The Rebirth Of Customer Service In 2019

How AI makes your customer service team relevant.

Customer Service has had a tough time of it. Visions of beige call centres where staff work from obvious scripts that often end up moving the caller to another queue are, unfortunately, the painfully accurate experience of many a frustrated customer.

If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to be the customer (and many of you will have), it’s not uncommon to perhaps experience one of the following scenarios:

  1. You find trying to do something that seems simple and inoffensive takes an inordinate amount of time and effort stuck in queues.
  2. The customer service person is intent on taking you through a laborious script, rather than finding out what your call is about.
  3. The rep is so siloed in what they can and cannot do, the inevitable outcome is an admittance that they need to pass you on to another team (and back in the queue you go). Sometimes, you get cut off.
  4. You’re on hold for so long that you wake up in a 4 am cold sweat with the mid-80s rock track used as hold music looping perpetually in your head.

Customer Service Is Evolving.

Customer Service is about to get sexy again. Hyperbole? Well perhaps sexy is an exaggeration (and possibly it was never sexy in its first iteration), but we’re about to enter a period where the very essence of helping your customers comes from a new DNA.

Companies who embrace this DNA and understand how solving the needs of the customer will retain business and attract new sales will leave their competitors in the dust. There is a misconception that corporate driven brand loyalty is still the overriding factor in attracting and keeping your audience but this is outdated and dangerous.

In 2019, the overriding factor is customer service and experience. Get that right, and customers will become your brand ambassadors for you through word of mouth happiness. Their experience will be your differentiator.

What Exactly Is This DNA Alchemy? Do I Need A Wand?

There are two key forces at work here – the reinvention of the customer service team and the role of Artificial Intelligence, or Intelligent Self Service. Let’s look at some recent Gartner data from 2018:

“Twenty-five per cent of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology across engagement channels by 2020.”

Gartner, Inc 2018.

This figure will only increase as smart companies realise that the ability for AI to handle everything from the lowest hanging fruit (no need to wait in endless queues to do a basic task) to mid-level problem solving can be handled by the technology. This technology learns too. So every interaction and customer it serves efficiently and effectively not only broadens its accuracy  but gives the customer a fast, safe and positive experience.

As Gene Alvarez, Managing Vice President of Gartner says:

“A great VCA offers more than just information,” said Mr. Alvarez. “It should enrich the customer experience, help the customer throughout the interaction and process transactions on behalf of the customer.” 

Are Customer Service Reps No More?

The interesting outcome of this blended approach is that the value of your Customer Service team exponentially increases, rather than becomes redundant (which is a common misconception made by those companies who fear this evolution).

AI is moving forward, but it’s still a work in progress. Smart organisations will realise that there is now a huge opportunity to reinvent the work, and therefore the value the team brings to the organisations. This Harvard Review piece looks at the way T-Mobile have used Intelligent Self Service as a catalyst for change;

“Now the queue was dominated by the complex and varied issues that customers couldn’t solve on their own [that the AI couldn’t deal with]—a shift that started to put real stress on the company’s reps.”

Matthew Dixon, Harvard Business Review, late 2018.

T-Mobile’s customer service team, led by Callie Field, began reinventing the customer support team from the ground up. The process and results are too long to fit inside this blog (although I urge you to read the full piece), but the change from vertical rep hierarchies to supported teams has significantly changed the way T-Mobile does business. The results speak for themselves:

Customer Service

Summary

This is a golden time for Customer Service. The rise of Intelligent Self Service through technology is seen by some as a threat to the traditional jobs of the Customer Service team.

However, organisations that will succeed will understand that there is a huge opportunity in the space to reinvent the Customer Service landscape by deploying technology in areas where it can have maximum impact and offering a significantly more valuable job role for the wider team.

Customers get what they need when they need it.

There are a couple more stats you might want to consider in the new role of customer service reps from the T-Mobile example:

The company has also seen positive effects among employees, including record highs in rep engagement and record lows in turnover (from 42% annually before the rollout to 22% today).

Matthew Dixon, Harvard Business Review, late 2018.

Happier employees, smart technology, a happier customer. Pretty sexy…