I was speaking with some colleagues at a networking function the other day, and the presenter asserted that some companies have scaled back their customer service phone centers, and some have virtually done away with theirs altogether. The natural extension of this is the assertion that eventually all customer service would be performed through, and customer interaction take place on, social media platforms. Initially, I was astounded at the audacity of such a possible future, but upon further reflection, this might not be such a bad thing . . .
There are some advantages to this strategy, including:
1) All interactions can be collected, cataloged into a database, and searched for trends later to guide not only marketing, but new product development.
2) Both parties to the interaction would have a record, held on an independent server, so that the practice of CS takes a more friendly footing, rather that degenerating into a “He said, She said” proposition for long-term issues.
3) Since CS is often outsourced, and off-shored, having all customer communication be transacted in writing eliminates problems with misunderstandings due to accents and local dialectic usage – spell check and autocorrect should take care of 80% of that problem, anyway.
4) Having to write down your problem forces the customer to think through the problem from beginning and end, and to actually ask for the action they would like the company to take. So many customer call and say things like “I bought this and it’s not what I wanted” or something else equally vague, and expect the company to not only know what the problem is, but to try and solve it in satisfactory fashion without actually being asked to do so.
5) Having to write down your issues brings down the tempo of the conversation, makes the customer think about how that problem might sound to others, and gives the customer some time to calm down and remove some of the emotion from the issue before assaulting the CS rep on the phone.
Those are mostly advantages to the company, but the consumer gains a few benefits too.
- It’s hard to be given the run-around being transferred to different departments as the company tries to figure out how to deal with you, or tries to avoid it at all
- No more waiting on hold endlessly to ask a simple question not listed as a choice on the phone tree.
- Now you have some time to gather your documents, account numbers, invoices and the like and organize your thoughts into something coherent someone can actually act upon.
- Now there’s a public record of your complaint, available to all your friends! They can steer clear of the company if the problem is severe enough or not handles promptly and effectively – it’s like everyone’s a walking copy of Consumer Reports!
- Digital interaction is here, the technology is so advanced that “chatting” has taken on an entirely new connotation, all encompassing a digital conversation online with a rep on the other end in real time.
Now, that’s not to say there’s no downside to all this digital back and forth. Companies gain some great insights from their interpersonal contacts with customer, or at least they should if they are listening. Nothing telegraphs a problem better than watching the phone banks light up and hearing the noise level rise in the Call Center ten minutes after the release of a new version of a piece of software or the launch of a new product, or a new issue of a newsletter or magazine hits the mail stream. That cumulative noise tells you in a collective, aggregate fashion that something is amiss, and it had better be dealt with quickly and effectively to stem the tied of customer defection and mitigate damage to the brand.
The big loss is the interpersonal connection customers feel with the brands they know and love. Sometimes you just want to talk to a “human being,” not be dealt with in turn by a machine or work through a series of choices on a phone tree. All the kitten pictures and blather about meals on social media will never replace that human connection, and the reassurance that there is “someone” responsible for taking care of your problem. Digital pixels aren’t accountable, and it leads to a distancing and disconnection between customers and the company, which is what your marketing efforts are designed to avoid.
What do you think? Will social media replace customer service in the near future? Comment below, or contact me through LinkedIn, facebook, Twitter, or through my automated customer service website . . .