I was recently invited to present a paper on customer service in the digital era at a conference that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. I focused on how brands can effectively utilise digital tools in the delivery of great customer service.
Customer service has emerged as the key differential in the extremely competitive environment we now live in. Those who have mastered it possess the competitive advantage within their industry verticals. Digital tools and processes play a very important role in this ecosystem.
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Judging by the feedback from the attendees, the conference was long overdue as most of them disclosed that they have not yet adopted digital technologies for the execution of their duties. Strange but true. But what gave birth to this aberration? Well, the answer can be traced back to the recessionary nightmare that shook global economies in the past 7 years.
To survive, many companies sacrificed their investments in technology as a cost cutting measure. However, no one anticipated the side effects that this decision would produce. There is a digital divide between companies and their customers, with the latter becoming more tech savvy as it continues to adopt technology at a faster rate than companies.
Businesses are now scrambling to come to terms with the effects of this dichotomy. They now appreciate the importance of engaging with their customers in a more intimate way than they were doing hitherto.
Customer service is an essential component of any business as it facilitates the acquisition and retention of customers. Customers are the lifeblood of any commercial entity and without them there is no reason for continued existence. It is more expensive to get new customers than to keep the existing ones. The provision of an excellent customer experience leads to improved customer retention.
Whilst the digital revolution has produced an influx of devices of all shapes and sizes, the most significant impact has been the shift in customer behaviour. The customers are now more influential in the purchase journey and are dictatorial in their demands. They are highly opinionated and love the publicity that social media tools gives them.
Social media has turned customer service on its head especially if there is a tiff between a customer and a service provider. Private fights are now a thing of the past. Every exchange is taking place before thousands or even millions.
Take for instance the over cited quarrel between Canadian singer Dave Caroll and United Airlines that took place when the musician’s guitar was damaged during cargo handling.
When the airline showed that they were reluctant to compensate him, Dave composed a video song, “United Breaks Guitars” and uploaded it on YouTube. Within 4 days of the video being released, United Airlines stocks fell by 10%, costing shareholders a whopping $180 million. The video has garnered over 14 million views.
I can emphasise enough the power that the modern customer has in this always on and connected world. Companies underestimate them at their own peril.
There is also an ironic trend which has emerged. Whilst it is much easier now to purchase products, the level of customer impatience has also increased exponentially. Customers expect instant gratification and they get finicky when they don’t receive it.
This has consequently given rise to the “switching economy” in which customers are changing suppliers and service providers with great alacrity. Industry experts estimate that the net value of business available from clients switching from one company to another stands at over $60 trillion globally. Clearly this is not Sunday school church offering!
You snooze, you lose. It is that simple.
Customers are using omni-channels when they engage with their service provider and they expect to experience the same service irrespective of the device they use. Continuation of the conversation or transaction has become a critical success factor. What puts off many customers is having to repeat themselves as they engage with the service provider across diverse channels
Software such as One Engagement Hub resolve this by enabling businesses to have continuous conversations with their customers across different channels.
The customer path to purchase is no longer simple and straightforward. It is far more complex and meandering. Companies must ensure that they engage with their customers more intimately at all touch points in order to foster loyalty.
Most of the digital tools that can be used in customer experience management offer valuable metrics. This data can then be mined to derive useful insights. By creatively utilising analytics, companies can understand their customers better and align their product development and service delivery to match their unique peculiarities.
There are about 5 key areas that brand must invest in.
Firstly, companies should be able to predict their customers’ behaviour one step ahead. Steve Jobs is quoted as having said “get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves”. Enough said.
Secondly, companies should create intimate relationships with their customers. Emotional bonding is a game changer. It turns customers into fans and this guarantees repeat business.
Thirdly, customers should be able to engage with a company using any device they prefer and as they switch from one channel to another, the conversation should not be cut off.
Technology is now inherently mobile and companies should then make sure all their strategies are mobile first.The fourth pillar is vital in ensuring universal access to company customer service portals.
Lastly, companies should make sure that they have a presence on all the relevant social media platforms. Whilst some are averse to opening up communication channels to the public, they are missing the chance to turn complaints into business opportunities. Social media surfaces undercurrents of dissatisfaction and ensures that they are resolved before they turn into crisis points.
Digital tools enable companies to offer cutting edge customer experience management. This is very key for success in the hyper competitive environment that companies are operating in.
As customers use different digital channels to engage with brands, companies should develop strategies to engage with them creatively and intimately across all touch points. Self-service platforms are the best answer to customer service management.