“In an era when companies see online support as a way to shield themselves from ‘costly’ interactions with their customers, it’s time to consider an entirely different approach: building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology. So, get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself. It’s worth it.” – Kristin Smaby
We know that even in this age of intense digitization and technology, the top priority for customers is service that is individual to them. Customers know that companies now have access to huge amounts of data related to customer behaviour and trends, demographics, browsing history, and other information. They expect companies to use this data to serve them as though they were the only customer a company had. However, as companies grow, their customer base and the information grow with them and managing the huge repository of data becomes extremely hard. This is when companies face serious challenges in providing personalized customer service – they seem completely inept at providing it.
Customers as we know are now more impatient and exacting – they refuse to settle for anything but the best, and we are not talking about products or services alone. Every interaction and experience they have with a company, they expect a personal and emotional connection. These ‘connections’ is what makes them feel unique and special, constituting personalized customer service based on their particular interests and expectations. However, this may not always happen as companies continually face challenges that obstruct individualized attention to every customer. Personalized customer service would happen when the company has the technology to collate and collect customer data in a single place and the representatives of the company would be able to access and use the comprehensive data to serve customers on an individual level. The challenge lies in leveraging this data to provide service that appears personalized, trustworthy, and efficient. A company cannot expect to grow without increasing its customer base and gaining a large base would prove to be a problem if technology were not understood and used to manage customer information.
Despite challenges to personalized customer service, the fact is that this is one of the best ways for a company to build and sustain deep and meaningful relationships with their customers. A company can gain trust and engage customers long enough to become loyal, which in turn allows them to remain profitable and encourage others to form associations with the company too. While the increased number of communication channels provides more flexibility, they can also prove to be one of the challenges to personalized customer service. This is because customers expect individual attention in every interaction, messages customized specially for them and they expect all this across all channels too. Unless a company has dedicated teams for every channel, managing the customer expectations of personalization, would be a challenge every single day. With spiking expenditure, increasing competition, and limited resources, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to divert more funds and time toward providing the individualized focus customers seek. This leads to generalized messages, communication, and content sent out when it is convenient for the company, and to very large customer groups at the same time. This seemingly impersonalized treatment causes customers to become dissatisfied and seek other companies that would provide personalized customer service.
When trying to bring in personalization in customer relations and interactions, companies usually face similar challenges. The biggest challenge (despite it being a boon in some cases), is technology. With the rise in its use, face-to-face connections and interactions have gone down significantly. However, that is not the only problem with technology – companies very often, fail to bring in the most appropriate technology and even if they do, the usage and adoption of the systems is not at the optimum – not everyone in the company ‘embraces’ it, leaving a lot to be desired. Personalized customer service is the result of the conjunction of people, processes, and technology blended well to bring about great experiences. Hence, improper usage of technology by people within the set processes of the company, would lead to customer dissatisfaction arising out of impersonalized treatment. If a company does not know its customers, does not understand their needs, the representatives make no effort to use customer history to sort out issues – how would personalized customer service ever be possible?
As mentioned, every company must grow in order to remain competitive. When a company is smaller, its customer base would be small too, making it easier to provide personalized customer service. It would be simpler to remember customer details – name, history, preferences, likes, and behaviour – and using these details to pay close and individualized attention. The challenge becomes apparent when the company is in a growth phase and doing everything it can to scale. Personalization then usually takes a backseat, since remembering individual customers when there are too many, is not humanly possible. A company may not be able to scale its data management systems fast enough to manage all the additional customer information, leading to confusion and de-personalized service. Companies must choose technology that can support its scalability and be immediately useable and efficient as the company grows.
Another one of the major challenges to personalized customer service is that the company’s culture does not support a growth mind-set, which in turn means that departments and employees continue to work in silos without any desire to work cohesively. Data and research suggests that it is not hard for customers to perceive the reasons for poor service and are unlikely to stick with a company that is fragmented on the inside. The inability to work together of a company’s employees, will most definitely affect the kind of service they provide to customers – there would be delays, lack of ownership, and an unwillingness to take on more than ‘what their job description’ specifies. Employees would simply ‘dish out’ what they know to be a process and make no effort to pay individual attention to each customer. Customers would much rather move to a company that understands the importance of working as a cohesive unit and has the ability to provide personalized customer service.
Further to the point mentioned above, each department and team would have their own specialized skills and knowledge, and most definitely need the support of other teams in order to deliver true personalization to customers. For example, the IT team would be completely adept at managing the systems and technology, but would not have the skills to market the products and services to customers based on their needs. Selling is the domain of the marketing team, who would need the systems to input customer data and ensure that the data remains stored and updated for ready use. Without working together and understanding the requirements and challenges of the other team, it would be impossible for any team to serve customers in the way they expect. A company would need to create and sustain a culture of cooperation and collaboration such that customers see a unified front, with product quality and service to match their expectations.
The fact is that every customer knows that she or he are amongst many customers of the company, but still expect that when they are interacting with a company they receive special treatment and their needs are given due importance. No two customers are alike, and neither are two interactions with a single customer ever the same – these factors should be enough to urge companies to provide as personalized customer service as is possible. They must make every customer feel important and assured that when they interact with the company, they would receive complete and undiluted attention. While a company may face challenges in various aspects of its business, it is their responsibility to manage those challenges and not let them get in the way of personalized customer service – do this well and consistently, and your company would gain customer loyalty and trust.