Customer service, don’t #FAIL me now


When we talk about digital customer services, it’s all about creating online self-service capabilities for our customers. This is great for everyone! We’ve made it easy for the customer to get what they need; it’s cheaper and faster for organizations to deliver the service to the customer. Need a copy of your receipt? Want to know where your package is? No problem! Over the past decade, many companies have moved to self-service models that promote convenience, accuracy and speed for most normal, everyday transactions. But what if you don’t have a normal, everyday problem? Companies are taking three basic approaches to digital service strategies:

No Humans Available

How hard is it for your customers to get service?

How hard is it for your customers to get service?

Many of the big e-companies won’t even post a contact number on their site (or at least put it in an obvious place). Just try and find a human to talk to at Facebook, eBay, Twitter or Uber, for example. Most of these sites will first route you to the FAQ board (they want to help you help yourself), the community board (get other community members to help you), push you through the digital equivalent of a call center IVR (press 1 for this, press 2 for this, etc.). You get to the end of what seems like an infinite decision tree of questions and you still didn’t get the answer you were looking for. And if none of that works, maybe – just maybe – you’ll be allowed to submit an email to “customer support.”

Okay, this isn’t all bad – after all, people do ask a lot of dumb questions, but most online “Help Centers” aren’t very helpful if you don’t know how to ask the right question in the first place. Use at your own risk.

Unhappy Humans as a Plan B

Are your service reps THIS cheerful?

Are your service reps THIS cheerful?

I just went through this process with a newspaper I subscribe to. Just last week they served me with an account cancellation notice. The credit card tied to the account had expired four months earlier. I received no notifications that the card had expired, and they let me run up a tab before sending the cancellation notice.

Four things needed to be fixed: update credit card, pay outstanding balance, reinstate account, and continue service. Only one of these transactions could be completed on the web. I also discovered that home delivery and online subscription services were separate. I first attempted to fix all of my problems online, which turned out to be impossible. I caved and called customer service. After navigating an irrelevant IVR menu, I spent 15 minutes on hold before reaching a surly customer service representative. Everything got fixed, but really? Are my expectations too high?

Self-Service with Real Humans

Isn't it so much nicer when they're both cheery AND helpful?

Isn't it so much nicer when they're both cheery AND helpful?

One of my favorite examples of an organization that does this well is Progressive Insurance. Their online auto insurance quoting process takes about five minutes. As you go through the process, their rate-quote engine makes calls out to external data sources and predictive pricing models in real-time. If you have questions at any time during the quote, you can click-to-chat or call a customer agent. Your online information is saved in-session and the customer service reps can see where you are in the quote process without making you repeat any information. They’re there if you need them, but not if you don’t (and they’re pretty darn cheerful if you need assistance).

The reality today is that most businesses are technology driven, so digital services must become part of a company’s DNA. Digital service design is all about understanding what services the customer wants and then enabling technology to allow the customer to complete that service. It’s not about disintermediating humans from the process, but using technology to facilitate positive and profitable customer interactions.

And if your customers are not getting the service they want, they might just air their grievances on social media: #customerservicefail.


About Author

Rachel Alt-Simmons

Business Transformation Lead - Customer Intelligence Practice

Rachel Alt-Simmons is a business transformation practitioner whose expertise extends to operationalizing analytic capabilities vertically and horizontally through organizations. As the Business Transformation Lead for customer analytics at SAS Institute, she is responsible for redesign and optimization of operational analytic workflow, business process redesign, training/knowledge transfer, and change management strategies for customers. Prior to SAS, Rachel served as Assistant Vice President, Center of Excellence, Enterprise Business Intelligence & Analytics at Travelers, and as Director, BI & Analytics, Global Wealth Management at The Hartford. Rachel Alt-Simmons is a certified Project Management Professional, certified Agile Practitioner, Six Sigma Black Belt, certified Lean Master, and holds a post as adjunct professor of computer science at Boston University’s Metropolitan College. She received her master’s degree in Computer Information Systems from Boston University.

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