The Future of Customer Service

Customer service seems like a simple concept, but it’s something companies struggle to deal with. And yet, the cost of a customer who leaves due to bad customer service is substantial, according to a May 2016 report from New Voice Media.

“$62 billion is lost by U.S. businesses each year.”

Customer Service Trends

Stories of what amounts to customer disservice have populated social media with experiences of unhelpful employees, services left undelivered, and customers kept waiting for hours or days without a solution. Sometimes, that’s just life; things go wrong in every industry. Mistakes are made and problems pop up.

The issue is that this problem is way too common, particularly with what Harley Manning (founder of Forrester Research’s customer experience practice) calls “laggards”: health insurance providers, TV services providers, ISPs, airlines, rental car providers, and federal government agencies.

Customer disservice

A September 2016 article in Fortune says that some companies are providing a poor customer experience on purpose. Or, at least, the company is purposely doing nothing about the problem and charging extra to create an escape from the poor experience through “a business model that rewards its own incompetence.”

If companies can benefit from poor customer service, what does this mean for the future? Are we all doomed to inefficient, unending lines and that automated voice on the other end of the phone promising that your call is “very important”?

Not All is Lost

Customer service still matters, a lot, because according to Manning, “not only do customers reward a superior experience, so do the markets.” What’s interesting, though, is that Manning notes that this realization hasn’t yet been made by most companies, which means that your company can be among the few that make a substantial difference by taking the time to innovate the customer experience.

That innovation begins with what a September 2016 strategy+business article calls “the company’s identity, capabilities, and chosen competitive path.” In other words, the customer experience must be at the heart of company character, built as a product, not a by-product. “A company designed for service will naturally display the behaviors — the intention, attention, and culture — good customer experience requires.”

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Why Does poor Customer Support Happen?

This lack of customer experience design at the forefront is why so many companies struggle with customer support. Airlines, for example, do what they were designed to do relatively well: they deliver thousands of passengers to their destination safely. Plane crashes are rare enough to warrant a major national news headline every time they happen.

However, poor customer service experiences happen so often that they have to be really extreme to make the mainstream news. That’s because airlines were not designed to put the whole experience of their thousands of passengers first. Disrupting today’s norm will mean disrupting the business model currently employed by these major systems and that is hard work.

Consider the fact

Consider the fact that none of these laggards, from airlines to cable providers or health insurance providers, were designed exclusively for providing customer service. These companies have other priorities, putting customers second. “If service isn’t built in, no amount of goodwill can deliver it reliably, and no effort can compensate for the lack of it,” say “The Art of Customer Delight” authors Stewart & O’Connell.

That’s why airlines, which are routinely ranked poorly in terms of customer service, consistently fail. The employees trying to help solve a problem might have good intentions, but rules and policies built by the company are designed to support two major goals: safety and making money. However, service will be inherent better on an airline built for customer service that, for example, treats Economy travelers like First Class flyers (like highly rated Singapore Airlines) every day.

Stewart & O’Connell chalk excellent customer service up to the need for a lack of heroics: “Employees should not need to be superheroes, bend the rules, or take shortcuts to give customers the experience you promise.” When there’s no need for employees to go above and beyond because excellence is inherent, superior customer service is easy to deliver.

the Future

If companies are looking for an essential way to drive growth, innovating the customer experience has to become a priority. Taking the time to understand what the customer expects and what the primary irritants are will draw customers looking to be loyal to someone who treats them right.

So, what does it look like when customer service is innovated? Recent articles have declared that artificial intelligence (via chat bots) are the future of customer service. Customer service expert Shep Hyken writes, "Whether it’s a simple email or text on a customer’s birthday, or a quick check-in to ask if they are enjoying the brand’s product or service, chatbots are helping to foster brand loyalty." It's true that chat bots aren't suceptible to bad days and they aren't bothered following a negative customer interaction.

However, A.I. can be more frustrating than helpful since bots don't always understand the context or nuance of a situation. When customers have a quick question, perhaps a chat bot is the best resource for a quick answer. On the other hand, when customers have a problem that needs a solution, they often are already frustrated and in need of not only a solution, but genuine human empathy.

Instead of relying on client-facing artificial intelligence, the future of customer service is probably in internal artificial intelligence used by a human to find solutions more quickly. Travel app Lola, for example, uses what creator Paul English calls "superhuman travel consultants who are AI-powered and can handle more trips per hour than a regular travel agent can." Then, the human combines the information provided by A.I. with their own individual touch to deliver a superior customer experience.

the Bottom Line

In the end, companies that prioritize customer service as part of their culture will see more success in the long run than those that prioritize the product.

This means putting customers at the forefront. We’re all tired of having those terrible customer service experiences. We all deserve better. We ourselves are true believers of what we preach and we will continue to lead the way in providing an inherently excellent experience for our customers.

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