Why traditional customer service needs to transition with time

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K T Prasad1

By KT Prasad – Country Sales Director, Zendesk India

When you compare the past to how we live our lives today, there has been rampant changes in our lifestyles that have taken place. As recent as a decade ago, telephones were the primary mode of contact for customer-related issues. Businesses relied mainly on call centre agents to respond to customers within a reasonable time frame.

Technological advancements in recent years have given rise to new ways of connecting with a customer through platforms such as the Internet, websites, social media and mobile devices among others. This has as a result transformed consumer-shopping patterns drastically.

While on-line shopping has begun to attract a bulk of the consumers – almost two thirds in fact – with only a little over a quarter relying on the phone in this day and age. On an average, it is estimated that shoppers typically use four different channels to communicate with their vendors and more than 90 per cent of them expect companies to have a full-fledged online customer self-service system that provides swift answers to questions.

Customers have as a result become more demanding, and naturally expect a hassle free shopping experience. Coupled with rapidly growing expectations for mobile, social and online self-service capabilities, organizations are under pressure to resolve customer issues expeditiously. As a result most businesses find these expectations to be a challenge rather than an opportunity.

Addressing the social boom

Evolution of the customer service industry has been driven primarily by the spread of social networks, leading to dramatic transformation of the dynamics between the Brand and the Consumer. The scenario has changed and the Customer is now truly King and seated firmly in the driver’s seat. The voice of the customer is given more attention now than ever before.Availability, spread, reach and accessibility of popular channels like Facebook (with 1.55 billion monthly active users) have progressively raised the bar of expectations from companies.

Social media has hence changed the way companies treat their customers. A complaint on social media poses a much greater threat to a company’s reputation than a traditional customer protest.Time is truly of the essence, considering that 70 per cent of social media users comment and respond to social media posts within a short time, and users expect responses in as little as fifteen minutes(2).A single dissatisfied customer experience shared online can go viral and degenerate into a PR nightmare, damaging a brand’s reputation; and is fraught with risks of damaging relationships with other existing and potential customers.

To pre-empt such situations, more and more businesses are turning to digital self-service solutions in order to help customers help themselves. Empowerment of the customers to self-serve, and solve issues on their own, essentially decreases the number of complaints, easing pressure on the customer service team. The crux of the matter is to take care of the customer faster than ever before without spending precious time and even more precious resources answering multiple customer queries.

The value of the customer

A flexible approach is required if one has to succeed in improving the overall customer experience, and turn customer service into a valuable business differentiator. The customer’s primary concern revolves around his/her need to be able to do business with ease anywhere, anytime and on any device.

The easiest way to infuriate customers is to make them wait in long service centre queues or pass them between multiple agents to resolve an issue.Customer service teams are expected to resolve issues expeditiously with a minimum amount of fuss, and ease customer frustration, rather than exacerbate the situation.

Businesses today are taking cognizance of the very cohesive and irrefutable bond between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.The sturdy correlation between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty is also undeniable, and companies are taking note of this fact.

Customer service is an important issue, especially when one considers that nearly two out of three customers will look elsewhere for business if faced with an unsatisfactory experience. Amidst such rising customer expectations,a higher level of satisfaction needs to be speedily and efficiently achieved while dealing with their problems.

This will in turn lead to a higher customer satisfaction score and therefore enhanced trust in the brand. Organizations need to adapt and innovate if they are to survive changing consumer needs, ward off competition and to stay ahead. The bottom line is hence customer loyalty – and customer loyalty alone -that adds to business equity in the long-term.

Out with the old, in with the new

During the time of evolution of traditional customer service, the software developed did not support the demands emanating from new and multiple online channels – in fact, such pressures just did not exist. The systems then were never designed to cater to accommodate input from social media or mobile devices that exist today. The net result of this is that today, many organisations are compelled to update infrastructure in order to keep pace with the rapid development of new media, and new devices to counter the ever-changing market place.

The constraint most companies face in updating traditional on-site software is the cost and the time required. As a result, many companies are understandably, moving to cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS). Cloud-based solutions work on a rental basis and are faster. They are also more cost-effective, and more importantly, tailored to meet the needs of the ‘multi-channel’ customer.

On the flip side, it also needs to be understood that, the more customer service channels a company supports, effective tracking and responding to a high volume of customer inquiries becomes a challenge in itself. Each channel has the potential to create confusion.

The key to this is to simplify the process and guide interactions from multiple channels into a single place. Thus, as requests arrive across various streams, consistency across channels can be achieved in terms of a response. This approach would help in managing the individual needs of customers better.

There is absolutely nothing to be gained by merely leaning back and saying that navigating today’s digital landscape presents numerous challenges. A successful customer experience is not just about setting up a call centre or fax machine. Organisations need to support the entire spectrum of channels encompassing email, web, social media as well as hand held mobile devices.

Businesses would be in an advantageous position if they could support these channels and deliver a memorable customer experience and therein keep their customers happy and loyal to the brand. Gone are the days when all a company did to handle a customer complaint was to add a [email protected] email address. Much more needs to be done to stay ahead, and the entire approach to customer service needs to be reassessed seriously hence.

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