Customer service has come a very long way in the past 20 years. Technology has had a lot to do with that: the mobile phone and the internet have radically changed how people shop and do business today. Technology has brought us great benefits, but I think it’s meant something has got a little lost along the way for some – that human touch between a company and its clients.
It wasn’t so long ago when you could only do business with your bank by going into a branch, which opened between 9am and 4pm on weekdays – even though nearly everyone worked until 5pm or 5.30pm. Today, if a company told its customers they could only do business with it face-to-face during prescribed hours then it probably shouldn’t expect to prosper.
The internet has opened up a world of choice to the consumer. You can do business with companies around the world from your sofa. But it has arguably restricted our choice too, in the sense that it’s harder to have personal contact with those firms. Companies will increasingly only deal with you online, even if something’s gone wrong – which is when you really want to speak to someone.
Perhaps as consumers we should blame ourselves. We expect to pay the cheapest prices but also to have our requests met at the click of a mouse. The trouble is that it’s very difficult for firms to meet those demands while retaining the same element of personal contact and individual customer service.
There’s probably a generational divide on the issue of customer service. If you’re under the age of 30 then you’ve grown up shopping online; you expect to find everything you want on the web, without any human interaction at all at times. But for those of us who are a little bit older, while we love the instant response the internet offers, we’d like there to be a little more personal contact as well.
We’re never going to be able to turn the clock back to a time when business was only done face-to-face. Customer service centres are here to stay. The challenge is in ensuring these centres deliver an experience that customers enjoy (or at the very least don’t find too painful).
The brands that will prosper in the future will be those that combine exceptional customer service with access at the time their customers need them. The key is to hire really good people who do a great job. You can bring the same experience of a local shop or office into a customer service centre by adding personal touches to processes. You could offer your customers the opportunity to speak to you through social media channels such as Twitter or through live chat, for example. This means you can offer it at a time and through a channel that suits your clients.
What you’re doing is offering customers the choice to do business with you remotely, but to have the ability to also speak to you if they need help or simply prefer to do business personally.
My attitude to customer services is probably best summed up by Walt Disney’s comment: “What ever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
You can still do that in the internet age – just remember that your customers are people, not just email addresses.