The Customer Experience Challenge: The Evolution and Sophistication of Customer Care

In recent years, the customer base of any company has both expanded and contracted, and this means traditional approaches to customer care must be seriously reviewed and revamped. How can a customer base expand and contract at the same time? It expands because of greater reach. Companies can now connect with people all over the world, through an array of technologies including social media, smartphone apps, and messaging, and new activities like gamification. But at the same time, each of these millions of potential customers expects to be cared for in a highly personalized manner. In short, we have entered the age of the audience of one.

Key Fact #1: Traditional call centers will be fewer and more specialized

Any location where customers and companies interact, such as call centers, help desks, email, or the shop floor, must substantially change its game. Customers know they hold more of the cards. They are free to comparison shop and fact-check directly through their phones, and they also know that their voice can be heard through social media and review sites.

Abandonment is a constant fear among businesses of all sizes. If the customer does not receive instant satisfaction, whether from an onscreen app, call center, or in-store checkout, they will leave and not return. They are seldom willing to offer a vendor a second chance.

This presents companies with a double-barreled “CX” situation. CX can represent customer experience, but it can also denote customer expectation, and the two exist almost hand-in-hand. From the moment a potential customer discovers a company, and all the way along their journey, these two elements will color their perceptions. Those who make the decisions for their companies must be fully aware of the intricacies of every interaction and transaction and must have a dynamic and flexible approach to customer service that includes human and automated features.

They must recognize the need for significant changes to the way customer service calls are handled, with much of the conversations handed over to chat-bots using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), leaving humans to handle more complicated, and far more individualized cases. This will force companies to refine their customer service training models to factor in:

  • higher levels of quality and personalization among human interactions
  • the proportion of human-led customer service that should remain in-house versus being reliably outsourced
  • the degree to which customer service can be handed over to computers.

The Customer Journey has More Milestones Than Ever

Although it is vital to observe a customer’s journey as being a flowing event rather than a sequence of individual chapters, it is equally important to recognize that within this journey there will be more touchpoints than ever before – places where the company might reach out with a fact or a question through phone-based SMS, email or other means.

Key Fact #2: Today’s customer is more empowered, yet expects more high-touch contact.

In past decades such excessive customer hand-holding appeared to offer little in terms of ROI. Management of brand and reputation have always been important, but high-touch care was often delivered less frequently due to its cost.

Today, however, data is king. Data is essentially worth more than any single cash transaction since it helps build a knowledge base of customer preferences and habits that can be used in myriad ways. Even a complaint call must be seen this way: it is an opportunity to learn more about a customer, and that means data, which means value. Hence the need for specialized customer service representatives who are skilled not only in complaint resolution but also in data gathering. Where once a customer service rep might have been trained to upsell the customer to purchase an additional service, they must now replace or at least complement that with data gathering opportunities.

Companies need to develop more sophisticated methods of segmenting customers. They need to identify and quantify each customer’s short-and long-term value as well as their potential as influencers within the larger community.

What Can Customer Service-Focused Companies Expect

  • A significant reduction in the volume of inbound customer service calls for simple transactional activities – these will be replaced by automation and social media channels.
  • The change in demographics will continue, with an increasing proportion of the customer base expecting and demanding automated customer service to reflect their lifelong comfort with interactive, mobile technology.
  • A blending of roles – live customer service specialists will need to be experts in problem-solving, sales and data collection, rather than leaving these responsibilities to separate silos.
  • Routing of callers to specialists will be based as much on the personality of the caller as the topic of the call.
  • Investing in new technology will be essential, including delivering enhanced interaction opportunities between live agents and customers.

Building a New System

Key Fact #3: Data is king. Companies must focus customer service efforts on data collection.

As formidable as these changes may seem, there is good news in the fact that the development and deployment of intelligent customer service options are easier and more affordable than ever before. Modular technology supported by “as-a-service” providers means there is no longer a need to build a system from scratch only to keep upgrading it as time goes by. This can now be taken care of by a cloud-based supplier of turnkey operations.

Innovations such as these are vital for those established companies seeking to retain their market share, in light of startups and pop-ups that aggressively seek to move into the space.

Agility Generates Stability in All Markets

The modern commerce environment demands that companies become and stay agile, actively using the data collected from customers and the marketplace in general. In place of five- or ten-year plans, they must be ready to interpret incoming data and respond to it quickly. This includes dynamic training and retraining of customer service specialists to match quickly changing conditions.

It would be easy to assume that this urgent need for a revised customer service strategy is only applicable to the retail sector, which is based largely on face-to-face interaction with customers. But this is not the case. It is equally applicable to much larger public-facing enterprises, such as utilities, as well as in B2B and government. Here are three quick examples:

  • Key Fact #4: Dynamic customer service applies equally to private and public sectors.

    Utilities for most consumers, the power company has always been a faceless organization, holding a monopolistic position over everyone who consumes its resource. This is now changing along several lines. First, they are recognizing that by understanding customers better, they can automate many of the most straightforward activities such as paying bills through a range of media including smartphone apps. This frees up the customer service specialists to work with customers on a more personal level to solve their problems intelligently and expeditiously. Secondly, in many markets, utilities now have more competition, from providers of renewable energy or even small startups. In addition, some customers can even generate their own power through solar collectors, selling their excess back to the utility and inverting the relationship.

  • Business-to-business (B2B): Companies that sell to other companies in an industrial market recognize that the same customer service activities can be applied, for example, to mobile technologies that automate processes such as incident reporting, or that use smart contracts and other cloud-based documentation to speed up the process of low-complexity transactions. This allows specialists, using augmented reality technologies to assist in more sophisticated problem-solving.
  • Government: Governments recognize greater opportunity to relate to their public and encourage greater cooperation by breaking down the walls long held together by red tape. Initiatives such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 project seek to increase government transparency and maximize the country’s potential through increased communication, innovation and relationships with the public and companies.

It is up to those companies and institutions who have their eyes on the future to lead the way in changing the customer experience dynamic. This must be done by learning how to focus more on customer expectation and leveraging new technologies to ensure thousands or millions of individual relationships are each managed optimally.