The Changing Face of Customer Service


Excellent customer service—the daily, ongoing support of a company’s offerings—is critical in creating brand identity and ultimate success. It includes answering questions, taking orders, dealing with billing issues, handling complaints, scheduling appointments, and similar activities. These essential functions can make or break an organization’s relationships with its customers. The quality of customer care can significantly impact brand identity for service, manufacturing, and consumer products companies. Because of its importance in creating impressions and sustaining customer relationships, customer service has sometimes been called the “front door” of the organization or its “face.”

 

So how has the “face” of customer service changed with the influx of technology? Long ago all customer service was provided face-to-face through direct personal interaction between employees and customers. To get service you had to visit stores or service providers in person. The telephone changed this, allowing customers to call companies and speak directly with employees. Customer service became less personal, but without a doubt more efficient, through use of the telephone. With the evolution of computer technology, customer service representatives (CSRs) became even more efficient. Through computer information systems and customer data files, CSRs are able to call up customer records at their workstations to answer questions on the spot.

 

Over time, because communication and computer technologies allowed it, large organizations began to centralize their customer service functions, consolidating into a few large call centers that could be located anywhere in the country or world. But still, in these types of call centers, customer service is for the most part an international event with customers talking directly, one-on-one with an employee.

 

The advent and rapid proliferation of the efficient, but much maligned, automated voice response systems have changed personal customer service in many organizations into menu-driven, automated exchanges. In almost every industry and any business context consumers encounter these types of systems, and many are quite frustrating—for example, when a system has a long confusing set of menu options or when no menu options seems to fit the purpose of the call. Similarly, consumers become angered when they cannot get out of the automated system easily, or when there is no option to speak to a live person.

 

Some companies have overcome these obstacles, however, and have well-designed automated telephone systems that work well for customers. This is accomplished through a form of natural-language speech recognition technology that allows customers to easily interact through the telephone in ways that are much like talking to a real person. Further, a human contact is always easy to get to if needed. Customer satisfaction is rated among the highest in any industry. One of the keys may be that the vice president of retail voice technology occupies a senior management position, showing importance placed on this function. In general, satisfaction levels for automated speech recognition systems are higher than satisfaction with touch-tone systems and in some cases are higher than for live agents.

 

Beyond automated telecom systems, explosion of the internet is also dramatically changing customer service for many companies. Service can now be provided on the internet via e-mail, website robots, FAQs, and online chat. In these cases there is no direct human interaction, and customers actually perform their own service. At Ford Motor Company’s technology that allows dealership customers to set their own service appointments, send messages regarding their specific repair needs, and monitor the status of their vehicles, all online.

 

With the relentless proliferation of technology solutions, firms are finding that expectations for customer service have changed. Customers are demanding choices in how they get customer service, whether it be over the phone, automated voice systems, via fax or email, or through internet self-service. However, while customers often enjoy technology-based service and even demand it in many cases, they dislike it when it doesn’t work reliably (a common problem), when it doesn’t seem to have any advantages over the interpersonal service alternatives, and when there are no systems in place to recover from failures. Interestingly, when things don’t work as they are supposed to on an internet site or through an automated response system, customers are quick to look for more traditional interpersonal (in person or via telephone) options, coming full circle to where we started.

 

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Reinterpreting Products


Product is not what the engineer explicitly says it is, but what the consumer, implicitly demands that it shall be. Thus the consumer consumes not things, but expected benefits—not cosmetics, but the satisfactions of the allurements they promise; not quarter-inch drills, but quarter-inch holes; not stock in companies, but capital gains; not numerically controlled milling machines, but trouble-free and accurately smooth metal parts; not low-cal whipped cream, but self-rewarding indulgence combined with sophisticated convenience.

The product does not exist as a separate entity. The product is what the consumer perceives it to be. Consumer perceptions are strategically important at all stages of product development, from initial conceptualization to concept testing, to positioning, to designing, manufacturing, packaging, pricing, delivering, advertising, selling, financing, and servicing. Product analysis, therefore, embraces systematic research at all stages. The focus of such research is not on the product itself, but on the consumers and how they respond to the various alternatives at each stage.

To simplify the exposition I am drawing examples primarily from the field of consumer products, such as the tangible items found on the shelves of supermarkets, in department stores, appliances shops, and automobile showrooms. In doing so I am not overlooking the importance of the field of services, such as airlines, insurance companies, banks, and travel agents; or the field of industrial goods, such as computers, chemicals, textiles, and lift trucks. While there are some differences in marketing strategies from one category to the next, the underlying principle of delivering customer satisfaction is the same.

Therefore, the producer should analyze actual or potential product or service in terms of its ability to meet a consumer need or want. It is axiomatic that consumers cannot draw the blueprints or provide detailed specifications for producers. It is up to the business person to experiment with new products or services, or modifications of old ones, and test their acceptance in the marketplace. Advertising can then be used to point out their presumed need/want satisfying properties to would-be users.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight