Digital versus Traditional Customer Service

“Traditional corporations, particularly large-scale service and manufacturing businesses are organized for efficiency. Or consistency. But not joy. Joy comes from surprise and connection and humanity and transparency and new…If you fear special requests, if you staff with cogs, if you have to put it all in a manual, then the chances of amazing someone are really quite low.” – Seth Godin


There is no doubt that the ‘digital age’ is upon us, and everyone is embracing the transformation brought about by digitization. Companies too are making investments and effort to enhance and move away from traditional customer service and experiences they may have been providing. They are using digital media such as website, social media, emails, on-line chats, and other means, to remain connected and provide service, to their customers. The downside of such digital service is that customers demand that they have a choice from the complete range of channels, such that they can choose how they would connect with companies. For companies this means that they must provide top class service on all channels if they expect to attract and retain customers. Service lapse on even one channel can quickly spiral out of control, with irate customers posting negative comments about the company.


While on the subject of digital versus traditional customer service, it is interesting to note the expectations of customers with regard to both ‘kinds’ of service. Surveys and research show that at least 71% customers still prefer interacting with human beings, rather than a digital medium, for service or when they would want to discuss an issue. Of these, at least 47% customers revealed that they would be happy to pay more if they received top class traditional customer service. Hence, while digitization may increase efficiency, enhance speed of responses, and manage some rote tasks to free up the service agents, it cannot replace the meaningful and relationship building ‘conversations’ that companies can have with customers. Customers expect to have such engaging ‘dialogues’ with customers, and from a company perspective these conversations help to build and deepen engagement, leading to customer loyalty, which in turn boosts profitability and growth. Surveys have further revealed that at least 52% customers switched companies for the sole reason of poor and slovenly service, and would not return to such companies.


The intriguing thing about the survey results is that 82% customers felt that through traditional customer service – that is companies reaching out personally and exhibiting their humane side, could have helped to retain their business. Seventy-three percentile of customers felt that, had they received better service from the persons in customer service, they could have changed their perception about the company and stayed on.


There are varying views, which make the discussion digital versus traditional customer service rather intriguing. Research has revealed that customers who interacted only through digital channels were less profitable than those who engaged with a company through a mix. The volume of sales such customers generated was almost three times as much. Customers who were able to get traditional customer service, that is, interact directly with company representatives were convinced to buy products much higher in value, thereby increasing growth and profitability for the company. To top this, research further revealed that the customers who were able to get both digital and traditional customer service, were at least 15% more likely to become loyal to and brand ambassadors for, a company. Those customers who were unable to experience human interaction, and engaged with a company only through digital means, were more likely to switch brands and companies when offered better prices and offers.


It is obvious from all that we have mentioned, that companies do not need to decide between digital versus traditional customer service, but rather have a healthy mix and balance of both. The fact is that everyone has limited resources and time, and hence it is imperative for today’s fast-paced world to optimize whatever resources a company has at its disposal. The optimal blend of digital and traditional customer service would help companies find the balance required to serve customers in the best and most customized manner.


Companies need to grow rapidly. This means that their customer base, internal resources, workforce, and other assets would need to grow in order to maintain a stronghold. As a company’s customer base grows, so do the number of queries, problems, and amount of data. To manage all these effectively, a company must have automated systems to deal with queries and issues that could easily be resolved without human intervention / interaction. A great example of this is customers checking bank account balances or knowing the status of orders they may have placed online. By using self-service technology, which works well, a company not only places direct control in the hands of the customers, but also reduces the number of rote queries, which otherwise would need to be answered by their workforce. Of course, it is imperative that such self-help features allow customers to provide feedback, and route any further queries to a real person or even escalate issues without a hitch.


As mentioned, there would be a number of occasions where customers would want to interact with real persons, and a company must ensure that service agents are well trained, knowledgeable, and empowered to make decisions for customers. They must have a comprehensive and current knowledge database, which they would use to respond instantly to questions from customers, such that customers do not need to wait, and the representatives appear intelligent and well informed. Service skills of the agents require constant upgrading since miscommunication and misunderstanding could often create problems, where none existed. In addition, by using tools such as workflow systems, a company can ensure that customer queries are routed automatically to an agent based on the skills and knowledge required to address a particular query or problem.


Many companies make the mistake of providing scripted answers to seemingly routine and reoccurring customer queries. While these ‘scripts’ may prove useful sometimes, it is also essential for the service agents to customize their responses, show empathy, and display genuine concern for customers and their needs. By displaying an understanding of the customer’s emotions and current mood, a company would be able to provide personal and traditional customer service, which is one of the top priorities of customers today. While improving efficiency is important and required, providing service that engages and connects customers emotionally with a company, is what differentiates a company and makes it highly ‘visible’ in the overcrowded market of today.


The crux is that both digital and traditional customer service are required today, and neither one can be effective or possible without the other. Contrary to what digital marketers may say, traditional methods of marketing and serving customers will never become obsolete. Given that life has become frenzied, and competition is frenetic and intense, companies cannot hope to differentiate themselves purely on pricing, or products. To have that edge, they would need to serve customers in the way that customers want, and the popular opinion today is personalized and humane customer service, complemented by efficient and intelligent technology. Digital service may break down walls, but it is traditional customer service that would ensure people stay connected and engaged. Traditional customer service is not going anywhere – it is simply changing to accommodate digitization to match the changing lifestyles and needs of customers. A blend of digital and traditional customer service is what would yield huge returns, and keep a company profitable and successful.

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