Believe it or not, we are nearly a quarter of the way through 2018 — and the customer service definition is still evolving daily.
This constant evolution of customer service can make your head spin. How are small teams expected to keep up with the latest trends?
The landscape-altering customer-service philosophy chronicled in “The Effortless Experience” way back in 2013 has been embraced as the path forward, and artificial intelligence has wormed its way into every type of customer service. Messaging and self-service are emerging as the preference for more and more users. Yep, check, that’s all going according to plan (and our predictions).
But business doesn’t operate in yearlong chunks. It thrives or fails in every minute, in every customer interaction. Even given the best of informed intentions, trying to implement the broad strokes of much-heralded advancements can bog down amid the distinct realities of individual companies.
And let’s face it: customer service as we know it is an entirely new animal in the Internet era — even in the last five years. Many companies are still struggling to hire, equip and deploy the right teams, much less pace the pack on every trend.
With tons of conflicting research and ever-fancier tools at a company’s disposal, it may seem as if the opportunities being touted have outstripped the dollars available to achieve them.
- Is today the day you invest a huge chunk of your budget in smarter chatbots despite their scary fail rate?
- Did you devote enough time in researching the options? Too much time?
- Are we still trying to “delight” customers or is that for fuddy-duddies?
- Can someone please remind us which is deemed more important at the moment — personalizing customer interaction or making it effortless?
- So … which improvement should you tackle first if you can’t do it all?
- What if economic realities have you in cost-reduction mode?
- Or you need more time to decide how your team defines customer service and how you’re going to get there?
Don’t be discouraged!
It might be time to take a look at what you have that is already working and build on that. Nobody knows your business and your customers like you and your team do. That institutional knowledge is an actual, tangible asset. How can you play to those strengths?
In this article, we try to develop our own customer service definition in 2018. Plus, we give you four building blocks teams, which can be used to create a customer service definition that works for them:
Customer Service makes the user successful, and inspired
Whichever “7 hottest trends” article you read back in January, the “whole customer” concept would have been consistently near the top. Providing stellar service at every point in your relationship with a customer is not a new idea. But achieving the goal of an “effortless experience” across multiplying channels has gotten trickier.
Let’s take a look at today’s customer while we’re thinking about that. Your users are a bit more uniform than you probably expect. Surely you’ve heard the phrase “make it so simple your grandmother can use it”? Well, coddling grandmothers is a waste of your time. Today’s youngest grandmas grew up with computers, and they want to solve their customer support problems the same way everybody else does — on their mobile phones. Because they have places to go. Customers don’t care overly much whether their experience with you is personalized. They have plenty of friends and they are not counting on you to “delight” them or chat for 11 hours like in that one story everybody talks about. They are not going to talk to you at all.
Instead of catering to varying levels of savviness among your customers, perhaps it’s time to spend more energy on making all of your materials intuitively helpful for all users. Dare we dream to make our customer service definition even…inspiring?
Kathy Sierra, whose book “Badass: Making Users Awesome” explores how to align marketing and support documentation, thinks so. Sierra points out that we woo customers with glossy visions of what they can achieve with our products, but once snared, we bore them with dry, bare-bones prose on how to master those products, with a few line drawings thrown in to spruce things up.
A perfect place for customers: FAQs
Now let’s return to the “whole customer” thing. The ability to deliver a whole customer experience is driven by a lot of behind-the-scenes work. That includes superb documentation that is both glossy and inspiring alongside an integrated customer journey across support, marketing and sales. The goal here is consistency and thoroughness — every step has to be flawless for this to work.
A perfect place to put this into action is that part of your website that every customer visits eventually: the FAQs. Ideally, their questions are answered once they click over, but could some of those answers be explained more thoroughly? Is it full of jargon? Could some of the questions be explained better with a video or by adding photos? A FAQ page with color and personality will showcase your company’s knowledge and reassure customers that you give them a lot of thought even after their initial purchase.
Customer Service relies on an empowered front-line team
Nobody ever went wrong trying to empower their customer support team.
Are you taking full advantage of your front-line reps, your support engineers and your marketing team? Every single one of those team members talks to customers, and this can be a company gold mine.
While 2018’s trends may apply broadly across business sectors, your company still is unique. For instance, your customers may not actually be asking for a mobile-first approach. In the construction industry, computer transactions still happen mostly in an office, on a desktop. Those customers might appreciate a good chatbot. They might want 24/7 service, but it’s still tough to use a mobile app amid the noise and glare of a job site. If your company sells lumber, your customer service team is well aware of this situation.
Using your existing team to make improvements is also a cost-effective way to scale customer service. You can learn a lot if your reps casually ask for feedback at the end of each call. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos credits entry-level employees with the idea for “Frequently Bought Together,” now a ubiquitous part of the Amazon shopping experience.
It doesn’t cost anything to give your customer support team the leeway to suggest ideas and make changes to help the customer.
Customer Service is effortless, online self service
And why not? Calling customer service is often such a painful and time-consuming chore that we put it off until we have no other choice. Even calling the phone company about a $19 overcharge can feel like we’re preparing for a battle.
Wouldn’t it be easier to allow customers to help themselves online? According to “The Effortless Experience,” it is a given that customers first go to a company’s website once they’ve encountered an issue. Ideally, that first stop is their last stop.
But this Emerald City of seamless, all-through-the-night customer support only works if all of its building blocks are balanced properly. Those basics are the fundamentals that we’ve already talked about. It does no good to throw chatbots at those nocturnal customers if the bots are stumped after exchanging the obligatory personalized greeting. Or if the chatbots don’t have a storehouse of information to make them look smart.
This is where living, breathing documentation — updated daily by your empowered team — comes into play: Once a question has been asked and resolved, that solution should be immediately available for the next user, whether that is a team member, client or bot. Now you are empowering the customer too.
It’s probably not a bad thing – the longer your customers are perusing your website, instead of cleaning the cat-box while on hold, the more likely they might be enticed by something else you have to sell.
Customer Service uses the latest technology
Only once you’ve built out your documentation storehouse are you ready to put AI to its best use. AI can still be an expensive option and will not replace humans for awhile. But there is a halfway point at which they can be far more useful than as a flashy chat presence.
At the moment, even Facebook’s chatbots can have a fail rate of 70 percent . Pretty sure that’s worse than major-league baseball sluggers.
But one place where artificial intelligence shines already is in supporting agents. Response times drop if the computer itself responds to initial contact from a customer and elicits a description of the problem before the agent can swoop in and take over. At that point the bot can step back and “listen” to the conversation, instantly providing information to the customer support hero. Instead of subjecting customers to glitchy chat bots, agents can enjoy the help of a smart assistant.
We’ll always be waiting for the future to arrive…
In 2018, the customer service definition is still evolving. But here’s where we think it stands:
How your team interprets that definition depends enormously on your user base, the resources available and your current team maturity. Instead of chasing a perfect definition of customer service, how about using the rest of 2018 to suss out your own company’s trends, delve into your own data and invest in your team’s capabilities?
It’s OK to let the dust settle, to wait for some technologies to mature. In the meantime, shoot a few helpful videos for your FAQ section. Send a couple of employees to the seminar of their choice. Check in with your customers. Find a way to transfer callers one less time.
You know the smart things any good business would do.
You can be a trendsetter next year.