By Matt Pigott - July 1st, 2016

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The second part in our three part series investigating customer service in a digital world

Amazon

For Amazon, which recently decided to move into the own-brand groceries market, going up against major supermarkets on both sides of the Atlantic, the lack of any sort of direct human interaction has never posed a problem for the company. When was the last time anybody had a face-to-face chat with an Amazon sales rep before, during or after the sales a purchase? It simply doesn’t happen. Why? Because Amazon is all about search and order fulfilment. There are, of course, faces behind the technology and the fulfilment, but customers never see them. Which highlights something else: good service, at least at the retail level, doesn’t need any sort of physical human presence. Arguably sad, but factually true.

When a brand that accounts for 25 percent of each and every dollar of growth in US retail, including physical stores, as well as 50 percent of all growth in online retail, almost exclusively without any sort of direct human interaction, it spells a new phase in customer expectations of experience. Not so much about eye-contact, smiles and handshakes these days, but about data and how effectively it can be used to deliver the goods.

Data layers at the root of good service

For Amazon and similar types of online offering the real goldmine, therefore, is layered data that swiftly moves from profile snapshots toward an ever-deepening impression of customer preferences and tastes. Having tailored customer landing pages, populated with images of prior customer purchases and preferences, such as wish lists, is one of the strokes of marketing genius that keeps customers returning time and again to the same platforms to put in fresh orders. Add to this increasingly relevant purchasing suggestions, and such platforms end up acting as long term memory banks that both brands and their customers can access. More than just a place to buy things, a trip to Amazon’s website equally becomes a trip down memory lane.

Quality of journey more important single touch points

Something else worth noting is that it’s the growing and nuanced picture built up from individual interactions has become more important to customers. The journey of a seamless experience today provides more value than any one interaction.

Recent research carried out by McKinsey highlights that individual interactions are no longer the benchmark for customer satisfaction. In a survey of almost 30,000 consumers across 14 industries, its report found that the journey is more important to the customer than the more isolated experience of a single touchpoint. To put it another way, it takes more than one scene to make a movie. A good story, well told doesn’t miss a beat or unnecessarily jar the senses, but carries the viewer from opening shot to happy denouement. Scene must link to scene in a meaningful way, respecting continuity to deliver a satisfactory overarching narrative.

The important question CMOs must ask themselves is this: is their customer’s brand journey an Academy Awards contender, or would it fail to scrape ten percent on the Tomatometer? Whatever the answer, it’s worth remembering that better-managed customer journeys can boost customer satisfaction by at least a fifth, and lift profits by as much again. As with any great story, end-to-end multichannel excellence should be the CMO’s dictum because it’s this that helps improve customer engagement, loyalty, recommendations, and sales.

MichaelMaoz, vice president and analyst at Gartner said: ‘Marketing may fill the sales funnel, and the sales department can close a deal, yet it is the overall impression of the enterprise generated by the quality of customer service that differentiates one enterprise from another.”

Bots: boost or bane for customer experience?

If customer experience isn’t about just one ride then, but enjoyment of the entire theme park, are bots set to become the attendants that, metaphorically speaking, usher visitors to their seats, and answer all pertinent questions. 

If there’s one pattern emerging from the world of customer service it’s the growing prevalence of chatbots. Even if they’re not here yet, they’re coming. Seen as a potential panacea for a host of corporate aches and pains, chatbots might end up be favored by executives over humans, for several reasons. Bots don’t: (a) get sick, (b) ignore the phone, (c) insult customers because they’re having a bad hair day, (d) take lunch breaks, (e) try to sue the boss for negligence. What’s more, they’re programmable and scalable, which means over the long term they’ll also be a whole lot cheaper. For many fiscally pressed execs, it could be the no-brainer that has them speed-dialling human resources.

Bots are new darlings of Silicon Valley, the next big thing. And any buzz in the Valley swiftly carries to C-level board rooms. Anything that is scalable and measurable, that can help improve customer relations and at the same time save money is always going to get pushed high up the agenda.

So, are the bots really coming and, if so, what will this mean for the future of customer service?

Find out more about this topic in next week's installment of Customer Service in a Digital World

The Incite Customer Service Summit

November 2017, New York

Social customer service at scale, social listening, integrating social into call center operations

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