For many years, organisations have tried to reduce customer service interactions or avoid them completely. They’ve used a range of strategies including limiting accessibility, cheap sourcing, increasing self-service, deploying lean service principles and getting customers to help other customers.
Cut-back customer service culture
This cut-back customer service culture has arisen because organisations have not been sure of the importance of service in the value proposition. In the absence of clear evidence about the link between customer satisfaction and bottom-line revenue, service has been treated as simply a cost centre.
Recently, lean service, demand management and ‘no service is good service’ thinking have encouraged organisations to eliminate customer and product ‘failure’ and improve efficiency further.
Customer service is here to stay
But customer service isn’t something to be avoided or a sign of failure – quite the opposite: it’s integral to the product, service or government policy on offer. It’s also an outcome of the nature and complexity of human endeavour (we can’t design perfect products and services that allow for every exception to the rule). The pace of product development, combined with the ever-increasing growth in consumption, makes customer service all the more important.
Changing lifestyles are driving demand for customer service
Consumers’ lifestyles are changing, and there are many more pressures on people’s time and money. A number of consumer trends point towards people looking for more, not less, assistance from organisations. Consumers value ease of doing business with organisations.
The autonomous customer
Yet customers’ relationships with organisations are becoming more distant, as people turn away from brands they turn towards people they trust (their friends, families and also those online) for advice. Consumers are now much more powerful, with many being shopper swots (fuelled by online product research and reviews) and endorsing self-service channels (for the control it affords). The rise of smartphones means customers are also much better informed, on the move and more able to communicate. Re-building relationships with customers is becoming a real priority for business. All the more reason to provide good service.
The Big Switch in customer service
We’re now seeing the start of the Big Switch in customer service. Organisations are beginning to change their strategy and culture by introducing ‘Smart Service’. This means customer problems and issues are actively identified and resolved. The emphasis now is on being pre-emptive – anticipating the inevitable problems and concerns that are part and parcel of the customer relationship and fixing them quickly. This represents a huge shift away from the cut-back customer service culture, where organisations waited for consumers to initiate contact.
Lessons from proactive service
Organisations have been experimenting with proactive service for some time, a precursor to Smart Service. Already there are some lessons, including avoiding over-use of SMS, protection of privacy, curtailing unnecessary marketing and improving channels and systems integration.
What does the Big Switch mean for today’s customer service operations?
The Big Switch means going far beyond ‘tacking on’ outbound messaging. A complete shift in the approach to delivering customer service is required. It’s no longer about waiting for the customer to contact an organisation – the initiative is switched. But how best can organisations respond and make the switch to Smart Service?
- Up-rate service in corporate strategy – Understanding and re-defining the role of service in the value proposition.
- Start with the customer – Creating detailed customer listening, collaboration and data collection tools so that organisations can anticipate needs and intervene in the customer relationship.
- Invest in intelligence – Using sensors and emerging analytical tools to identify customer issues and bring together data to fix these quick.
- Combine interaction channels and technologies – Understanding channel preference and usage, investing in outbound channels and integrating inbound. This is vital to give organisations a ‘single view’.
- Put process, people and culture at the core – Monitoring and repairing processes that create problems, building incentives, and instilling a new people culture is core to changing the way you deliver customer service and gain the advantage.