Customer Service – Really, in whose opinion?
The whole concept of customer support is in the process of changing. It seems that the last evolution in this area was based on automated phone answering trees and offshore support.
While that saved money, customers largely hated both. Long multi-level phone menus never seem to offer a link to what the customer was looking for and offshore support to frustrated people due to accent and language issues. And in their seeming arrogance, many companies despite their claims to record calls for review, did nothing.
But, now there is a customer experience concern that many believe will make a difference in both attracting and retaining customers. But has anything changed?
For example, airlines continue to treat passengers deplorably – continuously cutting space and service, and now charging for everything but the air the passengers breathe, and many frequent travelers are waiting for a charge for that too. While I am certain that the airline CFO’s like the extra revenue, I can speak as a frequent flyer, for passengers – these policies will kill the US airlines in the long run.
No offense to anyone, but when the CFO takes precedence over the customer, there is really something wrong with the customer service strategy. The same is largely true of many cost reduction efforts. Is there any wonder that US airlines rate so poorly next to carriers from other countries? But with the new focus on the customer journey in the interaction experience, there is still hope. Let’s see if anyone is paying attention.
It is also appropriate at this time to warn companies. The technology that has been adopted by the common person has reached a point where the company will no longer be able to dictate how customers interact. Today, with mobile technology and continuing advances in speed/capability, and a global customer group that can, with internet technology, move freely to any company site that they like, the customer controls the buying experience. And, that control is deepening with the creation of new and slick capabilities like 3D imaging on mobile phones and 3D panels in retail clothing stores, and holographic mobile phones and tables.
The way customers interact with companies is about to totally change. But for those who pay attention to such things, this evolution is not a surprise. It has been coming slowly for several years.The more advanced companies have been taking this seriously while others seem to be stuck in the ways of the past that dictate to the customer how the interaction must play out.
Among the leaders in leveraging technology to make the user experience easier and more beneficial to the customers are the insurance companies.
Many have put a lot of the interaction on mobile devices and try to anticipate what the customer will want. So while these apps are not perfect they are better than places like our long-time tech leaders such as Microsoft who have layer upon layer of what they think is necessary administration that you must go through to get help. Yes, they are in dire need of reengineering. For example, I have a company copy of Visio. Ever tried to find out if it really has a feature that the internet says it should? There is no real manual that I could find – not even an online manual. At least if one exists for Visio 2016 please let me know, I want to download it. So, I called the Microsoft help line and the quest began.
It started with a note from the system that I did not have authorization to use the help feature. I have a licensed corporate copy with my company and so how could I not have access rights? So I checked with my company’s Technical Support and was told that my setup was okay, but I may need to have administrator rights. Well, nothing in the message said that, so I called the customer service number again and I tried to call person.
I called and went through the menu system, which wasn’t too bad, and then I got to “the wait”. After about 15 minutes a person answered and after providing product related information I explained my problem. Well, although very nice, this person could only forward my problem to another part of technical support. But there was another problem since I didn’t have a case number.
I had not really found anything that told me I needed a case number, but I honestly hadn’t read the small print – the lawyer stuff no one reads. I asked the person I was talking to if she could give me a case number and she couldn’t – even though she was with Microsoft support. They couldn’t look up the company account and they couldn’t tell me if I had the right to ask a question. I asked how I could get a case number and was given a website address. So before going further, I needed to go to the website and get a case number.
Because their phone system is so reliable, this person gave me a different phone number in case I was cut off. Well she was clairvoyant because after listening to some less than wonderful music for a while I was cut off. I guess it must happen often and I guess their solution was not to fix the problem but to give out this extra phone number.
Being obedient to the phone instruction, I called them back. Yep, you guessed it, I was put into queue and then asked if I wanted to wait for 25 minutes or get a call back. I opted for a call back. I did get a call back in a short time. All I wanted was to ask if Visio could decompose from one level of detail to a lower one. To me that is a “yes” or “no” question. And if yes, refer me to a place where I can find how to do this. But that didn’t happen and I was told the same thing – I needed a case number. So now I had to return to my company’s tech support and find who had administrator rights so they could go into Visio and request a case number. I was now over an hour and a half into a “yes” or “no” question. But it was comforting to hear how Microsoft cared about me.
I could continue the saga of my quest to see if Visio can really decompose from one activity symbol to a lower level by clicking on the symbol, but you all get the idea. If anyone knows, I would welcome a note.
The real point is that the bigger the company the worse their customer support seems to be. Maybe that is why Innosight Consulting Research predicts that 75% of the S&P 500 companies in its index in 2011 will be replaced by 2027.
While it was necessary to put up with this in the past, the day that it will not be acceptable is coming – and companies like Microsoft are bringing that day closer as they sell and support new mobile technologies. I think a big part of this issue is that while the companies try to care about customers, the bureaucracy and drive to cut costs, gets in their way. I also think that although unfortunate, many large, medium, and small companies are going to find out the hard way that they need to invest in new ways to reach and serve their customers. The tipping point will be a serious loss of customers. The reality is that many companies that live in highly competitive markets are learning this lesson now.
It is clear that two customer service actions need to happen to retain and attract customers. Assuming that the product or service is high quality and people want to buy it, companies need to make the buying experience easy and possibly fun (leveraging things like 3D mobile phone technology). But for those like the airlines that have neglected their customers, the journey will be long and hard as executive management learns the lesson that poorly treated customers will migrate to those that treat them better – even if the price is a little higher.
These and many other firms in all industries need to rethink the way they interact with the customer – from scratch. And yes, that means investment. To ignore this interaction rethinking and to let things go at words and slogans that are not acted upon (or at least not acted upon effectively) creates a serious risk. The technology will also continue to evolve. This will drive an evolution in the global buying society as they learn how to leverage the amazing new capabilities.
The customer, especially the millennial customer base, will also continue to grow less forgiving and less tolerant of company practices that they don’t like. How any company fairs through this evolution to customer centric buying demands will differ – as will their market share and longevity.
For those who believe that customer retention is the key to success and customer base expansion, I urge senior management to try doing common interactions themselves and identify problems. Try to use both the newest and older mobile and PC-based technology in these interactions. Then possibly customer focus groups. This will take time and require investment, but it will show how to focus investment tied to each specific capability believed to be needed to attract and retain customers.
These changes will also likely stretch the IT group and both their knowledge and capability. As competition continues to increase, those that can provide the best customer experience will win over those that doggedly continue to focus on cost reduction, while allowing poor service, frustrating customer experience, and service approaches that challenge even the most patient customers. This will be a hard lesson for many companies.