The Robots Are Coming – Save Yourselves!

Given the nature of what we do for a living it’ll come as no surprise to learn that we receive a lot of sales and service related blogs, articles and other information sources announcing how the world of customer service is about to turn on its head.

One of the big buzz-phrases of 2016 was “Omnichannel”which, in simplest terms, is an all-inclusive programme designed to provides customers and prospects the ability to communicate and experience customer service seamlessly across multiple platforms (social media, websites, apps, mobile etc). In essence it endeavours to achieve truly social business – and it’s working. According to Institute of Customer Service customer service standards are improving in almost all sectors during 2016. Small business owners should take note – this means that, if service standards are on the up, we all have to redouble our efforts to improve our own performance if we’re to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

So whatever you did last year, whether it be a new CRM, Live Chat, Social Media development, texts, surveys, NPS, questionnaires, webinars, live forums (the list is endless) the quest to stay ahead of the game is relentless and (right now it seems) never-ending. Looking ahead one of the most recent interesting developments facing our own business is the emergence of Chatbots – technology positioned to gather huge momentum in 2017. For those of you not familiar with the term a Chatbot is a computer programme that mimics conversation with people using artificial intelligence (AI) – on the face of it not great news for a business that specialises in developing the sales and service talents of live agents!! Watch out for this one because, almost certainly, you’ll be talking to AI computers in the very near future.

Seems that big companies are hell-bent on putting as much technology between themselves and their customers as possible primarily driven by the desire to control costs. Longer term this means that human contact in the service mix will be focused on doing those tasks the machines can’t do well – correcting errors, adhoc or non-standard updates, creative problem-solving, building rapport, effectively manage customer expectations or creating brand loyalty.

Initially this might seem a little alarming however there’s plenty of examples of technology unsuccessfully attempting to crowd us humans out of a job over the years. For those of you who remember when direct debiting was launched back in the ‘70’s followed by BACS in the ‘80’s – we were told that we’d be a “cashless society” within 10 years. With the advent of mainstream computers, electronic storage and cloud solutions we were set to become “paperless societies” years later.

Certainly it was true that our habits significantly adapted to utilise the new technology but we never totally gave up either the cash in our pockets or our printers. We adapted to the new ideas without discarding the old, ergo human behaviour dictated the overall outcome. Case in point – the cost-driven outsourcing of UK call centres abroad was largely reversed due to customers being prepared to change providers simply to maintain higher levels of service and engagement.

I have faith in the old adage that “people buy people first” and confidently predict that future shifts in customer service delivery will follow a similar pattern. Whilst we may well harness automation to deliver a stronger self-service culture, resulting in shifts in call volumes and types, it remains that the personal touch that truly builds positive customer relationships, engagement and loyalty will continue to require human intervention albeit in more specific and more challenging circumstances. We know that customers will forgive a mistake however they won’t forgive poor, indifferent or self-service approaches the remedy – this is the quickest and easiest way to get them heading out of the door.

With this in mind we wanted to take a look at a few of these enhanced skill requirements over the next few weeks by sharing a number of our ideas that specifically help manage those difficult or challenging conversations. Here’s our first video looking at, what we call, the FPQ (Feeling, Position, Question) Technique, which specifically looks at how we can maintain rapport even though we may have some bad news to deliver.

The ‘phone remains a vital tool in winning and keeping customers – we need to use it well during each call we make or take to reap the benefits.

Enjoy and keep FIT!

Hello... I'm Marie Cross

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