By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service
Today marks the start of World Digital Week, designed to encourage organisations to take stock of the way they’re using technology to engage with staff, stakeholders and customers. There’s no doubt that technology has hugely helped to improve the delivery of customer service. This is especially true with the transactional aspects of service. We can now go online and self-serve by booking tickets, making reservations and getting the information we need quickly, getting peer reports and sharing multiple pieces of data and information. We can engage with companies via webchat or social media to get rapid answers and help for a whole range of issues.
When it’s deployed well, technology is fantastic at improving the customer experience. It’s helpful, non-intrusive and it’s also becoming more predictive, anticipating what we might need to know or want next. However, as much as I am an enthusiast for technology, I believe that we are reaching a defining moment. Whilst it’s great for straightforward matters, I think we have further to go when it comes to more complex, non-standard, scenarios. When something goes wrong, or is out of the ordinary, or when we want advice (as opposed to just information), there are still limits to what technology can do for us.
There is clearly a place for technology, but the ‘computer says no’ scenario remains very real and is intensely frustrating! And we are still some way from artificial intelligence (AI) really delivering all that it can. I also believe that even with the enhancements we will see in AI and robotics, we will always need the human to help deliver a truly great customer experience and relationship, rather than simply a series of customer ‘services’. That is why we will always need human customer service. People who have all the skills of problem solving, decision making and empathy. While technology helps enhance an experience, whether behind the scenes or directly, it is people that deliver customer service, itself. So, the future has to be about achieving a blended solution, where technology and people work side by side to enhance the customer experience.
The right use of technology means that organisations can free up their people, away from low-level transactional customer services, and enable them to focus more on value-added customer service, helping customers resolve the more complex issues. We are increasingly living in an omni-channel world where customers of all ages and demographics have a wealth of options over how they interact with brands. Yet, organisations have more to do to ensure that they are offering consistently high levels of service across those channels, linking them up and integrating them so that it doesn’t matter if a customer phones one day and webchats the next, the information is all there in one place and the conversation can continue seamlessly. Organisations need to keep improving because Institute research shows that, as customers, we are becoming more likely to complain.
Technology has raised our expectations and companies just have to deliver. It’s certainly also true that, however digital our world becomes, there’s no substitute for the personal touch. A personally signed letter from the CEO in response to a complaint, for example, can be very powerful. I know of some CEOs who take the time to personally phone a number of customers who have complaints, each week. It has a great effect as long, of course, that it is designed to drive genuine interaction and intervention. The goal has to be a marrying of the digital and the personal. I was in a restaurant recently and the waiter approached our table, iPad in hand, and asked if everything was all right. But he didn’t make any eye contact and was clearly going through the motions, to fill in a ‘customer survey tick box’ as he tapped on his screen. If he had really been interested he might have made eye contact, so a plea from me… let World Digital Week become a springboard.
Technology has the real opportunity to support, enable and drive great customer service, it can take away low level transactional activity, improve the aspect of organisations being easy to do business with, support knowledge transfer and encourage the sharing of best practice, it can help inform better personalisation and enable us to deliver as humans better decision making, greater understanding and higher empathy and creating roles and jobs with much higher engagement, return and productivity. The future is about the collective not about simply the world of the machine.