Technology. Instead of helping companies improve customer service, it quickly became a way to put as much distance between them and their customers as humanly possible.
Automated call trees that always seem to be in a perpetual state of updated menu options. Friendly (yet dismissive) voicemail prompts telling you how much your call is "valued" even though you’ve been on hold forever. Abnormally high call volumes (even when you call during off-peak times). And that’s just trying to reach someone by phone. Forget about Twitter, email, or an online forum.
Blaming poor customer service on cost is no longer a valid excuse. With the amount of affordable and amazingly sophisticated marketing software that’s currently available, more companies should be thinking about how they can interact and respond to customers one-on-one in real time, creating much better experiences along the way.
All you need to do is look to the most disruptive force in ecommerce and retail to see it. While it seemed like most other companies were busy figuring out how to hide their phone numbers and contact information from current and prospective customers, Amazon made reaching out pretty simple.
Not only do they include a "Help" option at the top of their website that gives you multiple ways to get in touch (imagine that), they were also the first company I can recall that actually embraced technology and found a way to allow customers to request a call without having to sift through a never-ending sea of voicemail prompts. With the recent launch of the Kindle Fire HDX, they took remote customer service one step further by incorporating the "Mayday" button—24/7 device-support that allows users to connect with an Amazon expert for free. Why is it taking so long for others to follow suit?
Big companies have access to too much data and IT infrastructure to skimp on customer service. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to learn more about customers. Whether someone placed an order, logged into your site but hasn’t been back for a few weeks, called with a question, or tweeted a complaint, technology needs to be an enabler, not a road block—a way to help businesses cut through all of the noise so they can save time and focus on true, personalized one-on-one interactions.
"How many terabytes of information you have about a customer doesn’t matter," says Michael Lazerow, CMO of the Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, a platform and provider of cross-channel digital marketing apps.
With the recent launch of Journey Builder, a cloud-based cradle-to-cradle marketing solution to create, automate, and optimize personalized customer service at scale, Lazerow and the team at ExactTarget believe it’s imperative that customer service finally starts to evolve to meet the needs of connected customers. "We are now looking at an Internet of Customers, and companies need to start focusing on smart data to deliver incredible experiences to these customers," Lazerow says. "Data drives relevance and relevance drives business results."
I recently wasted over 20 minutes on hold waiting to speak with a customer service representative, so here’s hoping he's right!
[Image: Flickr user Petras Gagilas]