One promise of technology is improved efficiency.  However, when it comes to customer service, the wrong technology applied in the wrong way can backfire and negatively impact customer experience.

Long ago, if you had a complaint/question about a product you walked into the store where you made the purchase and posed your question to the owner.  Since it was considered rude to interrupt (remember, this was long ago) you’d wait if the owner was already talking to another customer.

Next came the telephone.  Owners had to decide how to handle customer questions if the phone rang while they were speaking with someone in the store.  Should they pick up the phone and ignore the person standing in front of them?  Add Email, live online chat, and Twitter feeds and the problem technology unwittingly unleashed is magnified further.   Forty years ago Herbert Simon wrote:

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…”

Technology doesn’t always help our customers.  Sometimes if hinders customer service reps who are routinely asked to juggle email, phone calls, online chat windows, and tweeting.  (The Secret to Accomplishing More)

The solution is to analyze (segment) customers to provide them with the type of interaction they prefer in a way that is cost-effective to deliver.

  1. Determine IF customers value the various ways in which service is delivered – Personally, I detest ordering a pizza with “voice recognition” software.
  2. Stratify which they prefer, and in which cases – Want a quick bank balance?  Automated dialing might work.  Selecting which PC to purchase?  Online chat might be fast way to communicate prepared information.
  3. Decide if the service mechanism can be delivered cost-effectively with the right level of quality – For example, high-cost purchase items don’t lend themselves well to online transactions (think houses).

The pivot point is that in a world devoid of attention and rampant with TMI (too much information), customer service reps deliver worse service when simultaneously emailing, talking, chatting, and tweeting.  Instead, treat this “problem” like every other challenge of supply and demand, find out what your customers need and satisfy that need.

In what ways has your business limited distractions to provide the best possible service?

  • Teresa Cottam

    Great post. One of the basic problems is choosing the right metrics. Many firms worry about things like how many times the phone rings before they pick up, or how long it takes for the CSR to “resolve the problem”, utilisation levels of CSRs or first-call resolution rates. Or they try and drive customers to low-cost channels because it suits them. All of these things are organisation-centric not customer-centric. They don’t ask how the interaction made the customer feel. And they don’t understand what the customer is going to do as a result of that interaction. Many still can’t even “see” interactions across all the channels they support.

    The move towards having multi-skilled CSRs who work across media types can actually shoot you in the foot if done badly. Often this – motivation, strategy, operation – is productivity focused rather than customer focused. As you quite rightly illustrate, overly focusing on productivity can create unwanted negative outcomes for both the customer and the business. Maybe you answer more calls but you create more churn? Is that a good outcome, or the one you intended? Do you even know that is the outcome?

    • andy_mcf

      Thanks for the response Teresa!

      You point out an interesting unintended consequence. Sometimes the wrong behavior is caused by the metrics we “think” are important. In fact they may cause the opposite effect. Here’s an earlier article I posted on measuring customer satisfaction: 3 Ways to Quantify Customer Service Success

  • Pete Guillot

    Nice work here. Seems like there is a bit of a backlash whenever we go too far too fast in almost anything…thinking tech bubble. Thanks for pulling this together in one post. Will remind me where to focus this coming year. Pete Guillot @centerfirst:twitter 

    • andy_mcf

      Peter, thanks for reading. Glad you found a few nuggets to take and add to your arsenal. Hope we’ll see your comments here again soon.

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