Providing good customer service has never been more difficult

A decade or so ago, a customer service department was simply a vehicle for mopping up any issues that might occur in the course of everyday life, perhaps a well-intentioned limp down an extra half mile for the client. Those days are long gone – good customer service is a must.

              Customer service has become a vitally important part of any company’s strategy and central to what they can offer customers.  Superb customer service is the way for the small business to win against the giants, to justifying price by giving that outstanding service.   The customer experience from start to end has to be amazing.  Done right, it brings trust, loyalty and sales. A reputation for bad service, however, now spreads like wildfire.  And the bars for customer satisfaction get higher every year.

Today’s customer knows their rights better than ever, including their legal ones.   They know what the best deal is, the most suitable product.  They have zero tolerance for ignorance.  Customer service people have to be outstandingly well informed, and the only way that can be achieved is fully integrate them with other departments so they can access whatever information they need, fast.  Service is judged on speed of response and many are finding standard emails simply do not cut it.  Consumers of all ages have become accustomed to expecting real time communication and instant communication.

The phrase, customer success, which means ensuring the customer gets optimum easy use of your product, leading inevitably to higher rates of satisfaction is right on the money.  Companies are starting to understand how this can impact, and allow the best possible support and back up.

For both customer service and customer success, self service solutions have grown in popularity.   Developing the right FAQ and knowledge base is vital in order to enable the customer to find the right answers to their questions quickly and easily.  Self-service customer service makes for happy customers, not just by delivering the right answers, but by making them feel empowered and in control.  It is also available 24/7, so speedy and convenient.  Today’s customer has no tolerance for a long wait on a crackly phone line.  Robust self-service saves businesses money, costing little and also allowing businesses to monitor and solve any regular issues by tracking where the customers are going for answers.

Omni-channel customer service, where all the platforms work seamlessly together has become crucial.  It is vital that the customer can flit from one to another with no loss of service standard.  Any friction in doing so will affect customer trust and loyalty.  Some companies have lost quality by attempted to offer customer service on every possible platform.  It is now recognized as wiser to identify the platforms that work best for your own company and markets and optimize those.

The array of communication tools is dazzling.   People expect a choice. Live chat, chat bots, messaging, social media, old fashioned phones, mobiles, and VoIP are all there to choose from.  Interactive emails are now being developed to enable emails to compete on speed.  Chat bots, too, are improving all the time, becoming more responsive to questions and spotting more complex problems needing escalation to humans.  The phone still has a value, providing it offers something more personal than its automated competitors.   There are times when we all want a human contact, one who will give us a genuine response to our distressed state, to sympathise with our anger and treat us with patience as we rant.

Technology is ideal for repetitive, low priority customer service as Google has been applying it for years.   IA’s are great for supporting customer service people.  AI is double functioning, also being used to gather data, both on the customer and on problems.  Some machines are already programmed to tell the manufacturer when something is going wrong, so that it can be dealt with prior to a complaint surfacing.  Others are programmed to collect marketing data.

We know that AI is becoming smarter all the time.   As it is estimated that by 2020, people will own an average of twenty different interconnection devices, so their habits will be increasingly easy for companies to monitor.

All this data collection enables customer profiles and preferences to be collated in the minutest detail, which can be great for marketing.   It is less easy to use effectively and ethically within customer service.  Personalizing offerings is now expected.   But there is a fine line in the use of personal data.   While we are happy when on line retailers offer us supplementary products we might like, a customer service person launching into discussing how little John and Mary enjoyed their frostie-puffs this morning feels more than spooky, Big Brother watching us indeed.  Ethics here are vital, along with data protection for anyone running data collection.

While there is a tendency to blame millennials for the ever increasing pressure on customer service, we should also remember that they need courting.  Their reliance on reviews and social media can make them our best possible brand ambassadors and the key to building a reputation for customer service.

All a long way indeed from customer service of the past.  These are just some of the challenges facing companies wanting to offer great service in a fast changing business world.  Companies also need investment for continually evolving technology, for resources to monitor their customer experience and to continually improve it.

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