When is Customer Service appropriate?
I appreciate this may sound like a silly question so, to qualify it a little further… at what stage in the customer journey should service be “delivered” to our customer?
Still not sure what I’m on about? Well, when most of us think about service it tends to be in a reactive context e.g. somethings gone wrong / request for more information / confirmation of a process detail / discussion about a price increase….and so on. This has always been the traditional focus of companies who, through measurement of such activities, believe they deliver “superior” service (up to 80% according to Lee Resources) whilst, in stark contrast, only 8% of customers think the same thing.
Now that’s a huge gap in perspective and it’s a gap that many try to fill with the latest informed trends around customer service delivery.
Currently there are those who advocate a herd-like stampede to the open embrace of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – chatbots, webchat, messaging apps, voicebots etc. Driving down the cost of service is a hugely inviting opportunity when you read that 51% of shoppers (aged 16-24) would visit robot-driven high street stores (according to a report from Sixth Sense of Retail). I get it!
But customer service shouldn’t simply be a reactive or remote process – to stay ahead of the game we have to exceed customers expectations and their experience remains a key differentiator. Nowadays sales, profit and business growth all happens in the post-purchase phase therefore customer lifetime value is the key to driving this growth.
So our responsibility is to anticipate issues and resolve them before the help is needed.
In my view this is a truly critical development in the world of customer service – if we don’t make this fundamental shift we could all, potentially, be faced with yet another “sea of sameness” where the majority of businesses continue to be reactionary service providers.
My train of thought about this started the more I read that AI is set to account for the majority of online and telephone-based customer interactions within the next 10-20 years. Giving customers what they want “in the moment” by using technology as a substitute for human interaction really only concentrates on the reactionary customer service role and, as highlighted above, this is a questionable area of focus anyway. Is AI truly adding value? Will it build loyalty? Will our customers enthusiastically recommend our service to others? Why would they if we’re all using similar technologies to deliver service in the first place?
Looking ahead to a time when we’re all interacting with software programmes as “normal” practice, I personally don’t trust the corporate world to do anything other than continue to find yet more ways to reduce interaction and experience to increase profitability and margins. I get the feeling we’re at the beginning of a real “race to the bottom” in customer experience terms.
Where might all this lead? God forbid customer experience could, eventually, be considered totally irrelevant – if you think it can’t happen, it already has. Think about United Airlines whose culture believes employee experience overrides customer experience, good is good enough, supply is limited so consumer choice won’t be affected, loyalty can be bought or forced, customers are self-centred and there are few consequences to indifferent or poor behaviour. Maybe, one day, all businesses will think it’s acceptable to verbally and physically assault customers because the technology will carry the can.
Unless we, as business owners, truly care about our customers and develop long-term, trust-based relationships that make them FEEL special and valued then there’s a strong likelihood we’ll ALL end up with the service we deserve!
Hope I’m wrong.