Top Ten Innovations in Customer Service
Customer service isn’t exactly new. In fact, the British Museum in London is housing a clay tablet from 1750BC where a fuming Babylonian customer wants his money back after receiving low-grade copper. He even had to pick up the order in ’enemy territory.’ If this were today, the Babylonian would likely be on Facebook angrily demanding explanations immediately.
A lot has happened in the field of customer care over the years and while it’s improved to a large degree, some of the innovations have taken customer care back a step. Here’s a list of the biggest innovations since that Babylonian’s clay tablet was inscribed.
The telephone: Before the phone, you got on your horse and travelled for hours to the store you purchased an item from and said your piece. The store decided if your complaint was valid and if it was, they would see if they could fix it or if it should go on another horse to the manufacturer. Things took a long time. With the addition of telephony, days of waiting were cut from the process.
The Call Centre: Almost 100 years after the telephone was invented, companies began finding a way to deal with the increasing number of calls to their company. The call centre allowed them to gather the same resources in one location and efficiently deal with larger volumes.
Touch-tone telephony– Not long after the call centre came into being, touch tone telephony emerged. This was good for companies but usually not so good for the consumer. We’ve all been there; ”press 1 if you have a question about your invoice, press two if you are experiencing a technical query…” and we just want to talk to someone who can fix our problem. Then, after 35 minutes of queueing we find out that we’re through to the wrong department and need to ring again. This was perhaps the innovation that tainted the image of customer service the most. Still today, study after study shows that consumers want to interact with another human being immediately.
The Internet – Did Tim Berners-Lee realise he was about to revolutionise customer service? Probably not but that’s exactly what happened. Now it was possible to email in a problem or even send an instant message and chat to a live person instead of wait in a telephone queue. The Internet isn’t exactly an innovation specific to customer service but it has certainly changed the rules on how we deal with customer care.
Customer Support Software – Software aimed at helping customer service agents proliferated in the 1990’s. In the end all the different help desk solutions became one overarching CRM system where all customer calls were logged and monitored. It seemed like a good idea at the time but new tools started emerging to compliment the CRM system. Today, some telecoms operators have to deal with over 40 different platforms so that they can help their customers. All different systems have started having the opposite effect but work is underway to improve that situation once again and streamline all the data.
Social Media Support– In the last 10 years, customers have just taken for granted that they can ask a question on Facebook or Twitter and get a quick answer. It’s also given companies a chance to interact with their audience and show that they care (when they do). At the same time, It’s given consumers a chance to speak directly with someone bringing them closer to the company again. But this has also led to another kind of evolution in customer service. Social media has meant that customer service has been elevated within companies and become an important touchpoint for the brand. Blake Morgan has written an insightful piece on this*.
Chatbots – In a bid to speed up customer service and reduce time and resources on the company side, chatbots have been introduced often fielding the first two to three questions before directing the conversation over to a real person. Chatbots have also developed over time. We’ve come a long with since that annoying little Microsoft assistant, Mr Clippy.When done right, it’s not always that easy to know when you’re talking to a bot or ar real person anymore. The question for chatbots is: how far can the bot take you?**
AI – With artificial intelligence platforms, it won’t be just chatbots improving but customer service agents are going to be given the information they need to immediately to take care of a customer problem. The AI will sift through data, analyse previous patterns and trends for you. This process will just get better and better. Think of it as adding superpowers to frontline customer support. You ring with a problem and they can solve it before you’ve had time to say “artificial intelligence”.
Do it yourself – These days, a lot of problems can be resolved without calling customer service at all. Most of us have logins and personalized accounts with various companies. We know where our orders are, or how much data we’ve used up this month without having to ring customer service. With the introduction of AI, this kind of self-diagnosis is also likely to improve significantly.
The future –We are likely to see how companies specializing in artificial intelligence and chatbots become more active so that everyone doesn’t need their own tailor-made chatbot, but instead interact with one from a specialist vendor. It’s reasonable to think that we will end up asking Alexa, Siri or Google Home to handle any issues we have with our mobile phone or electricity bill. Now you won’t even have to wait in different queues but send your AI chatbot in there to talk on your behalf.If we go one step further then the future is where customer care isn’t needed at all. AI software should help solve problems before they ever become problems and everything just works. Now isn’t that a future to look forward to.
* (https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2016/04/18/the-evolution-of-customer-service/#27182a252442) ** (https://www.subtonomy.com/2060-2/)