Making Customer Service Effective in the Digital Age

What is Customer Service?

Customer service is an elaborate and interactive process of understanding a customer and fulfilment of his needs as per the company’s resources, capacity and capability for the product sold or service delivered. In this context, the customer’s expectation starts from the time he has purchased the product or subscribed or hired the services. Therefore, customer service is an end-to-end process which begins from the time of sale till the end of life cycle of a product or the service or its usability to the customer. Thus, this concept originates with the customer and ends with the customer.

Synonyms of customer service: customer support, helpdesk, service centre, customer care, troubleshooting team, client service, after sales service, customer helpline.

Customer service is a part and parcel of every organization. For any company to sustain and grow, their focus and efforts have to be channelized towards creation of good customer service team.

Good customer service should aim towards enabling the following:
- Long-time Customer retention
- Loyalty towards Company’s products and services
- This in turn should build a customer’s trust toward the brand
- Enhancing product effectiveness and its value among the competitors
- Translating to higher sales thereby impacting overall revenues positively (due to same customer buying products or services repeatedly or recommending them to his family and friends)
- Resulting in Company saving its cost of customer acquisition on account of customer churn (which is almost 5 times more expensive)
- Strengthening a positive word of mouth and increasing Company’s goodwill and equity
- Leading to less expenditure on advertising, promotion and marketing activities

So, all these efforts will ultimately lead to company’s prosperity and increased market share which is beneficial for its employees and vendors and its longevity.

Nevertheless, an unhappy customer is an opportunity and the company should never lose out on insightful experience through the customer’s feedback to analyse the root cause of the problem that led to poor customer experience. Further, the company should invest time in reviewing their current working mechanism, getting into process reorientation, improving their product or service, it’s features or offers, grooming and training the staff or bridging any gaps that exist as per the customer inputs.

Customer Service Representative, his qualities and the different channels:
Customer service representatives (cse) are the actual brand ambassador for any company since a customer interacts with them on phone, through on-line chat, on company’s website or portal, on e-mail, social media and on-line forums, face to face interaction at service center.

A CSE should therefore:
- Speak to the customer politely
- Listen to him
- Give him respect
- Understand his need or concern
- Empathise
- Finally, most importantly, provide solution or an alternative as per his problem or requirement.

Being polite and humble without resolving customer’s query won’t help. Similarly, giving solution but in a rude tone will also back fire. It’s a viscous circle of expectations. Customer wants everything – politeness, empathy and solution. And he is right as he has paid for the product or the service. Customer is always right and is the king.

A Company has to:
- Keep their CSE motivated.
- They should be trained well in product and soft skills
- They should be able to communicate well with the customer
- Have patience, take ownership and work towards providing resolution to the customer.

Every organization contributes in some way or the other by working for its customers – it could be a B to B (Business) model or a B to C (Customer) model. In the long run, to accomplish its goals, every organization should align customer centricity to its vision and organizational strategy. This is an aspect no Company can afford to miss even a PSU or a Government organization.

Guide to great customer service is extremely simple:
- Remember, it is important to build a good rapport or connect with the customer
- Have qualitative interactions with him
- An intent to solve his problem no matter what.
- Smile while talking to the customer.
- Acknowledge the fact that most of the customers prefer human interaction more than communicating with machines. So, treat the customer the way you would like a service provider to treat you.

Different industries could have different levels of customer engagement as per their business and could have different ways to assess or measure their customer satisfaction.

Customer needs could be different for retail industry with regards to telecom, utilities, logistics, financial, outsourcing, government, healthcare, media, manufacturing, IT, real estate, service industry and so on.

Background of Customer Service: The concept of customer service is as old as early 1800s and it all started with the industrial revolution where products were designed and manufactured as per customer’s needs. However, since then, as we have noticed, customer’s behaviour has been dynamic, unpredictable and influenced by numerous factors, that’s why it is never consistent and is changing even faster than a stock market. Dealing with customers is challenging most of the time as it is like solving a jig saw puzzle every time.

Problems faced in Customer Service due to:
1. Limited authority with each service channel
2. Communication barrier between the customer and the CSE
3. Resolution being awaited from the concerned person/ team
4. Every customer’s problem is unique and expectations could vary to a different degree
5. Less staff available to cater to customers (due to leave, absenteeism, attrition) leading to high pressure
6. Technical or unknown issue (with no timelines or alternative available)
7. Company policy that acts as a hindrance sometimes
8. Lack of knowledge or skill
9. Customer reluctance to accept a resolution
10. Competition leading to higher expectations

How do we gauge effectiveness of customer service?
1. On-line surveys (as part of CSAT tool) as a part of buying a product (mostly asking to rate customer’s experience on E-commerce websites). CSAT is Customer Satisfaction.
2. Surveys at IVR (Interactive Voice Response) as part of CSAT tool
3. Mystery Shopping by posing as a customer
4. Live and remote monitoring of customer interactions (random sampling) and evaluating the quality of each interaction
5. Feedback calls, SMS, e-mails or IVR calls made to the customers to confirm if their query / concern was resolved or not
6. Analysing and taking action basis customer feedback on Website, Social media, Customer Portal
7. Assessing customer’s behaviour towards the brand, its products and services by applying Business Intelligence, Data analytics, Search Engine Optimization and other techniques.

What is CSAT?
Customer Satisfaction Survey is a powerful tool shared by the Service provider with the customer after he has had an interaction with the Customer service representative to rate his experience along with rating on service related parameters including resolution of his problem. This tool is a Voice of Customer that provides an insight on customer’s experience, whether it was as per his expectations and anything that was lacking or could have been done better. For most of the companies, CSAT is linked to the performance ratings of the employees and it impacts their annual bonus and increments. Why not CSAT rating impact everyone in the organization as every employee is expected to do his bit that contributes or adds value to customer’s experience? Thought to ponder.

With digitization, things have completely changed and the transition phase has emerged. Thanks to the changing technology and other strong factors:
1. Customers have become very demanding and so have their expectations increased with ease of technology. They want to control everything through the click of an app. They don’t want to waste their valuable time visiting a Store or a Service Center waiting for their turn unless it is unavoidable. They don’t want to call up the Call Center, wait in the queue and then talk to people who behave like robots reading a script and not as human interface.
2. There is whole lot of competition, which has given world numerous options available online as well as offline and that too cost effective ones. While there is a Big Basket for every Grofer. There is OYO rooms for every Make My Trip and Yatra. There is Amazon for every Flipkart and Snapdeal. There is Ola for every Uber. There is Zomato for every Swiggy and Food Panda and the race is endless. There is a Big Bazaar for every Reliance Fresh. There is a Chroma for every Reliance Digital, and there is a Jio for every Vodafone, Idea and Airtel.
3. With VCs and new investors coming from rest of the world, the business landscape has evolved and grown multiple folds adding to everyone’s benefit including income.
4. Next is obviously, people’s incomes (including disposal incomes) have increased along with the lifestyle. Luxuries have becomes necessities in today’s universe.
5. Government policies inviting foreign funds, FDIs, have been favourable for creating a business friendly and investor friendly climate.
6. Start-up Culture, Tech Parks have been a big hit.
7. Mergers and acquisitions have become a norm of the day.

Thus, technology has bombarded our day-to-day life. Daily Routine has been adapted as per the smart phone and what what’s app demands. Social media has transformed our life completely. Posts on FB, Twitter, and Instagram are dearer than real life friends.

So, if the personal and professional life has transitioned at such a rapid pace in the new millennium and in the last 10 years to be precise, the customer is justified in demanding excellent customer service with better reachability rates.

Sad but true, we are still missing out on several basic and important things that a customer in digital era will need even though he might be the most tech savvy person on this earth.
1. Most of the product Companies and Service providers are lacking in providing personalized services to every customer customized especially keeping his needs in mind. This is a challenge with hundreds of downloads happening every day for most of the Companies.
2. Deciding on the most suitable and preferred blend of touch points or channels of communications available to a customer 24 by 7. A company just cannot rely on FAQs provided on its app for all its customers. Or running analytics engine might not be sufficient for analysing his behaviour. A mere e-mail survey might not gather complete feedback about customer experience. All channels are equally important at different times and for different reasons and for different customers. A farmer using services might still prefer to visit a Service Centre personally while a person whose internet pack is over might just call up the Call Centre.
3. Even Robotics, Machine learning, Artificial intelligence and Chatbot has limitations and cannot answer everything or replace human interactions. Let’s keep that factor in mind. However, in most of the Call Centers, CSEs have a very limited role acting like robots following a script blindly.
4. A help menu inbuilt in an app is a basic necessity but is the organization smart and prompt enough to swiftly engage with the customer on any dissatisfaction or mishappening reported in the app?
5. Is every CSAT survey being looked carefully to arrive at some conclusion? Who takes the ownership and why?
6. Are service commitments still being offered? How often does the Company engage with its customers and to what extent?
7. How about customer education not only about new offers and schemes but also guiding a customer what plan should be appropriate as per his last one year’s expenses or usage?
8. Time to stop and think. With Big Data analytics, internet of things, is the company’s quality of interactions getting improved or deteriorated? How does the customer satisfaction graph look like? How about the turnaround time for resolving a ticket on their Portal or app?
9. How about collaboration with the customer in making their app more useful and customer friendly? Inviting customer’s feedback and suggestions from improvement and not just triggering a request to the customer to follow on FB, Twitter? Ensuring speed, agility, updation of question bank, posting customer ratings + reviews, checking app and portal’s feedback and suggestions on regular basis?
10. How about ensuring adherence to code of conduct and ethical dealing with critical pointers being followed as a mandate: no data leakage, privacy breach, sharing of data with the third party?
11. Keeping the Customer Service employees motivated as happy employees will keep customers happy.
12. Challenge of retaining the customer and building loyalty. With a better offer, each day customer switches to a different Service provider.

Examples where services could improve (though their app is user friendly but few requests where customers cannot rely on app alone)
1. Paytm: For completing KYC (Know Your Customer) process, customer has to visit either the nearest store or paytm person visits the customer for fulfilling the process requirements. These guys seems untrained, lacks helpful attitude and professionalism. Company here lacks setting expectations and training its customer service staff.
2. Ola/ Uber: Their app and Call Center is extremely good. However, since they rely on a third party, sometimes, the cab is not clean, the driver talks rudely or does not follow route shown in maps or comes late for pick -up. In such cases, Cab Companies should have extremely stringent audits and regular checks to catch hold of defaulters.
3. Amazon/ Flipkart: They rely on third party courriers for more than 40% of their consignments and these courier persons give false commitments which leads to delays often. And no one takes ownership of such delays or miss outs.

No matter what the channel of communication is, what customer want?
A. Provide Mobile Access That Simplifies Their Tasks. Customers want and need information.
B. Take Responsibility For Your Business And Its Actions. Your employee made a mistake.
C. Communicate A Solution.
D. Provide The Best Service.
In short, give Them What They Really Want That No One Else Offers