Everything’s new. Nothing’s changed.
It’s National Customer Service Week this week, and here Agilisys Director Richard Hanrahan looks at the challenges and opportunities around technology and customer service.
In 2004 respondents to the IBM CEO survey saw technology as a reasonably unimportant external factor impacting their businesses. By 2012 technology was the number one external factor and it has not relinquished its grip on CEOs worry lists since.
Last year, The Institute of Customer Service told us in their annual survey, that the top five customer priorities have changed significantly over the past five years. Competence of staff occupies two slots in the top three, (competence of staff in face to face and remote roles being first and third place respectively).
Five years ago staff competence was reported as only the eleventh most important thing to UK citizens. At the same time, helpfulness of staff has also become dramatically more important, leaping from 31st to number four.
Is there a link between the advent of technology and this shift in customer priorities? I think there probably is.
The world has been changed forever by technology. Technology evolution is happening faster than ever before and yet the pace of change will never be as slow again. Consumer technology in particular is advancing at such a pace that no sooner does it hit the shops than it is on its way to becoming obsolete.
The problem organisations face is that whilst it is really quite simple for a consumer to upgrade their devices and adopt new channels evolving their communication at will, for an organisation it is not quite so straightforward. If it were, it would not be on the worry list of so many CEOs. The ease with which so many of us adopt a new technology and the accompanying change in behaviour, is driving a different customer expectation.
We live in an age where a customer can have a question or idea pop into their mind, look up the answer or do some research on their mobile device. By the time they contact your organisation they believe themselves to be as well informed about a subject as the recipient of the contact. The expectation is that you will agree with them. Technology has enabled access to data and information with varying degrees of accuracy, but we’re all a click away from being experts now.
Furthermore, many of us are irritated beyond reason if we actually have to speak to or email somebody in an organisation to deal with an issue, to find an answer or conclude a transaction that we believe we should have been able to accomplish online, without help. We are in the “simple age” where the majority has decided that, just as simple is beautiful in design, so it should be in service delivery. I find it hard to disagree.
The shift over the last few years is quite staggering, yet given the advances in technology it is not really surprising. Nor is it impossible to respond and keep pace. Cost need no longer be a barrier. Technology solutions have got cheaper.
Pricing model evolution and the advent of “as a service” business propositions mean that the answers are within your reach. Accessibility does mean though that it is easier than ever to gorge ourselves on the “all you can eat buffet” of technology before retiring, bloated and full of regret! So technology must be implemented behind customer centric service design, not the other way around.
Customers may be better informed, or at least have more information, and their expectations may have increased, but they are still getting in touch with you because they need something. A service has failed, information is missing, or somebody doesn’t understand something.
For our public services there is the additional consideration that a customer might be in the midst of a crisis when they get in contact. It remains just as important as ever that we have empathetic people, empowered to deliver when the customer needs it most.
We are connected within one smartphone click, shake or voice command to the brands that have led digital disruption, invested in innovation and have very deep pockets.
The customers that carry this technology and interact with these brands are our customers too. So at a time when the public purse is under such severe pressure the questions remain.
In this short series during National Customer Service Week, we’ll explore how you can better address the challenges and opportunities of better technology and service design to deliver the best outcomes for the people you serve.
Richard Hanrahan is a Director at Agilisys, the employee owned digital technology specialist. He has been involved the design, development and delivery of customer-focused transformational programmes for much of the last 20 years.
He led Agilisys’ Contact Services division for over four years and as a result has a broad and comprehensive understanding of customer lifecycle management, customer journey mapping and the design and development of integrated, multi-channel communication solutions with an emphasis on digital transformation.
You can follow Richard on Twitter @RichardHanrahan