Is Assumption Breaking Customer Service?

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Ian Moyse of Natterbox discusses how the assumptions that we make in customer service impact our customers.

Anyone remember the days when personal service and calling a firm was the norm?

When you could speak to a human if you chose?!

Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but you typically had expectation of a good experience instead of having pre-doubts about what you were about to put up with, and there was no big barrier in front of you where you knew it might prove like climbing a mountain to get to speak to a real human.

The world has moved on fast, technology has accelerated and we have in the last 10–15 years seen the emergence of social networks, the smartphone, e-commerce displacing bricks & mortar and the likes of live chat.

There is nothing wrong with change or advancement, and we will see this continue to accelerate as the use of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics takes real shape in our world.

In the world of customer service, we have all watched the game being changed by the likes of Amazon, who emerged quickly to disrupt many markets and to deliver an online shopping experience of volume and efficiency. Unfortunately, this also set the bar of expectation for the consumer as to what to expect and demand from others.

So when it comes to customer service and interaction, a wide range of firms with margin pressures and a need to sell and service more effectively thrust upon them, have taken to changing their customer interaction models to utilise the technologies now available.

Unfortunately, what this has meant to the customer is more often a poorer experience than an improved one. Businesses attracted by the ability to do more with less, to reduce their own costs and to make use of all the wondrous technology now affordable and at hand have fast moved to online self-service, web forms, live chat and automated phone systems to be able to serve more with less and to aim for the 24*7 service to anyone, any time on any device, the omnichannel panacea!

Now there is no doubt that customers need support and help; delivering it is one thing, doing it to the customer’s satisfaction is harder!

Attracted by how easy it looks, firms have rushed to the new models without understanding the challenges and difficulties of doing it well. Delivering one channel well takes effort; going omnichannel is a challenge in itself. Serving enquiries not only on phone and email, but also through web forms, live chat, Twitter, Facebook and more is not easy. You need to be able to monitor for the engagement and respond quickly and appropriately.

Email and web forms is one thing, as the response people expect is not immediate, but go to the likes of social and the time-span expectation shortens rapidly, rightly or wrongly. Responding to a tweeted complaint in 36 hours does not look good. Miss it all together and it looks real bad!

Also, the challenge of omnichannel is that customers chose that channel to engage and expect that channel to be the response. You may engage them to move to an easier channel to help on from this, but this is not an assumed default.

So by widening your scope of engagement, which looks attractive when setting up, you also widen your scope of effort, challenge and risk. Unfortunately, the compounding factor is that whilst adding the new mediums to the foray, most businesses are also cutting the human resources they have behind them or keeping them the same as they grow. This done in the belief that the tools alone will add efficiencies that mean lower staff costs.

In automating and attempting to provide that self-serve efficiency model, you need to get it right, and achieving this is not as easy as people expect. The likes of Amazon make it look easy, but behind the curtains they have budgets and resources invested to achieve this far out of the reach of any normal firm. This is the missing link: doing it well is NOT easy and should not be underestimated.

Whilst millennials and many of us choose to try to self-serve in the first instance, and where it is easy and works we are happy to do so, often this is not the outcome. As soon as a self-serve model does not meet the needs of the user, then typically this model breaks down quickly and badly. It is then that you need help, live chat or to speak to someone to get done what you want, when you want. And this is when the issue and frustration and failure of the quality hits the customer in the face.

The most common choices then of the customer are to wish to speak to someone on the phone (61%), email (60%) or live chat (57%) – according to a LivePerson’s Connecting with Consumers report.

Here is where the problem starts, as many firms push phone interaction right down the list, seeing it as a cost, a challenge to provide and one to avoid. Try finding the phone number on some websites?

Anyone called a company to hear the message, ‘unfortunately we are experiencing a particularly busy time right now and our agents are busy….’? I know firms where you get this all the time. I have tested it, no matter what time on what day! Why? Because they have cut too deep and pushed customers to the self-service, online approach to the level that they cannot support traditional methods of interaction and hence block customers from it. This can work and be justified if you truly have made the other form factors work and work well. Most have not!

The other challenge is that when you switch communication channels, you start the discussion again. For example, you have a web experience on a site and hit an issue, you perhaps take to social or email to raise the issues and explain it and get no response, or perhaps get something that does not answer the issue. Should you persist (and many have already gone by now), you decide to call and try to find the number, a quest in itself many a time. Should you do this and call the company, you start the explanation again to a new person with no track of what you had sent before.

What is worse is that should you be able to contact a company via the phone and choose to do so (stats show the phone is the prime medium for when there is a real problem, and typically it’s now urgent due to the delays caused by the failure of the self-serve method), yet the phone journey experience is being seen as the hardest, longest and most painful we have delivered to us!

And yet it’s the medium of all of those we now use to engage that has been around the longest! How has it become the laggard option?

We call through and expect to get a IVR (Interactive Voice Response) menu, right?

You wade through these to then be put in a queue, or be told ‘have you checked our online page at (i.e. we really, really don’t want to speak with you as a human!)’, ‘all our agents are busy, please call back later’, ‘your call is important to us please hold’ (for the next 25 mins so not that important!), leading to the classic buzzword bingo winner of ‘Sorry I can’t help. You should have pressed 5 not 4 on the options. I’ll put you back into the queue for the right person’. ‘Can you transfer me to them as I already queued 15 mins to get to you to be told this?’ ‘No, I can’t directly transfer you, I can only put you back into the system or you can call back later’. What world have we created?

And they wonder why we get frustrated as customers. Has anyone who has set any of these systems up actually acted as a customer and realised what they do to get their efficiencies up – it appears many of their mottoes are get away with what we think the customer will put up with!

Why oh why can we not have telephony that when needed is efficient, personal and helps not hinders us. What a pleasant surprise that would be. What a customer satisfaction score we would give for that, and the agents at the other end would have less disgruntled and impatient callers to deal with, making their roles easier and more cheerful, causing a chain reaction back onto the customers’ feeling.

Could we not call in and be presented with a personal greeting, from knowing the phone number on our account or that we have called recently. For example “Hello, the Moyse family, thanks for calling back in. If you are calling about the boiler issue logged yesterday please press 1 to go right through to your agent. If not, press 2 for our other options” – straight away making me feel served and also shortening my phone journey on the likelihood that is why I am calling back in!

We are all treated equally by phone systems at any time, where sometimes there is reason certain people need prioritising for the benefit of the customer or the business.

For example, where a customer has been noted as being irate, having had a problem that has gone on for many calls and where the business has made errors, then why not simply select again the customer record and the phone system immediately?

This treats all calls differently, prioritising them to put-through, popping details to the agent to start with ‘I can see we’re at fault’ and whispering to the agent , ‘treat with priority before the call’s put through’. It could even go as far as automatically scheduling a CRM action to the agent’s manager to call the client 3 days later as a courtesy call.

For the business, if a million-pound customer is calling in, do you want them in the support queue behind a customer who once spent £200 with you? Do you want a premium support gold paying customer queuing or a free support customer? Why not detect this based on the dial-in numbers and do all you can to automate and prioritise how calls are handled to the best outcome for your business.

Ian Moyse

Phone systems need to up their game, use customer data to identify when they call and do the right thing quickly and automatically to deliver shortened personalised phone journeys, just like everyone has spent money doing for websites!

You may not be able to please all the people all the time, but at least please the right ones who matter to your business the most or who pay for that quality you currently don’t deliver!

Author: Robyn Coppell

Published On: 13th Jul 2018 - Last modified: 17th Jul 2018
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