Define this. Customer Service is…

Definitions come and go. In this case, how companies define customer service is critical to how they position themselves in the customer ecosystem. How is customer service defined in your company?

 

 

The Real Reason Social Media Has Changed Customer Service

imagesI may as well fire this shot over the bow right from the starting gate: Customer service as an enterprise business function hasn’t changed all that much in the 30 years since the introduction of ACD (automated call distribution) technology. This is when it became practical and cost effective to deliver customer service at massive scale.

For the ensuing three decades or so, the overall focus of customer service has been centered on responding to customer issues with greater efficiency, greater scale, and greater speed at lower and lower cost.

There’s no doubt there has been noticeable innovation in technology and in the introduction of expanding communications channels through which to deliver the service. That includes social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, community forums, and other peer-to-peer networking sites.  And there have certainly been shining examples of companies that do customer service better than the rest.

But the point is that it’s the same service, the same function, driven by the same mission and measured by the same performance metrics as a generation ago.

The Tipping Point

Customer service is at a tipping point. Real change is needed. Real change is possible. Real change is being demanded.  And social media is the catalyst for this change. And, trust me when I say, I’m not a hype advocate, zealot, nor pushing any social media agenda. For as knee deep as I am in social media, I’m probably more pragmatic than most when it comes to adoption and business value, particularly in huge, risk-averse enterprises.

That said, social media is driving profound change in social consciousness, political debate, medicine, government oversight, and virtually every other aspect of human endeavor. The reasons why social media is so able to affect change differ in all these scenarios. But one thing they all have in common is this; the veil of secrecy has been obliterated. And information, accurate or not, now proliferates at the speed of light.

So what does change look like for customer service? While the tactical components are many, and those are probably worth exploring in followup posts, they can all be summed up this way.

Social media is the catalyst to move customer service from efficient reaction to value-creating proactivity

I’ve tried to test this overarching paradigm shift against every conceivable example. Every element of customer service as we generally know it today fits: enterprise strategic mission, engagement strategy, operational KPIs, interaction flows, knowledge management, financial measures, talent & skill development, data management, analytics, channel mix, workforce management. And, that’s just a partial list.

Is there anything I missed? Is there some element of customer service as we know it today that doesn’t fit this paradigm? Or am I truly in denial about my zealotry? Tell us about it below.

How to Spice Up Your Customer’s Experience

UnknownI haven’t actually shared a lot of personal stories here lately.  Perhaps I need to get out more to fill my story tank.  It’s Summer now.  Hopefully my hibernating days are over for the next few months.  This little story was relayed to me last night and I just had to share it.

First off, as backdrop, my father-in-law’s taste buds have a panache for any and all things spicy.  If he could put Maruga Scorpions on his Cheerios every morning, he would. By the way, I didn’t link to it here because the video is a bit off-putting.  But, if you want to see what this chili pepper would do to you if you actually ate one, search Maruga Scorpion on YouTube.  What is wrong with that man?

So, back to the story.  My father-in-law loves spicy food.  While we were at dinner last night at Chickie’s & Pete’s, he asked the server for jalapenos on his salad.  This wasn’t a common request apparently.  But, the server came through with a hefty serving of sliced peppers.  While we waited, my father-in-law told us of a recent visit he made to a Carrabba’s in Charotte, NC.

There, he made the same request when ordering a salad.  A heaping pile of jalapenos on top.  Ok, so Carrabba’s is an Italian spot.  I wasn’t surprised to hear when he said the server there looked at him a little sideways.  She admitted, a little bit deflated, that they didn’t even have jalapenos in the building, much less on the menu.  Half jokingly, my father-in-law suggested maybe she run to the grocery store to get some.

A few minutes later, she turned to his table with his salad.  Sans peppers.

So, here’s the moment of truth.  A customer, while his expectation may not have been realistic, is feeling less than fulfilled.  And a service delivery person, due to circumstances beyond her control, is left with the same feeling.

Flash forward a few minutes.  The server returns to the table and presents a bowl filled with gorgeous, green, shiny jalapenos!

Stunned.  My father-in-law inquired how she pulled off the feat.  The server explained that she had to wait for her break, which is why she did not bring them with his salad.  But at her break, she left the restaurant.  Walked across the parking lot to the Mexican restaurant down the block.  And cajoled the kitchen staff with her story of desperately wanting to please her customer to offer her some jalapenos.

Now that’s HOT customer service!

Contact Us However You Please…I think

Every once in a while, a question pops into my head that appears to need an answer.  Not often.  But, occasionally.  A few weeks back was one of those times.

Over the past year, in several different venues, in conversations with clients and colleagues, this topic of “socializing” a brand’s contact us page has been percolating.  The “contact us” page, for those that have never experienced it, is typically the page on a company or brand’s website that provides all the various methods for…well…contacting the company.  Traditional information has included store locations, headquarters mailing address, hours of operation, phone number and a form that allows the visitor to enter their information and question to generate an email.  In my business, this email ends up in a queue in the contact center where an associates responds and replies with the requested information.

Pretty straight forward.

But, those of us that are more “social-leaning” think there is a better use of this real estate.  In a time when everyone is longing to, and often struggling to, create compelling, value-generating engagement with their customers, this contact us page provides a golden opportunity to do just that.

The thing I always have to challenge myself with however is this.  Is my point of view as one of those social-leaners, in line with or wildly out of touch from others?  So, I posed a quick two question survey to see if I could get a sense of where the prevailing winds were blowing on this topic.

Question 1

contactusQ1

Question 2

contactusQ2

While the sample size here is small (n=14), I was struck by a two observations.

First, to question #1, in isolation, the desire to de-emphasize email as a channel of communication was promising, while not unexpected.  The motivations, while I didn’t dive into those, are fairly easy to infer.  Email is still a human capital-based communication channel.  Or, at least it should be.  Because if you’re sending out auto-generated canned emails in response to a customer that took the time to write you with their live fingers skipping across the keyboard, we need to talk.  Every contact center continues to face ever-increasing pressure to reduce the cost of service.  The pendulum may be shifting to better balance cost and the customer experience.  But cost is, and will continue to be a variable in the service deliver equation.  So, the desire to leverage other, lower cost options is no surprise.  Also, as a socialite, my thought was that the other channels that would be promoted are more of the social variety, indicating a strong desire and emphasis to create more compelling customer engagement, between customer and brand, and among the entire customer community.

Second, I was not at all surprise to see that few would choose to totally eliminate email.  In an omni-channel world, there continues to be customer demand for this channel.

When I looked at the two questions together, this is where I was a bit confounded.  In question 1, the majority of respondents (57%) indicated a desire to minimize the prominence of email and promote other channels.  While, in question 2, 21% of respondents indicated they would promote email most predominantly on their new contact us page.  The identical number that indicated they would feature social channels as the predominant methods of communication.  And in this instance, live chat was the channel that would be promoted most.  Interesting that, while live chat can have some cost benefits from skilled agents handling multiple simultaneous interactions, it is still a one to one communication.  And, while an email can actually be shared among customers, in a quasi-social manner, chat logs do not lend themselves to this.

So, what am I do conclude from this highly unscientific poll?  Is the conclusion that the pendulum hasn’t swung far enough?  Is cost containment still the overarching focus of customer service and contact centers in general?

What would you conclude?