Are Customers Just Plain Fickle?


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I must admit. Now I’m totally confused. Or, maybe it’s not just me. Or, maybe it’s not me at all. Maybe it’s the customer that’s a bit confused. Fickle maybe a more appropriate term?

There have been reams and reams of studies, blogs and articles reporting customers’ sentiment in general about the sorry state of customer service across the board. In many of those writings, the customer has indicated a strong preference for self service. And, the trend towards that preference is growing rapidly, due to many factors such as demographic shifts. But, as important, is the feeling that, if live customer service stinks and, like a box of chocolates, you never know what or who or from what remote corner of the world you’re gonna get, people would just as soon have a DIY option.

Now granted, self service has had a rocky history as well. By no means is it optimized. Just look at the track record of bank ATMs.

Then along came a question posted on LinkedIn from my friend Justin Flitter. who asked:

“What will customer service and a great customer experience look like in 5 or 10 years?”

And the responses Justin received confounded me. They all fall into the bucket of, in Justin’s words, “robotic, impersonal customer service must die”. Well, I can’t argue with that. And, I think this is a hangover from the less-than-stellar deployment of self service options to-date. A couple other quotes from Justin’s post:

“I predict that high-tech over high touch will experience a severe consumer back-lash. The self service, online transaction with little to no human contact will reach a tipping point of frustration”

“Self service transactions completely void of any human interaction and IVR…once seen as innovations in customer support, are now the bane of customers”

So, wait. Live customer service stinks. Self service stinks. Now what the hell do we do?

Here’s what I read into all of this. Is it that we as customers don’t know what we want? Well, not exactly. We know we want a great experience when we interact with a brand. I think that’s the underlying message. As for how we get it, I think that’s the part where we collectively as customers are grasping at straws out of pure frustration. If self service rocked, studies have shown that people would prefer that. It combines the great experience we desire with ultimate control, which by the way, enhances the experience for many. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of companies that have solved this equation.

Here’s the deal folks. That train has left the station and it ain’t coming back. Self service provides huge cost benefits to companies. And, it will continue to be a strategic focus in terms of customer service channel development. Because, high-touch human capital-based service costs dough. A lot of dough. Who’s going to pay for that?

There is a balance that needs to be struck, however. As Amazon has done, its based on a three-part strategy, the combination of which I believe offers the best win-win for companies and customers.

First, redefine the role of the traditional customer service function in the enterprise. Make its mission to identify and fix the broken processes that drive, as Bill Price from Amazon calls them, “dumb contacts”. These are the product defects, billing & shipping errors and other upstream flaws that drive unnecessary volume into customer service, stretching it beyond its capacity and forcing the function to focus on wringing efficiency out of its own processes rather than on delivering world-class service.

Next, focus on developing world-class self service and community based support channels that give customers that combination of flexibility, satisfaction and the sense of control.

Finally, invest in agent-based channels that focus on high-touch contacts that truly demand that level of service and engagement.

From a cost perspective, this is the only way companies can consistently justify and provide the level of high-touch, human capital-based customer service that it appears some folks are after.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Barry Dalton
Telerx Marketing
Consumed by the pursuit of delightful service. Into all things customer loyalty and technology. My current mission is developing new service channels and the vision of the contact center of the future.


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