Adapting to the Changing Face of Customer Service

“There are many who subscribe to the convention that service is a business cost, but our data demonstrates that superior service is an investment that can help drive business growth. Investing in quality talent, and ensuring they have the skills, training and tools that enable them to empathize and actively listen to customers are central to providing consistently excellent service experiences.” – Jim Bush

The main aim of customer service, at least it should be, would be to keep customers happy and at ease. Traditionally, customer service was much simpler – a few smiles, chats, remembering names, and other such pleasantries were usually enough. Not anymore! Things have changed rapidly and drastically, and companies are scrambling to adapt to the changing face of customer service. For starters, the number of channels through which people can connect with a company is overwhelming. To add to this complexity is the fact that the connectivity is constant 24×7, 365 days a year – customers can ask for information, review companies, make comments, talk and complain about a company, discuss their issues on public forums – and other such means. Companies would be agile and willing to adapt to this change and shift in customer-company dynamics, would survive and become successful over time. The fact is that customers are now in control – and they do not seem to want to relinquish their power any time soon. If anything, this control is set to become stronger and tighter.

The main reason for the changing face of customer service is that the internet has afforded people with free information, and lent a powerful voice to customers, who are ever willing to use that voice. What customers say about a brand and a company becomes the popular perception, which in turn influences a larger audience, including prospective customers of the company. It would make sense that a company remains aware of the kind of service they provide to their customers, since it is known that unhappy customers are more likely to speak of their experiences, as compared to those who may be happy. Poor comments and negative feedback about a company could potentially do some long-term, serious damage to a company. In the past, when customers had a problem with a company, all they could do was possibly share it with their family and friends. However, now with a single click of a button, a customer could let almost the whole world about their poor experiences.

Many companies are struggling to adapt to this changing face of customer service – one poor experience and customers go online with videos and posts excoriating companies and their brands. This is empowerment at its best and most powerful – this did not exist before, and companies that have been unable to keep pace with these changes, find themselves in a tough spot. It is not acceptable anymore to treat customers poorly – they refuse to accept shabby treatment such as waiting endlessly, being kept on hold, or other such behaviours that waste their time and make them feel less important. Another aspect of the changing face of customer service is customers expect to be able to contact a company when and how they want. The expectation is that the company would be available where and when customers deem appropriate – and anything less than that could see customers moving towards the company’s competitors who would be willing to provide such leeway.

Companies no longer control through which channels customers should connect with them. If customers decide to start a conversation through one channel, and continue it on another, companies must keep pace. The company should have the efficiency and processes in place to manage conversations with their customers seamlessly – that is company representatives handling different channels must see one common single message from the customer. As per the changing face of customer service, a company cannot ask customers to switch their communication to a channel that the company would prefer.

One of the major shifts in the changing face of customer service, is communication via social media. By its very nature, social media is an immediate and highly visible platform. This means that companies must respond at the speed ‘befitting’ this channel, and also because customers expect immediate responses and quick turnaround when they connect with companies via social media. If a company is unable to keep pace, most of the comments would go unnoticed / unanswered – customers hate being ignored and are sure to punish a company for doing so. Customers want attention and responses – especially if they may have made a negative comment, and by ignoring them a company could potentially make itself vulnerable to even more anger, which could damage its reputation and block away a lot of potential business.

Companies do not have a choice but to adapt to the changing face of customer service. While customers may not expect miracles, they do want to see genuine effort on the part of companies to make good on its promises and correct the mistake it may have committed. Companies must have dedicated and knowledgeable teams handling every channel through which customers could connect with them. Every comment and query from customers must receive a swift, relevant, and personalized response – generalization does not work anymore in this changing face of customer service. Customers demand tailored responses and customized solutions, for them to believe that the company cares for them. Companies that provide such service consistently will soon find customers becoming more profitable, and spreading the positive word of mouth, thereby encouraging others to engage in business with the company.

One very important aspect of the changing face of customer service, is self-help. Customers want to have the ability to help themselves through self-help portals such as FAQs, troubleshooting guides, efficient IVR systems, and other such DIY methods. Self-help methods when working efficiently can save huge amounts of time and effort for the customers, while saving tremendous labour costs for a company. The critical factor however, would be that these systems work swiftly and consistently well, if they are to help customers in the way they are intended. Customers are easily piqued when they are unable to get the answers they expect – hence to match this part of the changing face of customer service, companies must constantly monitor and upgrade their self-help portals. Creating online discussion forums is another way for customers to openly discuss and express their views – letting companies know how they feel about their services, and be able to get answers from other customers and peers.

As mentioned, consistency is of prime importance. Customers are unwilling to accept services that would be erratic and unstable in their performance. Hence, as part of the changing face of customer service, companies must realize that simply putting a service in place will not suffice. The quality and efficiency must be consistent at all times. Companies seem to be struggling with their internal systems and problems – with silos within departments causing them a world of pain. Companies must invest in CRM systems to ensure a centralized and efficient system of storing customer data, such that every experience and interaction a customer may have had with the company, would reflect in the system. Customers would not need to repeat their ‘history’ or their problem, which is one of the top demands of service today.

Irrespective of the industry a company operates within, it is time to accept and adapt to the changing face of customer service, by investing the required time and resources into ensuring that customers receive top class service at all times. Is your company ready to retool its processes in order to keep up with today’s changing face of customer service?

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