So here’s a quick question to get us started today...
Do you have a good idea why the customer service call centre was originally invented?
Go on, feel free to take your time...it’s not a trick question…any leading contenders for best answer yet….?!
Well, here’s the TL;DR and this may (or may not) shock you, because the call centre wasn’t designed to speed up customer service, help businesses become more efficient or even to delight loyal customers who picked up the phone in search of an easy answer or solution to their problem.
The customer service call centre was actually deliberately created to increase the distance between customer and vendor.
Of course there are efficiencies at play here with scale and size, but having customers needing to 'get in touch' was seen as a major distraction from making a new sale.
This may come as a surprise when thinking of the saying “the customer is always right” - but then if you, like the vast majority of us who’ve sat painfully through calls to our bank, phone provider, insurance company and who knows what else think about your experiences, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Customer service purgatory
So here is what the traditional customer service call centre experience for the past few decades has looked like (a few tweaks have occurred here and there but you know the drill)
1. You have something that needs solving, so first off you’ll likely go on the business website, and likely still not get an easy answer to your exact problem. This may then mean being funnelled from knowledge base article to article, with the (noble) aim to solve your problem right there and then. This is the dream win-win where everyone gets an easy resolution.
2. Still no solution? Time to pick up the phone I'm afraid, which you know is going to kill your day (likely with you needing to call up during your working day...so goodbye productivity and you likely finishing on time...)
3. You’ll then potentially wait for what seems like an eternity to clear security (hope you remember your details from a couple of years ago when you last called) - and let's pray that you’re through to the right operator or department...
4. It’s not all bad, make sure you enjoy your ‘free disco’ as you suffer through generic ‘waiting in line’ music and numerous checks and holding patterns to further wear down your defences (we hope you haven’t given up yet, we're just getting started here!)
5. And of course this artificial waiting time could easily be solved by hiring more staff and prioritising great customer service (but you know what, that’s gonna impact profitability so that’s not gonna happen any time soon) and let's be honest, there's likely focus groups being run on exactly how long customers are willing to wait in-line before hanging up...
6. You’re through to someone, hallelujah - life is good, uh-oh, it seems you can’t get an easy resolution and want to “speak to a manager” - that’s gonna cost you another ‘time-penalty’ I’m afraid - Oh, there’s no manager available, “would you like someone to call you back Sir/Madam?”
7. Waiting for that call-back? Good luck there, and what happens if you miss the call and don’t get the resolution you want? Well it’s like snakes and ladders...all the way back to the start for another round of energy-zapping fun on the phone…
Does the above sound familiar? Have you also experienced the same pain?
Damn right we all have. Have we been conditioned to accept that this was and in some companies still is the normal way of doing things?! Guilty as charged…
Company-centric over customer-centric
It's a well known fact that when you pick up the phone, you are being funnelled to where a business sees it’s priorities - so if you press 1 for sales (i.e you want to spend your cash) and 2 for customer service (you’re costing them cash), you can pretty much bet your house that there’ll be a much quicker response from the sales line.
Beyond sales, everything else such as customer service has traditionally been seen to be very much an inconvenience, a cost of sale that needs to be taken into account when setting pricing...
The crazy thing though is that for most growth and legacy companies over the past few decades, they have attempted to solve their customer service issues by building more and more customer service centres at greater scale, and outsourcing customer service wherever they can, either domestically or further afield.
Customer service benefits, a missed opportunity
When you think about it, outsourcing and distancing the customer is totally crazy in itself, because it removes the company far from the customers' aches and pains, and the massively beneficial conversation you can have with your clients and customers about how you can service them better.
In traditional commerce this may work well, as you take your one-time payment, hope the customer will return at some point in the future, you then smile and move onto your next sale.
Maybe you have close to a monopoly (Apple store Genius Bar waiting times for example), or know that you’re winning so much on price, that customers will overlook ‘no-frills service’, going in with eyes wide open like Ryanair and Spirit airlines.
But these examples should be the exception to the rule. If I have one dollar and choose to make a purchase, I expect to spend it with someone who will offer me an amazing experience end to end (including great customer service), plain and simple.
The times though they are a’changing
I’m pleased to say though that good news is on the horizon, and that’s because the world is starting to move to a much more customer-centric place. In fact the customer has never had this much power in terms of demanding an incredible experience from ‘nose to tail’.
Whether it’s the sudden realization that the customer should be listened to (unlikely on it’s own).
The ease of global choice that ‘online’ shopping and comparing service-providers has brought in (if you don’t delight your customers, someone else will be ready to do just that and take your share of the market).
The opportunity to shout loud using social media (one person really can make a world of difference)...
...or a combination of all these factors combined together.
Systemic and structural customer service changes are starting to happen across numerous industries as businesses realize the incredibly opportunity for a win-win in developing a deeper relationship with the customer.
Bezos does it again
Want to know where a lot of the fuel for change has come from? Look no further than everyone’s favorite online bookseller (this is a fact, not an opinion, based on sales).
Amazon has totally reinvented the customer service game over the past 20 years. In fact when questioned what industry they’re in, Jeff will happily say that Amazon is in the business of customer service and not retail.
Amazon may be a giant global behemoth, which has and is putting many smaller businesses (possibly future industries) out of business. But they are received as an acceptable face of globalization and capitalism because they listen to their customers and offer an incredible service and experience with everything they do.
It’s through listening to their customers wants and needs which has helped them scale to the very top of the tree. In fact they listen to their customers needs so much that they have pretty much rewritten the playbook on building successful systems and processes.
If I wanted to start a new business now, the first place I’d go for inspiration on offering great service and experience would be Astronaut Bezos - even if I was slinging tacos, teaching yoga or selling lemonade from a stand out front, these guys are the standard-bearers for getting it right.
5 business benefits of great customer service
Let us dig deep into why the customer experience should be top of mind for any new business starting out, or for anyone wanting to take their current enterprise to a whole new level.
- Great customer service and experience comes from delivering exactly what the customer wants. Listen to your customers and they’ll tell you exactly what they’ll pay, when they want it and how you can improve your products and services for the better.
- Generate amazing word of mouth and referrals by offering incredible service that positions you ahead of the competition. With online shopping and social media, word of mouth has evolved from more than telling your neighbors and friends about a good/bad experience. Your positive feedback could influence purchasing decisions all across the globe through social posts, leaving reviews and testimonials or by becoming an unofficial brand advocate by encouraging other people to support businesses ‘getting it right’ (get it wrong and I think we all know that this can have the total opposite effect in today’s hyper-connected world).
- Position yourself as a premium product with great customer service. It’s not always a race to the bottom on price, and great customer service could and should be worth paying for. Do yourself a favor and shop with people who care about your experience as a customer.
- Increase market share. As Amazon has done, you can be seen as a leader in your industry by differentiating yourself from the competition through great customer service.
- Don’t forget as a business you’ll likely want to generate repeat business and have your customers regularly purchasing from you. This is exceptionally important as many more businesses move into the subscription economy with recurring revenue on the table and businesses large and small treating themselves like a SaaS product.
The final thing to say on the need for great customer service is that the tailwinds and trends are all pointing in the direction of the customer being much more in control of their purchasing experience, with an acknowledgement that their spending can be taken much less for granted than in the past.
There is also finally an ever increasing belief and understanding amongst enterprises that there’s a lot to be learned from customers actions and feedback.
Whether through traditional feedback channels or from how they use websites, software and what actually makes them a fan of a particular product and service, data is key and any business who isn't leveraging numerous data points will be left far behind.
We’ll be digging in to the power of subscription based businesses over the coming weeks and months, but as a quick teaser to lead into this, it’s important to recognise that "subscription based businesses are the only business model where success is based on the happiness of the customer" - not my words but those of Tien Tzuo, author of the excellent Subscribed.
Not receiving great service, or your needs aren't really being met?
Well it's pretty likely you're going to easily cancel that subscription...and if a trickle of macro customer dissatisfaction becomes a tidal wave, then that business may as well be dead.
Netflix, Disney+, Peloton, Hello Fresh etc may be flying high today, but a lack of ability to innovate and truly understand their customers needs, desires and happiness will lead to a new generation of winning subscription based businesses coming through.
Finally a revolution in customer service and experience is happening, good times are on the way people!
Until next time...keep winning...
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