Is Technology Killing Customer Service?

“There’s a danger in the internet and social media. The notion that information is enough, that more and more information is enough, that you don’t have to think, you just have to get more information – gets very dangerous”. – Edward de Bono

Technology now touches every aspect of our lives, and the expectation is that everything will run more efficiently. However, efficiency does not mean an improvement in effectiveness. The main aim of any company should be keep its customers happy by providing them with top class service, and experiences that would delight them. While every customer expects to be treated with respect and courtesy, each customer also expects that they receive individualized treatment since their needs and requirements are unique and different. Companies need to understand that while they may need to use technology to reduce costs and enhance internal process and operational efficiency excessive use of technology can reduce personalization and could be one of the causes killing customer service today. This may seem counter-intuitive to the highly digitized world we have become accustomed to, but the fact is that over-reliance on technology does rob customer service of its essence – that of being humane and personal.

Using technology indiscriminately, that is without considering how it can benefit or detract from customer service, can easily lead to a breakdown in service and lead to disgruntled customers. Customers are real people – not numbers or a sales figure. They deal with challenges, and have feelings and emotions that influence the way they perceive companies and brands, and decide whether to buy or not. However, overuse of technology is killing customer service since in several instances one can see that over time customers become a number / name, and a piece of data on a large database of a company. Companies forget to respect the individuality and uniqueness of each customer and their needs. Service excellence is about ensuring that customers remain happy and delighted, and over time become loyal such that they not only provide repeat business but also refer the company and its products to others. This kind of excellence cannot happen with technology, and in fact trying to replace personalized service is a sure shot way of killing customer service. Technology is a tool, and must be used as such – it is not a replacement for a personal touch and human interactions.

Social media is perhaps one of the most prominent faces of the technological revolution. Almost everyone is on social media, and companies are under pressure to ‘be where their customers are’ on this platform. Companies also need to have a presence on almost every social media site since most of their competitors would have a presence too – and in this ‘race’ to forge ahead, companies do not really know or understand how their social media strategy fits in with their overall business approach. Having a social media presence because everyone does, but being unable to manage customer queries on it, could actually be slowly but steadily killing customer service without a company evening realizing it. The surprising fact is that customers need a way to interact with companies and vent their grief and frustrations with a company. Surprisingly, many companies set up social media accounts across various sites without realizing that customers can and will use them as a channel to communicate and receive service. The inability to manage these expectations is what could be killing customer service, resulting in customers leaving companies in search of others who would care for their needs.

The problem is not technology actually – but a company’s inability to leverage its strengths and the lack of internal preparedness to enhance, consistently, customer service. The problem is that companies forget that the human element – the personal touch – is what makes a customer experience, and the lack of it is what frustrates customers leading to a complete breakdown in communication. When customers connect with a company, research proves, they want to speak with a real person – a person who will understand their emotions and be empathetic towards them. None of this is possible through technology and automation – ever heard an IVR showing empathy for a customer who may be highly emotional when connecting?

While technology could be killing customer service, the fact is that everyone is extremely dependent on it now. Companies too, seem unable to fix problems quickly enough, or respond speedily enough to issues created by technology – fixing problems with technology requires highly trained and efficient people. For customers, time is money. They seek out companies that can save this precious resource, and killing customer service would be easy if companies are unable to use technology to speed processes and service. In fact, if technology were the hindering factor, it would be more prudent for a company to use traditional face-to-face interactions with customers, such that customers stay and appreciate the company enough to stay with it for a long time. Technology is to be used to find new ways to communicate with customers – it must not replace on-going and personalized communication.

Customers today are smart and intelligent – they are quick to perceive personalized service, and are ready to discard companies that appear aloof and impersonal. The fact is that if a company is killing customer service by overusing technology and treating customers as numbers, it would soon notice a sharp dip in its sales and market reputation – and by then it would already be too late. The harsh truth about technology is that customers use it too – for letting others know of poor experiences they have with a company – using social media to spread negativity about a company. Very few customers take the time to write positive comments about a company (unless specifically requested to do so), but are prompt to vent their frustration for all to see. It therefore has become imperative for companies to balance the use of technology with humane service, depending on the needs of their customers. It is not rocket science to figure out whether your company is killing customer service or enhancing it by using technology.

In order to display customer focus, companies must use technology in a way that would enhance their ability to understand, respond to, and connect on an emotional level with customers. Customers are now seeking companies that know them by name – those that truly understand their needs and can proactively fulfil their expectations in the least amount of time and within limited resources. Rather than making full-fledged changes when trying out new technology, it would be better for a company to check back with a few loyal customers, and request them to help test out the new technology. This way a company would get direct customer feedback and be able to remove any hitches before using it on their entire customer base. Of course, it would be necessary to gain regular feedback from customers to understand whether the new technology is helping them or whether it is slowly killing customer service by making it impersonal.

The truth is that even if customers prefer digital channels of communication for most interactions, they do yearn for human interaction to discuss complex and high emotion issues. A company’s inability to give them this could be killing customer service in the company. Most companies continue to move towards all kinds of robotic communication, even as customers continue reinforcing their desire for more personalized interactions, and only those companies that listen to this need would become and remain successful. The others would be killing customer service and their business faster than they would realize it. What kind of company do you run?

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