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Customer Service in the Age of Technology

Contact center technologies have made significant improvements in almost all aspects during the past decade, but customer surveys continue to show a degradation in customer satisfaction. While businesses routinely believe that they excel at customer service, surveys tell a different story; dissatisfaction, in many cases remains stubbornly high. While appropriate application of technologies is essential in maintaining competitiveness in an ever consumer-centric marketplace, the personal touch of each agent interaction can be viewed as the missing component in this ever-increasing digital age.

Let me illustrate with a quick story:

I walked by one of my former favorite eating establishments the other day at dinnertime and there were only two couples having dinner. When my wife and I first discovered this wonderful Italian restaurant a couple of years ago, we walked through the door and were met by Humberto, the owner. With an outstretched hand and a huge smile, he greeted us as if we were old friends. Walking us to our table, he spoke of his passion for his business, meeting people, and sharing his love for his grandmother’s food.

Every interaction was like this, and his restaurant became our go-to establishment for friends and family. It was always packed.

A little while later, Costco had just selected Humberto’s line of soups for distribution. Soon after, he sold his business, and things immediately went downhill. When we entered the restaurant, Humberto no longer greeted us with hugs and smiles. The new owners were focused on their laptops, and what was once exceptional became ordinary, and empty.

I now realize that this restaurant is a microcosm of what many businesses are experiencing today. Too often, businesses provide a detached customer experience and expect extraordinary results.
Spreadsheets and technology cannot replace an intuitive understanding of the value of personal interactions. While technology can help facilitate and ease the customer experience, the agents must be skilled at focusing on the person and not the problem.

Here's the challenge - how can companies replicate the "Humberto" encounter within the context of a contact center, particularly with the advent of digital channels and AI?
Here are some thoughts:

1. Realize that no two customers are alike. As much as companies like a scripted approach to each and every transaction, customers sense when agents are reading a response. Utilizing technology can identify customers and their history before the agent actually answers the call, and this can go a long way to help the agent personalize the approach, issue, and resolution.

2. Slow down the interaction. Make sure that all the issues have been addressed before disengaging. There may also be the opportunity to apply next-issue resolution and avoid follow-up calls. Next-issue resolution actually means making appropriate suggestions during the call, which based on previous similar experiences, may save the customer further aggravations and additional support calls.

3. Establish virtual "eye to eye" contact. By this, I mean that the agent should listen intently to the customer dialog. When we visited Humberto’s restaurant, we had his full attention. Intentional listening skills are invaluable and show interest in achieving a mutually beneficial resolution to an issue. Avoid distractions within the agent environment.
Going into this new decade, I anticipate that artificial intelligence, machine learning, bots, and digital channels could have the unanticipated consequence of further alienating customers if implemented without appropriate thought and insight. Technology can only take the interaction to a certain level; it must be completed by an intentional, focused individual.

Just like Humberto.