Have you ever been caught in an automated telephone transfer system when seeking help for a service problem? Most people have been entangled at sometime when calling a customer service line with endless repetitions of:
"Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us. I'm sorry, but all of our operators are busy at the moment, but please stay on the line. Your call will be answered shortly."
Neither yelling nor pounding on "0" for the operator produces a satisfactory result, only more irritation, and anger. Amazingly, some companies deliberately employ software to identify frustration levels in callers, finally transferring the call to a service representative only when the customer's voice or language indicates sufficient stress leading to a hangup. Unsurprisingly, two-thirds of customers calling into an automated system hang up in annoyance.
One communications executive, when questioned about transferring calls before the caller reaches their maximum patience, recognized that such errors would be "a bonus to speak to a real person." There is a better approach to resolving customer issues, one that reinforces the importance of the customer without breaking the bank.
The Importance of Customer Service
Customer complaints are symptoms, not sources of problems. Unfortunately, managers frequently focus on the resolution of the complaint and overlook the reason that caused dissatisfaction. They do not recognize the opportunities to be gained by a thorough analysis of each customer interaction, even considering customer service to be solely an expense to be tightly controlled.
Companies that value their customers and reputations recognize and understand the multiple venues of customer service - the instances where the business and customer interact - and the synergies in the mix. They appreciate that complaints may arise from the design, function, ease of use, quality in a product or service, or misplaced customer expectations (communications).
Today, the purpose of a customer service program is two-fold:
- Resolution of a specific customer complaint. An ideal customer service solution provides easily accessible, multiple channels of customer contact - webpage, phonecall, email, social media - and sources of relevant information, answers, and directions.
- Understanding and correcting systemic issues. Details of each interaction should be documented, categorized, and analyzed to identify systemic problems for follow-up and correction, thus eliminating future complaints about the same reason.
Pursuing the two purposes does no conflict with the typical day-to-day management of a customer service center, including first call resolution, speed of answer, and queue time. Providing the right training and tools to customer service representatives (CSRs) is essential.
The Future of Customer Service
According to authors Bill Price and David Jaffe, "Customers would either prefer not to make contact at all or, in many situations, prefer the flexibility and convenience of well-designed self-service that they can use whenever they have the time. . ." A study reported in the Harvard Business Review found that more than 80% of all customers prefer to solve problems themselves than talking to a CSR.
Talla, a technology company in Massachusetts, develops specialized CSR applications using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to integrate and reconfigure existing CSR systems to be more responsive, more effective with customers and service reps. More importantly, their solutions are not static but continue to evolve as their knowledge base grows.
Responsive chatbots like those developed by Talla are especially valuable in an effective CSR program because
- Customer experience. An estimated 30%-40% of customer service calls - balance inquiries, address changes, billing questions, new service, and the like - are routine and quickly resolved by "chatbots" - what many call "Virtual assistants" - on a company's website without human intervention. According to a recent Deloitte study, data-driven, 24/7 chatbots powered with AI provide reliable and accurate information in addition to being scalable and enabling a more satisfying customer experience.
- CSR skill maximation and satisfaction. Transferring mundane, routine calls to a chatbot frees customer center representatives to spend more time on more complex problems, whether with a single customer or more customers. The interaction is less stressful and more likely to be resolved in a single instance, especially if the representative has access to a complete knowledge base of solutions possible through AI and machine learning.
Neuroscientist Dean Burnett complained that the use of automated call systems, endless wait times, and confusing or incomplete directions are evidence of a company's attitude about its customers: "That's how little they think of us; they think we're mentally inferior to machines. . . I've explained before how infuriating it is when a business tries to blatantly manipulate people."
Where does your customer service program rate? Do you value customers or drive them away? Does management regularly review customer service data beyond the typical call center metrics? How do you use that information? Is it time for a different approach?