The Customer Service Survey

Trends in Customer Service

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2006-02-17 01:00

I've been asked to speak (briefly) about trends in customer service at an upcoming Frost & Sullivan conference. I've got five minutes in which to describe three trends (no Powerpoint permitted), and then there will be Q&A for the rest of the session.

I expect that the other participants are going to talk about the hottest new technologies like Voice over IP, natural language speech recognition, and so forth. But at VocaLabs, we don't really deal directly with that stuff. We're about trying to measure the customer experience.

So my perspective will be a little different. I'm going to be talking about trends in the customer experience. I haven't honed my list yet, but here are some of the things I'm considering:

Trend 1: Marketing Customer Service
Every few decades, companies decide to market their customer service, often when they can't differentiate their products or service any other way. (Anyone remember when airlines used to advertise the quality of their service, back before deregulation?) We're seeing this again in banks and mobile phone companies. Unfortunately, the marketing sometimes gets ahead of the actual service delivery, and some of the ad campaigns I've seen have been promoting companies which (by our data) are mediocre at best. When the reality doesn't live up to the hype--in other words, the company doesn't deliver what it advertises--the marketing can backfire. Which leads to....
Trend 2: The Internet Backlash
It used to be that if a customer had a bad experience, he would tell ten of his friends and it would end there. Today, the customer is just as likely to write about it in his weblog or post it to an Internet forum. If other people have had bad experiences, it can quickly snowball into a chorus of "Me Toos," and sometimes even grow to the point where it hits the mainstream press. As a result, companies that provide poor service can lose reputation and credibility much faster than in the past.
Trend 3: People Are Still Smarter than Computers, and Getting More Efficient, Too
I've always believed that trying to program a computer to outwit customers is a losing proposition. Tricks to try to keep customers away from live service reps don't work for long, since when a customer needs to speak to a human, he'll find a way (or give up and go to a competitor). But now customers are using the Internet to trade tips about how to get better service. Now the "back door" to reach an agent is exposed for all to see, and even the most outrageous roadblocks will hardly even be a speedbump for a customer who wants live service. So you might as well just make it easy, which is proven to dramatically increase customer satisfaction and doesn't make automation rates much worse anyway.
UnTrend: Customer Service Is No Better
25 years ago, if you called a company on the phone, chances are your call would be answered immediately by a human, or else not at all. Since then we've seen wave after wave of call center technology, from the ACD (which replaced busy signals with the hold queue) to IVR and automated self-service to CRM to 24/7 follow-the-sun global call center networks. The capability to provide high-quality customer service has improved immeasurably. But consumers generally feel that the quality of customer service has not improved, and if anything, it has gotten worse. The irony is that most of the technology implementations have been driven by cost savings and not service quality, even though the technology is capable of doing both. But the real irony is that using the technology to provide superior customer service is often no more expensive than what is done today, it just requires a focus on quality service as a real (and measurable) goal, not just lip service.
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