretching their budgets to provide virtual or augmented reality in their advertisements and on their websites in the hope of providing the customer experience they are told is essential.
More communication is being done on mobile phones and messaging apps. This can make service a great deal easier given that it enables the customer to send pictures or videos actually showing their problems to the customer service agent. A saving of time and aggravation all round and no vast investment required.
So far, so good. But with digital channels set to finally overtake live voice contact, it is the provision of omnichannels that has companies panicked. Small companies especially are struggling to provide customer service on several different channels in the same style, at the same speed and to the same level of quality.
We have come to believe that we will lose our customers if we don’t take advantage of all the snazzy customer analytics that can personalise all our marketing communications. We are urged to buy newer and cleverer programmes.
We are fighting to buy automated pro-active technology that will raise a flag on shortfalls of products before our customer spots them, enabling us to contact the customer to tell them about a problem and put it right before the customer is upset.
Businesses are now relying on AI solutions. They are labour saving – something every company wants to achieve – while at the same time delivering a more accurate performance on mundane tasks. With robotic assistants listening in, customer service agents no longer have to scramble for an answer, but can have it whispered in their ear so all they have to do is approve it.
Integration is the buzz word. Integration of all our channels of communication, integration of the customer experience, integration of technology and humans.
The Global Customer Experience benchmarking report underlines the gap between organisations that believe technology is needed to transform the customer experience for survival and those that are failing to implement a strategy of achieving it. It is all meccas to the ears of the technology marketers.
I would just like to cast one tiny shadow over this. Some are unconvinced that the entire answer lies in new technology.
They remember Facebook’s chat bot failure rate last year, where 70% of failed to provide the correct answer without human intervention. Or perhaps they are old school and find that a string of emojis (supposedly the way to humanise digital conversations) can irritate an angry customer further.
Certainly, most of us have been frustrated having to hang on an endless phone call, listening to recordings and automated responses when all we want is to talk to a human being.
To make a customer happy, you have to give them what they want. An Engine report suggests that customers are less interested in the digital side of service than we are led to believe. Only 15% of those surveyed felt businesses should invest in tech like voice assistants and only 22% on chat bots. Overall, 62% just wanted simple, flexible customer service options.
In the five years since Engine have carried out this annual survey, what customers want most has remained unchanged, with “openness and honesty” a clear winner followed by efficiency and reliability. Personalisation and pro-active service, so apparently essential, are actually near the bottom of the list.
Joe Heapy, co-founder of Engine, feels that customers will become more attuned to the advantages of automation and agrees there is a strong argument for the added time saving value of tech. However, he feels time saving is only part of the equation when it comes to being valuable and valued by customers.
“The opportunity,” he told me, “is in mastering the human and robot mix. To do this requires a more complete understanding of what people value and an approach to designing services that results in an experience that pushes more emotional buttons – in a good way. Brands that do well, master the technology and the ability to connect with customers emotionally. It’s not either/or.”
I agree. Sales has always been about pushing emotional buttons. We know the way to the millennials hearts, techno savvy they may be, is through genuine, authentic business relationships.
They may recognise and appreciate the efficiency of automation on something routine. However, we are a long way off having authentic, genuine relationships with a bot. Thank heavens.