The ways customers interact with businesses have drastically changed in previous years.
From the early days of face-to-face interactions, phone calls and contact centres, the customer service experience has evolved exponentially.
Shifts in consumer behaviour and advancements in technology are both catalysts for change.
The traditional methods of customer service are expensive to maintain and no longer meet the demands of modern consumers.
Leading businesses are now implementing more automated and cost effective solutions to provide superior customer service experiences. Only the organisations that are willing to adapt to changes in business-consumer dynamics will meet customer expectations and thrive.
We look at the way customer service has evolved and what businesses must do to succeed.
Customer Service in the Past — Is This Still You?
The words “customer service” will provoke some rather underwhelming memories for most.
From waiting in queues in physical stores, only for them to shut as they approached the front-desk; to spending hours on hold, repeatedly hearing some rendition of “your call is important to us, please hold”; or speaking to countless customer service reps in the hope that one of them would be sufficiently trained to solve their query.
It wasn’t quality, it wasn’t enjoyable, it was anything but ‘service’.
If you needed assistance, often the only way of contacting a business was to visit a physical store. Businesses were only open on set days for a limited time. If you couldn’t make it to the store during that window, your enquiry went unresolved. It was one-dimensional and change was needed.
“You are in a priority queue”
Call centres would often place callers in an imaginary ‘priority queue’. The long wait times didn’t make customers feel like much of a priority though.
Then call centres emerged — the first evolution in remote-based customer service. Customers could simply pick up the phone and dial in. The trouble — everyone started doing it. Customers could spend half their day on hold, often hanging up without their issue solved. Sound familiar? So much for the priority queue.
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Soon enough, along came email, courtesy of the internet boom. Customers had more choice than ever before. Rather than wait for someone to answer their call, customers messaged the business directly at a time that suited them. Progress! The downside — similarly with call centres, businesses continued to respond to customers when it suited them. The more channels that relied on a human response, the longer customer wait and resolution times grew.
Customers weren’t the only ones fighting this battle. With more enquiries coming through multiple channels, businesses struggled to manage exploding volumes and only manual processes to lean on. Their solution — they’d hire customer service rep after customer service rep, filling contact centres to the brim.
Customer service occurred when it was convenient for the business — and many organisations still adopt this philosophy today.
They still have all the control. They respond when time suits them, regardless of how important or urgent the enquiry is to the consumer. These businesses are still facing the same challenges as before — enquiry volumes are through the roof, and resolution times remain dangerously high. This leads to a high cost-to-serve, dissatisfied customers, and customer loyalty that’s burnt beyond repair.
The Promised Land of Customer Service
In today’s highly connected and personalised world, customers want to engage with businesses on their terms — when and where it suits them. They want their issues solved immediately, with as little effort as possible.
To meet these ever-growing expectations, businesses are investing in automated customer service to handle customer queries 24/7 and reduce their cost to serve.
The importance of immediate customer service through an ‘always on’ model is highlighted by increasing demand for self-service. 70% of customers expect a company’s website to include a self-service application. Customers’ enquiries don’t only occur between Monday to Friday, nor do they only occur between 9am to 5pm. Finding a solution shouldn’t be restrained by a business’s traditional operating hours.
No longer is a fast turnaround a value-add for business, it’s a customer expectation. If customers fail to get a response in the first few minutes they are likely to move onto a competitor. This poses business risk for both customer acquisition and retention.
Some businesses have pivoted to knowledge bases and FAQ pages in an attempt to provide self-service options and deflect customer enquiries from their contact centres.
The challenge with this — the way customers consume information has also changed.
Just like they’ve moved on from waiting in queues or on-hold, customers no longer want to search through paragraphs of text to find answers. Attention spans are short and consumers demand more engaging experiences.
The introduction of messaging and conversational automation via Digital Employees (also known as AI chatbots) mean there are more cost effective and scalable ways for businesses to engage and serve their customers to the standards they demand.
Digital Employees handle customer interactions quickly and far more efficiently than traditional means. By automating conversations at scale they streamline customer service processes, easily solving high volume repetitive enquiries that take up so much of a human reps time.
The reduced workload on customer service agents enables them to focus on upselling and handling more complex issues, adding more value to your business and improving operational efficiency. Not to mention delivering a superior customer experience.
Digital engagement continues to rise and businesses must scale their customer service operations. Adding more agents is an expensive and short-term option. Using automation to deflect enquiries controls cost as the business scales, providing an engaging experience that is at the forefront of modern consumer behaviour.
Studies show that real-time interactions via conversational automation improve customer engagement rates by 50% and increase sales by 67%. The popularity of e-commerce has made everything available online to customers, leading to many businesses adopting Digital Employee chatbots as a new sales channel in combination with a customer service offering.
By sensing customer intent and offering personalised product recommendations, Digital Employees provide automated, guided selling experiences that bring in additional revenue with unrivaled ROI.
It’s important to note that the current approach to customer service via automated channels, is not replacing human interaction. It’s augmenting humans with Digital Employees to create superior integrated experiences for both customers and businesses.
While Digital Employees provide the first line of support, if they are unable to provide a solution, they can prompt a human agent to step in. A seamless handover, in real-time, with the exact context of the conversation is shared, allowing human reps to continue exactly where the Digital Employee left off. This provides an interactive, friendly, and highly responsive experience, far beyond the traditional bouncing around between agents in contact centres.
The modern approach to customer service through conversational automation and its benefits are easy to see:
- Faster responses
- Reduced wait and resolution times
- Cheaper cost-to-serve
- Improved customer satisfaction and loyalty
- Automation for scale
- Human when it counts
This all leads to more efficient business processes, greater customer experiences and a resulting increase in revenue for the business.
Failure to Evolve Risks Your Business
Businesses that choose not to optimise their customer experience now will struggle to provide the level of service that modern consumers demand.
A millimetre today is a metre tomorrow. The longer the delay, the further away you’ll be from where your customers want you to be.
Consumers instinctively gravitate to brands that exceed their needs and expectations. Frustrations with businesses that neglect these will catapult technologically savvy brands forward even further.
Much of this technology is over it’s hype and innovation stages. It has become more reliable thanks to advancements in AI and machine learning; just as messaging has become a normalised and mainstream form of communication — thanks to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and various others. Just take a look at the numbers — more than 75% of people prefer texting over making phone calls. Companies that delay or fail to push forward customer service automation with always on, real-time conversations will struggle with growth.
Digital Employees also capture a wealth of customer and trend data. These insights are a treasure trove to marketing and sales teams. Smart businesses use this data to see what topics are trending and where friction points occur to understand and connect with their customers more intimately. All this data and information fuels the creation of customised marketing efforts to provide highly relevant, and more personalised customer experiences.
The progression of consumer behaviour, combined with advancements in technology paves a clear road ahead for even higher expectations in the future. Prioritising to stay ahead of the curve in customer service will make all the difference for the future of your business.
If you’re looking at where to from here, make sure you engage an expert. We’re happy to share how we help leading brands automate customer service at scale to reduce costs, increase sales and boost profitability. Start a conversation with us here.
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The Evolution of Customer Service: Conversational Automation is Your Key to Success was originally published in Chatbots Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.