Most companies see customer service as a cost center. As a customer, I see customer service as a core part of the brand I’m doing business with.
Good customer service means I’m a happy customer, will buy more and recommend the company to others. Poor customer service means the opposite.
But customer service is part of the overall customer experience that makes us love or hate, ignore or embrace, trust or distrust a brand.
20+ years’ of research on public companies that provide a great customer experience has proven that they outperform their peers consistently while the laggards truly underperform.
Who Scores Highest When It Comes to Customer Experience?
It’s pretty telling that the highest scoring brand in customer service in the UK (and consistently in the top everywhere) is also the fastest growing retailer. That’s Amazon.
Their commitment to service goes all the way up to the CEO, Jeff Bezos, who said this:
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
Apple, who also scores in the top on most lists, co-founder Steve Jobs who always had a great view of customer service and customer experience once said:
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology — not the other way around.”
One of my favorite brands of all time in terms of customer experience however is Southwest Airlines that has the following to say about themselves on the website:
“We like to think of ourselves as a Customer Service company that happens to fly airplanes (on schedule, with personality and perks along the way).”
Why Is Customer Service So Hard for Most Companies?
Customer experience and service is a long-term investment and not something that necessarily always gives a short-term return.
“Challenger brands, often unencumbered by legacy systems and processes, are gaining on their larger competitors by offering straightforward, personal, seamless and quick service experience,” said Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service.
This makes it difficult for companies focused on quarterly or annual targets to make the investment because it may take as long as 3-5 years before you truly see the results in brand loyalty and premium price.
So, it may be more challenging for incumbents to deliver a great customer experience but it’s not an excuse. 7 out of the top 10 companies in the US and 7 in the UK are more than 30 years old.
It’s astounding that the carriers/mobile operators generally perform so poorly in Europe. The only telco to make the top 100 list was Tesco Mobile which is just MVNO tied to top retailer Tesco. Maybe this is because most of them are focused on cost cutting and IT programs to retain profit margins instead of offering better services.
Where to Start with Customer Service?
Most customers interact with brands through their mobile phone today whether it’s browsing, apps or calling. The first step is to map out the customer journey to ensure that it’s really understood. Identify what’s positive, negative, neutral, different areas for improvement and so on. Develop a long-term vision based on this input and the roadmap to get there including measurable metrics along the way. Be realistic about the time it will take.
Ensure that all employees play a part in the journey, because the most successful companies above have customer service in their DNA.
The second step is data. Use data to track progress towards the vision. Measure improvements in ability to help customers, response time, resolution time or whatever else is relevant. Collect data that is useful in the short and longer term (see next point).
What About AI?
AI is unlikely to make customer service better in the short term for most companies. Chatbots, voice interfaces, IVRs and personalization based on data has a tendency to either not satisfy user expectations or turn creepy.
We believe that companies should instead start experimenting by using AI to:
- Provide customer facing staff with better information and recommendations on how they can help customers
- Learn what customers are doing, try to predict what they will do next and attempt to support customers so that the AI response can be analyzed and improved over time and once it matches or gets better than the human answer, we’ll be ready to make the switch
A great example of using AI/Machine Learning to learn is TechSee that gives customer care agents ‘eyes’ to see and understand problems. All visuals, voice and data is recorded and using machine learning the expectation is to be able to automate the service within a couple of years.
Every organization needs to constantly strive towards improving customer service and the overall customer experience whether it’s Ryanair or Louis Vuitton. Improving customer service is foremost a human-centric challenge with technology being second on the list. Start with the human and work backwards towards finding the best technical solution.
DMI has 10 years’ experience of helping organizations improve customer service taking a human-centric approach supported by mobile solutions, data and AI. Contact us if you have questions.
Magnus Jern, Chief Innovation Officer