The Evolution of Customer Service: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same


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There was a time when proactive customer support simply involved including a manual with a new product and asking customers to read it. With a manual, companies armed their customers with the tools required to help themselves with hopes they wouldn’t need to call customer support.

Today, that process looks different. Companies are still telling customers to read the manual, but the technology and habit behind it all has changed. Now, companies don’t deliver the manual with the product. Instead, they put it online and tell their customers to go find it.

Customer service always has been and always will be about anticipating what customers will need and enabling them to solve their problems. While technology certainly has changed the tactics behind carrying out effective customer service, the fundamentals of the practice have remained the same. Customers are still delighted and frustrated by the same things they always have been.

The nature of business

The landscape of customer service may only appear to have changed because the nature of business has changed. Decades ago, social media and email didn’t exist. If people wanted to interact with each other or companies, they either had to do it in person or over the phone.

Even in the days of general stores, customer service existed. Store owners knew all of their customers on a first-name basis and stocked their shelves with the exact items they knew their customers would need. Because communities were local, if the owner of the general store made a mistake, everyone in town heard about it.

Sure, technology has drastically changed the way business operates today, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Now, if a brand makes a mistake, everyone “in town” hears about it, but that “town” may span seven continents and hundreds of countries thanks to the power of social media. Still, brands need to get to know customers on a personal level and technology enables them to do that.

A generational divide

While many think the millennial generation is responsible for how brands provide customer service today, they are given far too much credit. Yes, millennials will make up more than 75 percent of the global workforce by 2030 and will collectively spend $200 billion annually by 2017. If they’re not already, they will become the largest customer base in the U.S. in only a few years.

On the surface, millennial expectations of brands do appear to differ from those of the baby boomers or the Gen Y-ers in that they’ve forced brands to interact with customers 24/7. The millennial generation demands and rewards instant gratification, especially those companies that reach them where they are – on social, mobile, chat and phone. They expect to find answers at the tips of their fingers and when they can’t, they won’t hesitate to share their experiences with whomever is listening, most often on social media. But on a deeper level, millennials want the same thing as any older generation – they want to feel like they are being heard and that brands are listening to them. Only now, if they don’t get it, everyone will hear about.

Back to the basics

If there’s one thing to learn from this “evolution” of customer service, it’s that while the process of serving customers has transformed from simply carrying customers’ favorite items at the general store to addressing customer concerns immediately via all channels, the fundamentals are still very much the same. Stripping customer service down to the basics will help brands identify the best approach to meeting their customers’ needs.

By listening to customers and asking them what they need, brands will be able to identify the best ways to serve them. It’s all about making it easy for customers to get the answers they need. Now, technology enables companies to make information available and accessible online, to listen to their customers through the channels that matter most to them and offer a personalized and tailored approach to customer service. Ultimately, only the process of customer service has changed, but the relationships have always and will always remain the same.

Jill Soley
With 15 years of experience, Jill has helped Freshdesk bring a customer-focused approach to product and marketing management. Prior to joining Freshdesk, Jill played a key leadership role in the successful launch of Creative Cloud, representing a transformation of Adobe's shrink-wrap software business to a service and subscription model. She was also responsible for Adobe's mobile app strategy for Adobe's Creative Pro business. Jill received both a bachelor's degree and master's degree from MIT and continues to bring an innovative approach to marketing through Silicon Valley.


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