Mike Nolan, CEO of Customer Service of the Year, on why getting the basics right has never been more important…
Cast your mind back to those halcyon days when customer service seemed so simple.
Long before chatbots were conceived, when artificial intelligence was still in its infancy, and when social media hadn’t come along and spoiled the party, getting customers on side seemed so much easier, didn’t it?
Actually, getting things right for the consumer may not have changed as much as you think. The way companies do things may have been turned on its head but strip all the gimmicks and gizmos away and the fundamentals of what the best firms do – the ones who walk away with a Customer Service of the Year award – remain pretty timeless.
The reason is that the customer, hanging patiently on the line or furiously tapping their complaint into a computer, is looking for exactly the same service as they always have been.
They don’t care if you have the latest technology. They’re not bothered what the person they are talking to looks like. And they’re certainly not bowled over by whether or not you have a new all-singing state of the art computer system.
That’s why some of the companies facing the biggest challenges in customer services, Vodafone and BT to name just two, are making huge investments in real, rather than artificial, intelligence. Vodafone has just announced that it will be employing 2,100 more people to deal with customer concerns.
That will prove to be money well spent. No amount of super technology can replace empathy and understanding, sharing a gentle joke or sensing a kindly smile down the line. Listening, understanding and doing something about it is what customer service is really all about.
Words like ‘personalisation’, ‘consumer experience’ and ‘customer journey’ are bandied about but really they come down to the same things that customer service has always been about: treating your customers with respect and understanding. The challenge in 2017 is that service with a smile has to be achieved on a range of different platforms.
Perhaps today more than at any time in the recent past, customers need commitment and continuity from the business community. With the world more uncertain than many have ever known it, they need energy suppliers, banks, online stores and telecoms companies to be willing to listen, guide and explain more than ever.
When things go wrong they need them to hold their hands up and be willing to put things right. Customers can actually forgive quite a lot as long as their complaint is handled correctly. What they don’t want is to be left in a queue, to have to repeat themselves over and over, or to be passed around junior members of different departments because no one is willing to admit that someone, somewhere in their organisation messed up.
And this brings me back to technology. Of course it’s vital, but the latest intelligence should be employed as to aid and enable great service, not to replace it. Worst of all is to use technology as a shield that the real people in the organisation cower behind. How often are the words ‘computer glitches’ and ‘systems breakdowns’ bandied around as if that makes everything alright? Of course computer problems happen, but the best companies won’t hide behind them.
At Customer Service of the Year, we judge customer-facing companies on how well they perform over the phone, via social media and on the internet. Regardless of which platform we’re assessing, we’re always looking for the same thing and that’s simply how well the customer is treated.
In these days of ever-evolving technology it’s easy to fall for the latest programme promising a ‘seamless’ ‘sensitive’ or ‘intelligent’ customer experience. Many of these advances may well improve your business, but good old-fashioned customer service has proved to be the most enduring trend of all.
Find out how to enter Customer Service of the Year at www.csoy.co.uk.