What is The Future of Customer Service?

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What is the future of customer service? One recent author claimed that the best service is no service. That might become truer than you think. What if we took the current trends and pushed them out a few years? Assume 90 percent of the buying population of the civilized world had Internet access. Researcher International Data projects 1.2 billion people globally by 2013 will be on the Internet. Assume you could buy practically anything you wanted on the Internet (you almost can now). What happens to service providers?

Most routine services could be performed by a computer-driven device––think of it as a service vending machine. If computers can now do routine surgery, prepare your will, balance your tires, and issue you a boarding pass, they could easily style your hair, fill your teeth, or mow your lawn.

The Manchester (UK) Airport now has a holograph giving you reminders before going through security. Imagine the next generation of holograph loaded with artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology. Princess Leah replaces the receptionist, information booth, greeter and maybe even the concierge. You don’t have to be very imaginative to see where this high tech-high touch wonder could ultimately lead.

Think about it: All service may come from artisans, carnivals, or crisis handlers. Take artisans: There will always be services you might be able to get via the Internet or computer, but wouldn’t you rather have a live artisan performing your massage, prostate check or real estate closing? Even if a computer could fix your toilet, tutor your child, or hear your confession, wouldn’t you prefer a trained human specialist on the receiving end of your need?

We all like carnivals. I can buy groceries on the Internet with NetGrocer or Peapod and have them delivered to my house. But it sure is fun to walk into a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market. And, no one does carnival better than Stew Leonard’s Dairy in the Northeast. We humans enjoy service with sensory stimulation attached. Buying fishing lures on line saves me time; buying them at the big Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop makes me smile.

One type of fast-growing carnival server is the pop-up restaurant. Like the traveling circus that stayed in town only a week, these restaurants are billed as events, not as locations. One wildly popular guerilla style pop-up is LudoBites in LA. With only 25 seats available at the typical event, it is always packed. Food critics have given it sensational reviews. Their website states LudoBites has no permanent address but “wonders flow from borrowed stores.” Chef Ludo Lefebvre is the only chef in LA to receive Mobil’s five star award at two different restaurants. It is the future of carnival service––highly personalized, very imaginative, and extraordinarily good.

The third type of future service provider will be the crisis handler. No service will ever be perfect––after all, the service experience is conceived and crafted by humans. Even the best computer program will occasionally have a hiccup. And, as nice and helpful as a computer might be, it will always take the intuition and empathy of a person to turn disappointment into delight. Think of this service role as the returns clerk on steroids. Crisis handlers will be armed with savvy support, smart systems, intricate customer intelligence and lightning fast data retrieval. But, the front guard will be a person.

So, where does that leave your service role? If you are not artisan with a specialized niche, a carnival with a great show, or a crisis handler with superior recovery skills, you might become as relevant as an elevator operator or gas station attendant. Which of these three roles would your customers like to see you assume?

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group (chipbell.com) and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.

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