The Past And Future Of Customer Service
Our definitions and expectations regarding customer service have changed greatly over the years. Back in the day, it was personal. Joe walked in to his local bank and everyone smiled, knew him by name, asked about his kids, and helped out how they could (sounds nice). Since the introduction of the Internet, this has of course changed. I personally use Schwab as my bank of choice, and have literally never been to a branch. I’ve called their help line, briefly dealt with the automated “enter your account number now” attendant (also known as an IVR, or Interactive Voice Response), and ultimately resolved any issue with a typically friendly representative over the phone. In my opinion, their customer service is excellent, and it’s one of the reasons I’m still a client. That said, there is still a lot of room for improvement, and I believe we find ourselves on the verge of a whole new customer service experience.
While the imaginations at work are naturally diverse and broadly focused, 2013 and subsequent years should see many of them narrow in on unified communications (UC) and the customer experience. What I mean by UC is the convergence of voice, video, and data through all of their many mediums and channels. This convergence will have an impact all over the business world, but will be particularly felt in customer service (and sales, but that’s for another read). In the bank example above, the automated IVR sloppily tries to take an incoming voice call, glean some relevant data about the caller, and then connect the customer to the appropriate representative. There lies the often-frustrating rub that we have all experienced. After typing in your account number and waiting, you finally reach a representative who, through no fault of their own, must ask you again for your account number. This is because large companies move slowly and still rely on expensive, legacy backend systems that aren’t adequately integrated with each other, and thus do not effectively pass along that data with your call. Fortunately, with recent additions to the global technology toolbox, these issues are starting to be addressed aggressively. WebRTC is a new technology standard that builds voice, video, and data directly into the browser, without any additional plug-ins or installations required. I won’t discuss it in great detail (see Blog on WebRTC) but it effectively makes unified communications a reality and priority for opportunists with an eye towards the future. Now any web developer can create UC apps that would have cost millions five years ago, and we should soon see disruptive changes in the ways consumers and businesses interact online.
The New Customer Experience
Imagine you have a question about your bank’s website. You can’t find that tax form you need and the 15th is around the corner. Without any additional installations or third party apps, you could be video chatting “Amy” with the click of a button. With your permission, she could take over your screen to help solve your problem, or she could send you the form you need directly through the browser (again, all thanks to WebRTC and its peer-to-peer component). Of course, you won’t always want to video chat your bank’s customer service rep, but all of that functionality will be available and the channels you use will be up to you. Because WebRTC is mobile compatible, with a simple transfer button you could leave your computer and finish up your call on the go. From the business’ point of view and with inevitable CRM integration, they will be able to see who you are, where you are, your account number, etc., and could answer the call with a comment on your local weather. Seeing the face of your customer service rep seems a bit creepy to think about, but as with all things (Facebook, Google’s Streetview) the public will slowly but surely get used to this personalization of the online customer experience.
Let us know your thoughts. Who do you think will profit from the disruptive changes discussed above? Will the legacy backend providers (Oracle, Avaya, etc.) be able to keep up, or will the smaller, more nimble companies be the ones who take advantage?
Author: Max McChesney