How Customer Service is Changing and What You Can Do to Take Advantage of It


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What can a guy nicknamed Uncle Johnny teach us about future of customer service, even if his prime business years were more than half a century ago? Let’s quickly dive into the short version of his story to find out:

Photo credit: 7-Eleven
The store where it all started. Photo credit: 7-Eleven
Around 1927, Jefferson Green – aka Uncle Johnny, an employee of the Southland Ice Company in Dallas, Texas – started selling groceries like milk, bread and eggs in one of the 16 ice stores the company owned. His boss thought it was a brilliant idea: customers wouldn’t have to travel as much if basic stuff was sold at a place they needed to go to anyway – you know, for their vital blocks of ice to keep their food refrigerated (this was before fridges). And, more importantly, the ice stores were open in the evenings and on Sundays.

Bull’s eye. As soon as folks realized they could buy basic groceries when the other shops were closed, business went booming. Convenience, it seemed, was key. By 1946, the chain was baptised 7-Eleven – and the rest is history.

The neglected key to success

Exactly 70 years later, convenience is taken for granted, although it is now more key than ever. With a myriad of competitors to be found online within a few clicks, you really need to step up your game. And good customer service seems one of the prerequisites.

Now, what do we mean by ‘good’ customer service?

Let’s say it boils down to a combination of two key factors: getting your questions answered quickly and being treated with respect. Studies confirm that these two influence a customer’s perception of great service tremendously.

But there’s a third key to success – the one that Uncle Johnny stumbled upon back in the twenties: convenience. Think about it. Even if you have the friendliest and most efficient support staff in the world, it won’t do your business any good if your customers can’t get in touch with them. Too much friction.

Over the years, companies have implemented quite a few communication channels for their customers, with convenience in mind. From phone and email to chat and – recently – social media, various tools have become popular amongst consumers looking for an answer to their questions.

From social media to personal messaging

The way companies interact with customers is changing once again. Recent research shows that social media is among the last places consumers want to go for customer service. This considerable drop in the number of customers turning to social media to resolve issues, is just one symptom of the transition we’re going through as consumers.

This transition is a relationship revolution. We now crave 1-to-1 contact with each other, including from the companies we’re dealing with. Conversational commerce is the future, and the future is now. Chris Messina of Uber explains:

“Conversational commerce is about delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare.”

One example of a company joining this relationship revolution is Facebook. In December 2015 it added Uber to its Messenger functionalities: everyone can now order an Uber taxi from inside Facebook Messenger. Clearly, mixing technology with conversational commerce is going to be a stellar combination. Or as a product manager at Facebook puts it:

“Technology can make all of our engagements with businesses better.”

Conversational commerce encourages easier transactions. But technology will allow you to go a lot further than just getting at your customer’s wallet. This revolution is really about getting to know the customer better and build a more personal relationship that both sides value.

The ideal introduction to conversational commerce

How can a company that doesn’t have pockets as deep as Facebook’s or Apple’s reap the benefits of conversational commerce without impacting its organization too much?

Forget artificial intelligence for the moment. Sure, we read lots about the chatbot gold rush that’s going on right now. And although you should keep updated on where this is going, most companies aren’t ready for that at all.

Luckily, there is a simple, very effective form of conversational commerce that won’t flip your whole customer service department on its head. Conversational commerce is built upon the idea of personal messaging. Messaging apps (free, personal, mobile) are thriving. In fact, they are now more popular than social media networks.

One messaging app in particular is interesting for businesses, because it’s loved by so many people: WhatsApp. With over a billion active monthly users around the world, this is the pond in which to dip your toes and experience conversational commerce at its best.

A big leap ahead of competition

Although you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t use WhatsApp, there aren’t all that many companies yet that currently use this messaging app as a customer contact tool. It’s not quite as far spread as you would assume – given its obvious benefits. Most companies have cold feet and don’t dare to test the waters.

Thankfully there are brave companies out there, some of which actually use WhatsApp correctly. Airline company KLM, for example, is using WhatsApp to communicate with passengers when flights are cancelled.

So what happens if you jump on board with WhatsApp? On the one hand, you might experience shorter phone queues and fewer complaints on Facebook and Twitter, taking pressure off some of your other channels. On the other hand, you might just be able to reach new audiences, helping more customers.

Overall, you’ll notice that customers are more satisfied. They really love communicating with their favourite app. Companies like ABN Amro, for example, have seen an increase in their Net Promoter Scores as a result of using WhatsApp.

But because the journey with WhatsApp as a customer service tool is still in its early stages, the proof of the pudding really is in the eating. The only way to find out if it works for your company, is by giving it a go.

WhatsApp alongside older channels

Don’t worry: it’s not the end of communication through chat, email or phone. Not yet, anyway. We’re not suggesting you should go all-in into WhatsApp, dropping any other channels. WhatsApp is to be seen a complementary tool, not a replacement for what’s already in place.

However, WhatsApp is a necessary tool because it stimulates convenience. And in the relationship revolution, with conversational commerce at its core, it’s all about convenience. Email, chat, phone or WhatsApp – whatever your customer prefers at that moment.

If you’d like to discover more tips and examples of how you can use WhatsApp in your company, download this free ebook now. It helps you prepare for a successful journey with WhatsApp and a chance to peek behind the curtain of early WhatsApp adopters.

Philippe Vanderhoydonck
Philippe is a marketing geek who loves to remind companies that the way to grow is focusing on the customer. Currently the growth marketer for Casengo, but also a food snob that complains about non-Belgian beer.


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