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Customer Service: the value of the human touch

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In our latest blog, Chris Cullen - head of sales and marketing - drops in to look at how technology is changing the customer service landscape and why the value of the human touch should not be underestimated...

As business technologies continue to become more widespread and sophisticated, business owners are increasingly looking for opportunities to implement new systems that can streamline processes, save costs and improve customer experiences.

Customer engagement is one area that is always linked with a shift towards automation, especially as artificial intelligence and self-serve platforms become more developed and gain further recognition for their ability to drive efficiencies whilst offering customers speed and convenience.

However, while there is no doubt that consumers value the multi-channel offering now available, figures from our research have sounded a warning to companies not to overinvest in technology at the expense of more traditional communications channels that require the human touch.

Offering customers choice

While the growth of digital communication channels like email, social media and web based self-serve portals, have had a growing impact on customer service, more than half of consumers (53%) still prefer to engage with businesses face to face or over the phone, especially for more complicated enquiries.

In addition, the channel consumers choose in the first instance is most likely dependent on the type of enquiry they have. For example, our research shows that most consumers (27%) prefer using email when requesting basic information from a business, but this channel is only preferred by 11% of consumers with a more complicated problem, or 17% who want to make a booking.

There is still a significant number of consumers who prefer to deal with a business over the phone, particularly when making a booking – like a hotel room or holiday – but only 13% of customers would prefer to complete tasks like paying a bill over the phone, preferring instead to complete these tasks through digital channels like self-serve portals.

"Dictating to customers which communication channel they can use, or trying to force them down a particular route, can be damaging in the long term. There are also implications on customer service advisors and how their role evolves in line with customer expectations."

The evolving role of human interaction

As technology continues to pick up and deal with simple enquiries, the traditional role of the customer service advisor continues to evolve into a mix of dealing with more complex enquiries, or stepping in when digital channels prove unsuccessful.

Ensuring customer service advisors are highly skilled and empowered to deal with customer enquiries in a professional and empathetic way is crucial to success. For example, 10% of consumers say they would be angry with a brand if they experienced poor customer service over the phone, while nearly a third said they would actively seek to take their business elsewhere.

Investing in customer service staff in parallel with technology continues to be vital. Businesses must ensure they have the right quality and quantity of advisors to handle complex and sensitive enquiries promptly, while delivering a consistently high level of quality service.

Avoiding customer frustration

The commercial challenges poor customer service can create should not be underestimated.  The quality of the experience a customer has when contacting a business can have significant and long lasting implications for a company.

A good customer experience boosts brand loyalty, with 22% of consumers saying quality customer care increases trust and 16% who think these experiences link directly to better brand loyalty.  Another 10% think good customer service makes them feel valued and cared for.

On the flipside, the impact of getting customer service wrong can be very damaging in terms of financial results, future reputation and success, as almost a third of customers say poor service would lead to them moving their custom elsewhere.  The most common frustrations were being kept on hold (56%) and automated call answering (17%).  When barriers are placed in the way of effective human contact, customer frustration levels will rise.

Finding the right balance

Technology is here to stay, and for simple interactions customers appear willing to sacrifice the human touch for convenience and ease. Systems and platforms that provide efficient service while reducing costs are of significant benefit and something businesses should continue to investigate.

Chatbots and other artificial intelligence platforms like virtual assistants continue to become more proficient at dealing with enquiries, and in some cases pre-empting customer enquiries with proactive communication. However, while these platforms can be beneficial, it should be clearly stated to the customer that they are dealing with a business through AI as businesses run the risk of the consumer feeling short changed, or conned, if they think they are dealing with an actual person - improper use may lead to negative customer perceptions.

Also, these platforms should only be used to add value and not be implemented simply as a cost cutting measure. It is crucial to change things because you should, not only because you can.

"The key is understanding how your customers want to engage, and also knowing at which stage they prefer to engage with each channel. This will help businesses target investment and ensure they are offering consistently high levels of service across the board."

Ultimately, businesses need to ensure they are providing the kind of service that their consumers need or want, offering as many options for engagement as possible. There is no one size fits all for customer service, or any single platform that works for every customer, and businesses should allow consumers to choose the option they feel is best for them.  While technology continues to reach further into business processes, owners should never underestimate the value the human touch will always bring.

Chris.

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