In the next of his series of articles looking at Customer Service Strategies Paul Cooper argues that technology should be used to focus on improving customer experience and not increasing efficiency.
If some of the media are to be believed, each new technological advance is received with growing fear and scepticism by the public, and anyone over the age of forty is wandering around pining for the good old days when pencil, paper, and mental arithmetic were still the only way to do business.
Actually, the general public, of all ages, is very willing to embrace technology, provided that it meets four key criteria:
And this has always been so, from the internet to contact centres, cash points, bar code scanners, pay-and-display machines and much more.
Technology tends to focus on efficiency – not service
There is an important disclaimer to this, however. There has, of course, and over the last 10 years in particular, been an enormous increase in the use of technologies by all types and sizes of organisations.
However, in many cases these have been imposed on customers by organisations for their own perceived improvements in efficiency, rather than introduced to improve choice of contact or offering, improve convenience, or enhance service to the customer (and often at inconvenience to the staff too).
It is clear that the general public can tell the difference, and will accept and welcome technology where it perceives benefits in speed, accessibility, choice and efficiency.
Credibility of the technology
A key feature of importance to customers is reliability, but there is also the credibility side – how many of you have been told that you can’t live at the postcode you say you do because it’s not on their computer system?!
Another key issue in the embracing of technology, or not, has been security. There have been too many media reports recently of breaches of security, especially on public sector sites, for any of us to feel comfortable.
So, as a result of much of the above, we all have to be aware that the more valuable or more complex the transaction, or the more time-consuming the use of the technology, the greater is the desire to talk to someone to get it resolved. Recent personal experience, by no means unique, of trying to get a car insurance quote online and being turned down, wasting 20 precious minutes, and then being accepted by a human being using exactly the same data, proved to me that things still have a long way to go.
A core of customers will not use new technology
It also has to be accepted by all organisations that there will, for the foreseeable future, be a core of customers who will not be able to use, or will not choose to use, the technology available. This may be due to age, low income, illiteracy, disability, fear or just plain cussedness, but they will exist, and need to be catered for, especially in and by the public sector. Processes are not being replaced here, they are being added to, and made more complex.
It is probably true that younger customers seek faster and more enhanced supply of information from technology, while older customers prefer accessibility and security. Younger customers emphasise the internet, older customers make greater use of contact centres and tele-banking.
Don’t rely on the IT Department
The key issues with all of this are that these systems must be developed and introduced primarily using input from the staff and customers who have to use them, not by the IT Department, or management who think they know what’s needed, and don’t.
This was the prime reason why, for many organisations, the first round of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology was so poor and disappointing. Today, many organisations are getting this much better, by following the above advice, and we are seeing excellent progress in such areas as voice recording and speech analytics, and more.
Focus on technology to improve customer service
However, the old adage is still right – If any of these things are being done/introduced primarily to reduce costs then it is doubtful whether real improvements in customer service will be gained, especially in the long term. If they are being considered as an integral part of a strategy to improve service levels, they can be very useful.
Finally, remember that even the experts can be proved wrong. In 1981, a certain Bill Gates, of a tiny company called Microsoft, is alleged to have said, “640K ought to be enough for anybody!”
Paul Cooper is a Director at Customer Plus