Sometimes it seems as if customer service has been completely transformed by technology, but the primary need for human interaction in business has never changed. Companies connect with their clients using email, blog entries, text messages, tweets and Facebook posts as if these new media channels have supplanted face-to- face interactions, but they haven’t. What we have today is a lot of digital noise covering up the continuing need for personal relationships in customer service.
When thinking about improving business, we tend to focus on lowering costs and leveraging new technologies, but we should also work on delivering exceptional customer experiences the old-fashioned way. Many companies are enthusiastic about deploying personalized chatbots on their websites. For instance, when they should be hiring and training employees who personally chat with customers, remember their names and genuinely care about their quality of service.
This is not a new trend. Mechanized transactions have been supplanting personal experiences in business for decades, and whole industries are always in hot pursuit of innovative means for further automation.
Take the food industry, for example. It’s hard to say where Amazon is going with its Amazon Go stores. Cashiers are replaced by hundreds of cameras surveying every square inch of the store to track every customer move. It sure isn’t going back to the good old days of personal customer interaction. Like the Automats of the 1950s, Amazon Go doesn’t eliminate the need for human employees, but instead hides them behind the technological facade. Instead, people run around preparing and restocking slots for the machinery (and repairing the machinery) rather than talking to customers and hand-delivering orders.
Industrial automation and efficiency have allowed companies to scale up to enormous proportions, serving millions and billions of customers where before they served dozens and hundreds. This scaling up that requires even more automation and efficiency going forward. Walmart customers probably won’t find an equivalent to the friendly check out lady they knew at their local grocery store growing up, the one who knew their whole family. Walmart serves many more customers covering a wider geographical area and loses that personal touch.
Industrial scale has lost many of the old-fashioned aspects of customer service. A few companies are explicitly trying to recapture it by segmenting their frontline crew to serve particular subsets of customers and thereby allow them to get to know each other. Wingz, for example, is kind of like Uber with the ability for customers to request their favorite driver.
Scale doesn’t need to mean anonymity. Even for short, isolated transactions among an employee and a customer who will probably never meet again, it’s still important to emphasize a personal touch. Get the customer’s name, thank them and genuinely show interest in helping them. Much of this comes down to hiring the right people and training them to establish a personal connection with customers.
“The older generations still understand the fundamentals of good old-fashioned customer service,” says Jason Baril, an attorney with Social Security Law Center. Some of these fundamentals include showing up on time, or for walk-ins and appointments, provide prompt service. Check with customers immediately if a product or service won’t meet expectations. Provide personal assurances and follow through to ensure satisfaction. The unifying factor among all of those fundamentals is personal care. Get to know your customers, respect their time, ask questions and seek to deliver service beyond their expectations.
When things go wrong in business, automated systems are notoriously bad at coping and may even make the problems worse. This inflexibility poses a real challenge to customer service. Many customers initiate contact when inflexibility needs to be dealt with with face-to-face interaction. If an automated system or even an impersonal medium like Twitter don’t convey a sense of caring on the part of the company, then the interaction will only frustrate customers further. In these instances, companies definitely want a way to “break glass” and get a compassionate human being involved, and quickly. Companies need to train and empower those human agents to resolve customer issues without hassle or delay.
With Facebook and Apple executives decrying the serious societal harm caused by social media, we may be witnessing a shift in the zeitgeist toward a more critical view of these technologies. Businesses that actively respond to this felt need for more natural, human-based customer service will achieve that sought-after “wow factor” by simply talking to their customers, as in “Wow, someone actually picked up the phone and called me.”
Old-fashioned customer service never went out of style, and it will never fail to impress your customers and make them repeat customers.