I’ve been thinking a lot lately about – one thing. That one thing came about after the recent flurry of articles and news reports on Google’s self-driving cars. Change one thing, in this case – remove the driver – and it fundamentally changes the familiar infrastructure that we have built up around us.
Remove the need for a driver and suddenly we are forced to re-assess, re-examine, re-define how we understand concepts like ownership and responsibility, how we deal with practical issues such as safety and insurance, quite apart from thinking about the internal mechanics of the driverless car itself. At some point will the word ‘driverless’ itself become redundant, superfluous, a reflection of a bygone time; the steering wheel reduced to a museum piece, a curiosity. The familiar ecosystem in which these concepts exist is suddenly disrupted, and the need to re-establish what was once familiar arises. In a sense, we need to (re)create a new familiar.
If we apply this idea of – removing one thing – into a customer service context, what would happen if the agent, the desktop, the telephone, the contact centre, the knowledge base, email was removed?
- How would removing this one thing fundamentally shift the type of customer service you provide in a new direction?
- How would removing this one thing fundamentally force you to shift the way you look at customer service? Force you to redefine it, perhaps even define it.
- How would removing this one thing fundamentally force you to re-assess the way you view your customer?
- How would removing this one thing fundamentally shift the way you interpret success?
The interesting thing to consider here, is actually, not that you are the one who decides what that one thing is, but increasingly, that your customer is deciding what that one thing is.
As customer service continues to decentralise (although I’m not sure towards what) the challenge you face is recognising that this is how it is…
I was reading through Mary Meeker’s latest report on internet trends: Internet Trends 2014 - Code Conference. As I read through it I was trying to think about what it tells us about how customer service might develop over the coming years. I’ve picked out a few key points from the slide deck.
- The cost of broadband and handsets continues to decrease
- Mobile data traffic shows ‘accelerating growth’
- Tablets show ‘early stage rapid unit growth’
- Video-sharing is on the rise
- Apps continue to be downloaded in huge volumes
- Apps are unbundling
- Healthcare might be an inflection point
The data points towards communication becoming increasingly both mobile and visual, with the use of apps central to this. Are we seeing the beginnings of an app-based customer service with video playing a key role? I’m probably not stating anything you already don’t know. But my question is this: If you already know this, or have an inkling that this is where customer service is heading, what are you doing about it? Are you designing your customer service with mobile in mind, or are you still focusing on call deflection?
And what do the advances and increasing consumerisation and digitisation in healthcare tell us about what customer service might look like in five or ten years time? How does this tie in with the rise in ephemeral apps, and the move towards impermanence? Are these fads? Are we hoping that they are fads, like we did with Twitter?
I’ve long been thinking that we are moving towards a more – on the fly, in the moment, spontaneous, serendipitous, and ultimately contextual – type of customer service. Let’s free customer service from its knowledge base, and my sense is that we will begin to see some real changes take place in this space. This approach enables the organisation to shift towards becoming more of a platform provider, with customers, agents, the willing and interested, having open access to tools which enable them to create or co-create resolutions for themselves, with agents, with customers, with the willing and interested as needed depending on the specific needs, urgency and context at that moment in time.
This doesn’t mean we lose all that we create after ten seconds, but perhaps we will think more carefully about what we do create, what the role of the organisation is in relation to the customer service it provides. What is left when we take Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, communities, the internet of things out of the equation? Is that the starting point for organisations to think about the type of customer service they will come to provide in the years to come?
The distinctions we’ve been making for the past few years between the different approaches to customer service – traditional customer service, social customer care, self-service - all seem to be organically levelling out in favour of a type of ‘digitisation’ of customer service (as opposed to ‘digital customer service’)
Customer service, customer experience, customer engagement seem to be somewhat more interchangeable than they were a year or two ago. I’ve also been seeing the use of the term ‘systems of engagement’ more and more
I am seeing the rise of a larger play emerging under the banner of ‘service transformation’
Many organisations are still transfixed by the pursuit of ROI, still trying to find the right things to measure. Do you actually know what you want to measure? Do you measure experience or efficiency? Outcome or the process to get there? Do your customers care? What do your customers actually care about?
I’ve always found the term ‘self service’ an interesting one, especially when organisations are faced with the challenge of not knowing how the customer will structure a question, and the customer has no idea how a company will structure an answer. Words are lost between the question and the answer
I’m still not sure why companies simply don’t offer their customers a Google search box on their ‘Help’ home page. Pride? Customers don’t go to your web site to find an answer, they go to Google, YouTube, Twitter, their friends. Companies need to wake up and understand their customers. And yes, I am being a little bit flippant; but only a little
I’ve seen so many surveys on response times: 39% of customers expect to be answered within an hour on Twitter, while 47% expect to be answered within two hours on Facebook… I know I don’t really care if it takes ten minutes, 30 minutes, five hours or two days to resolve my request for help or my complaint, but please acknowledge me, keep me updated on progress and occasionally smile (yes, I can hear a smile). Unfortunately, you don’t measure the smile
Has ‘self service’ become a convenience? A dumping ground? A counterpart in crime to call deflection? I want you to self-serve because it’s an easy way out. I want you to self serve because it will save me money. I want you to self-serve because it serves my purpose
Our ability to deliver customer service evolves as the technology becomes more sophisticated, more complex, more responsive… how long do I have to wait? But at the end of the day, no matter how much money you have invested in the most agile, most responsive, most up-to-date system, you still have to resolve my issue!
The ability to understand the context why a customer contacts us is becoming more attainable. The ability to engage with the customer in the experience, in the context of the experience, to close down the complaint, to pre-empt the question, is here: now
The time lag between the cause of the complaint, the complaint and the response is ever decreasing. The time lag between the request for help, the offer of help, the help itself is ever decreasing. But how do you design your response or your offer of help? This is not a criticism. This is an evolution. We now have the opportunity to re-design, re-engineer not just the actual service process, but our service philosophy as well. Do you dare? Do you dare redesign, re-engineer with context in mind, with the right service philosophy driving the experience? Do you dare? Do you dare be bold to redesign your offer of help for the person standing in the queue waiting to be served? Or do you ignore them or just wait until they get to the front of the queue? The decision may be yours, but don’t be surprised if your customer walks away or your competitor jumps in to your queue and offers their brand of help!
I’m tired of customer service cliches and soundbites: social customer care is not the new marketing, the new black, the new frontier
I’m tired of scare stories: Yes, “United Breaks Guitar” did happen. Yes, Eurostar could have handled itself better in 2009. Yes, Emirates could probably have done more during the severe fog cover a few months ago. But you know, these things aren’t business as usual. They are exceptions, they happen, we learn, we move on
I’m tired of best practice: What is best practice? If we all practiced it, we’d all be the same: homogenous. We would elevate the mundane, the routine, instead of trying to rise above it. Perhaps best practice as a philosophical construct is worth considering; maybe not? I prefer common practice; perhaps that’s just as bad! Whatever you practice, just be sure to make it yours. Your sense of empathy, the empathy you show your customers, make it yours, it is not learnt, it is not a formula: it is not best practice
I’m tired of the same stories. Perhaps we simply need to change stories every now and then? But do we dare?
I’m not sure if self-service and FAQs reflect by proxy all the problems a company refuses to fix, or simply a reflection of all the questions a customer has asked in the past? Perhaps it is somewhere between the two…
Will Google become a customer service platform by accident, design or appropriation: Google search, Google Hangouts, YouTube, Google+…
To truly unlock customer service and free it up from its traditions, to truly unleash a new service model of engagement, perhaps we need to free it from its knowledge base in some way. What could Snapchat and the idea of impermanence teach us about freeing up a knowledge base? Impermanence is about making decisions, where permanence requires no decisions to be made. Permanence leads to staleness, reliance, comfort and security, a lack of change, a lack of the need to change…but it also results in complacency
Time for a coffee…
I’ve been running a LinkedIn group – where social media meets customer service – for the last four or five years, and someone recently posed the question:
What is your take on the fact that so many airlines offer social customer service during regular business hours only 9-5? Is it a matter of them not seeing the value in making it a fully operational channel, is it cost or just that the majority don’t get it?
The question got me thinking about social customer care and its relationship with what one might term traditional customer service. The bit I was particularly interested in was the reference to ‘regular business hours only 9-5′. The question I asked myself was this: Does social customer care really exist, or is it simply customer service with a social layer on top?
What do I mean by – social layer on top?
Do organisations design their social customer care proposition with the unique characteristics of social in mind or do they simply apply a traditional customer service approach to the social channels? For example, when I think about a resolution, do I think about how that resolution could be delivered via Twitter with the specific characteristics of Twitter in mind (ie. 140 characters in public) OR do I think about how that resolution could be delivered simply using Twitter as a delivery mechanism (ie. somehow reduce my existing customer service resolution to 140 characters OR Tweet the customer an email address OR point the customer to a web page etc).
In my mind we are still simply paying lip service to social customer care. The majority of companies are simply applying existing resolutions to social channels without any real thought about the characteristics of the social channel at hand. However, there are some exceptions that have emerged over the past few years: BestBuy’s #Twelpforce, O2′s #Tweetserve and Amazon’s Mayday.
17.03.14: Mayday is not social!
Thanks to the ever-watchful and erudite @martinhw for pointing out that Mayday is not social! Quite right, and I agree with you, but I included it, more as an example of how Amazon thought about the resolution and the outcome they wanted with the customer and the channel in mind. Mayday has an elegant symmetry about it and points to a type of customer service/engagement that is native and intuitive to the product itself; the resolution mechanism is part of the product design, not as is often the case an adjunct to it or an afterthought.
I believe we will start to see a different type of customer service emerge. A type of customer service that is far more organic, serendipitous and spontaneous, less tied to a knowledge base, less tied to a department and more tied to the moment and the point(s) of delivery. Perhaps one where the customer plays a far greater part, and I don’t just mean throwing some content on to a web site and calling it ‘self service’.
I read with interest about O2′s launch of #TweetServe – O2 launch #TweetServe – Customer Service via Twitter. #TweetServe is described as “a new way for customers to find out a range of account information, without having to phone Customer Service.“
It’s good to see organisations inching those boundaries forward. The last few months have seen Natwest experimenting with Vine videos and Google launch Helpouts, together with the use of Promoted Tweets as a complaint mechanic. But do these types of advancements, mark in the words of Jay Patel (CEO, IMImobile): “a step forward to the next generation of digital customer services?”
I’m not so sure.
Yes, it is undoubtedly a step forward, but if this is what the next generation of digital customer services looks like, then perhaps we are further away than we might think. I can’t help but ask myself why it’s taken any company this long to develop any kind of Twitter-based service beyond the standard Tweet and respond model.
#Tweetserve reminds me a little of #Twelpforce (or at least the spirit of #Twelpforce), but perhaps more of a second cousin, at least once removed. I remember when #Twelpforce was launched, and still think back with a sense of excitement and anticipation about it. Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress, however. But don’t get me wrong. I will be the first to congratulate O2 on launching #Tweetserve: any organisation that takes bold steps (well, any steps) deserves to be recognised.
I like the use of #hashtags – #charges, #data, #handsets, #android, #text etc. For such a simple mechanic, I think hashtags are undervalued and underused. Hashtags provide a common language across different platforms, as well as the interplay between online and offline. They have the potential to act as ‘social objects’ binding people together. But I’m also wondering when #complaint, #broken, #faulty, #refund, #poorservice … will be added to this lexicon.
Perhaps I should look at this in another way and ask the following question: What does #Tweetserve tell us about the future of digital customer services? I’m still not sure. In some ways I feel that #Tweetserve is trying to cast off, break free from the straightjacket of the last few decades of customer service, but can’t quite do so. #Tweetserve is still built on the solid foundations of a very linear and structured type of customer service, despite its social trappings. I would imagine its metrics are very traditional as well, dominated by operational efficiencies, perhaps with an element of engagement thrown in; I hope I’m wrong. I also sense an uneasy friction exists between marketing, sales and customer service, the choice of #hashtags reflect this. Perhaps, I’m reading too much into it?
I feel mean-spirited, and perhaps on one level I am. But that is not because I don’t want #Tweetserve to succeed. I desperately want organisations to succeed. But I also want organisations to free themselves. To push beyond. To recognise the innate nature and inherent characteristics of the platforms they use. To break free from the structures that have dominated and dictated the way in which they have engaged with customers and employees. Use social as social.
Now if you had said that an organisation had decided to adopt more of a Snapchat-type service approach, characterised by temporariness and impermanence, that really would be pushing and breaking through boundaries. For that would cast true shadows over an organisation’s entire service framework.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of impermanence for awhile now as it pertains to social customer care. Tenuous perhaps, but this train of thought, this idea of – impermanence – has been sitting at the back of my mind, nagging away; I can’t seem to shift it. This nagging thought can be directly attributable to a number of posts written by Nathan Jurgenson, Snapchat’s in-house researcher.
He writes in Pics and It Didn’t Happen [The New Inquiry]: “What would the various social-media sites look like if ephemerality was the default and permanence, at most, an option?”
The thought intrigued me. What would social customer care look like if we pushed it to an extreme and applied the same sense of ephemerality to it? Here are my initial and somewhat unstructured thoughts.
The customer service model as we know it is built on permanence and through this permanence comes consistency and efficiency: the cornerstones of our modern day service experience. Organisations can provide the same experience, the same resolution time and time again, over and over again. Resolutions can be commoditised, packaged up, shipped out. This works because the organisation controls the systems of delivery.
But what happens not if, but when, customers refute the assumption of permanence? What happens when ‘temporary‘ becomes the norm. What happens when ‘temporary’ defines the characteristic of the solution or experience at hand? The solution is experienced once by its chosen audience, and then gone. This impermanence or temporariness of the experience determines how that service is provided (if at all), how the resolution is constructed, the tools required to create, curate, deliver it, and ultimately experience it. What happens if the chosen audience only has 10 seconds to view it, understand it… and then never to be seen again. How do you design a service or an experience that is ultimately self-deleting?
The service model that we know, built around permanence, is self-fulfilling. The knowledge base re-inforces this notion of permanence. Adds credibility to it. Substantiates it. It gives organisations a sense of security and importance.
This sense of permanence, however, makes it difficult to re-invent, renew, re-invigorate. It makes it difficult to question the past. It makes it problematic to move forwards, to create new experiences. We feel the weight of it bearing down on us.
In his post, The Liquid Self, Jurgenson writes:
“My worry here is that today’s dominant social media is too often premised on the idea (and ideal) of having one, true, unchanging, stable self and as such fails to accommodate playfulness and revision. It has been built around the logic of highly structured boxes and categories, most with quantifiers that numerically rank every facet of our content, and this grid-patterned data-capture machine simply does not comfortably accommodate the reality that humans are fluid, changing, and messy in ways both tragic and wonderful.”
But what would happen if we turned our back on this sense of permanence? What would happen if we rejected the burden of having to create something durable and lasting? What would happen if we could disentangle ourselves from equating authenticity with permanence? The knowledge base as the sacred source of truth. This isn’t about being forgetful either.
What if we accepted the elusive nature of impermanence? Accepted that the context of the knowledge base should not be the sole determinant of authenticity. The service experience like some kind of convenience food, consumed in the moment, experienced in the moment, resolved in the moment? Isn’t that enough?
The temporariness of the experience makes it by default personalised and contextual. This sense of personalisation is heightened by the fact that the audience for whom it is created is chosen. The choice is deliberate, intentional; in many ways this sense of impermanence is far more restrictive than our current service model. The fact that the experience will shortly be gone raises the level of acuity through a heightened sense of urgency.
The irony of this, however, is that in creating ‘disposable experiences’, it may actually force organisations to redefine, reconsider, rethink what truly needs to be permanent in the eyes of their customers. In the act of creating experiences that are impermanent, organisations perhaps, create value by default in those things that are then considered to be permanent. Without this, permanence becomes a playground for the mundane, the routine, the complacent. In this context, apps like Snapchat should not be instantly dismissed, but rather heeded as a warning to what the future of customer service might hold.
This question stems from a response Lyle Fong gave to Ray Wang in an interview back in 2011. In the interview, Lyle posed the question: “What happens when we treat customers as part of the company?”
Seems a simple enough question. So, playing on this theme I pose another question in this way: “What happens when you let your customers design their customer service?”
What does this mean for you? For your customers? For your existing customer service? What does this mean for all the systems you have in place? What does it mean for your agents? What does it mean for your knowledge base? What does it mean..?
What would happen if you asked your customers to design the service that they want to receive?
What would happen if you asked your customers to decide where to put the touchpoints?
What would happen if you let your customers use your systems, or decide which systems you should provide?
What would happen if…?
Imagine. Imagine if you only built the customer service that your customers needed
Imagine if you only designed that bit of customer service for where your customers needed it
But actually, the point is not in the asking of the question, although that reflects a boldness that the majority of organisations simply do not possess. The point is neither in the imagining. The point is in recognising that your customers are doing this to some degree anyway already.
Are they doing this because they can? Are they doing this because of the current service they receive? Are they doing this in spite of you?
It doesn’t really matter what the reasons are.
The point is that your customers are doing this. They’re doing it because they can. They don’t need to ask your permission anymore…
The point is that companies like Google, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Vine, even Snapchat, are helping your customers simply do this without you. They are helping your customers create a type of customer service that is on the fly, reusable, personal, local, always available, scalable. A customer service of intimacy that meets their needs when they need it.
There is no operational efficiency involved. No AHT involved. No business case to make. And yet it is the most responsive, efficient and personalised customer service that exists.
Perhaps it’s worth asking the question: What happens when you let your customers design their customer service? Because in the end it’s their customer service. Isn’t it?