Strategy

How to strike a balance between human and digital customer service

Mark Fazio /

customer service

Mate general manager Mark Fazio. Source: Supplied.

Customer service technology is on the rise.

As multinationals such as Amazon and Google deliver more and more support channels through their use of customer experience (CX) tech, customers now want and expect 24-hour connection and support, even from startups and local businesses.

At the same time, KPMG’s Customer Experience Excellence Report 2018 reveals Australian consumers rate personalisation as the key driver for customer service excellence. This means even with cutting-edge tech, the human factor remains vitally important in providing a customer-centric experience.

The challenge for executive leaders seeking to position their organisations to compete in a disruptive CX space is finding the right balance between the human touch and the digital touch. There are three steps to doing this. 

1. Consider the tech

With each new technology, leaders should consider how its introduction will impact and drive the customer experience, but also where its limitations lie, both inherently and with respect to the target consumer. 

Chatbots

Take chatbots — an increasingly common tool in the CX space — for example. Most bots are not AI, but branched, piecemeal logic presented in a conversational interface. The benefit of bot tech is it’s another interaction method that utilises an existing knowledge base. This means it is capable of responding to upwards of 90% of the queries that service representatives face daily.

AustralianSuper launched a chatbot, named ‘Ash’, in 2018, and it has been an enormous success, achieving a 92% overall customer satisfaction rate. What it does well is responding to customers’ frequently asked questions through an accessible and convenient interface. 

The limitation of bots, from a customer service perspective, is they are sometimes viewed as an impediment to achieving customer success by inserting another step between the customer and a resolution.

Omnichannel services

Another example of CX tech is the use of omnichannel services. Bundling CX channels together to form one unified customer experience is now common practice among leading brands. These services provide real-time customer data synchronisation that creates opportunities to offer services that are tailored to each customer’s particular needs.

Australian companies are following closely behind their international counterparts with the implementation of omnichannel service delivery. Australian Postal Corporation, for example, has been migrating key transactions online, while still offering services via face-to-face interactions and the phone, and the flexibility to move between these channels.

The inherent risk of omnichannel services lies in their relevance. A business cannot be successful if they are offering their products or services through a channel that isn’t relevant to their customers. 

Voice assistants

According to a survey by National Public Radio and Edison Research in 2018, the percentage of consumers who owned smart speakers rose to 30% (from 17%) in 2017. The advantage of smart speakers is they can be personalised, allowing them to interact with the consumer to create proactive customer experiences. For example, through active listening and personalisation, smart speakers could provide consumers with recommendations for services or advice regarding where certain products could be purchased. 

Of course, there are privacy concerns when it comes to emerging voice assistants and active listening technologies. Furthermore, voice assistant tech runs the risk of being considered intrusive by the customer.

2. Evaluating customer tolerance

Evaluating the tech is only step one. It is also essential that in all cases, the customer’s tolerance for the technology is understood. While it might seem self-evident, CX tech must be helpful to the consumer, allowing them to achieve customer success easier and with less stress than the typical call centre experience.

Consumers want more self-service options than ever, but they do not want to feel manipulated by tech. It needs to work for them, not be viewed as an impediment to achieving the desired result. 

Executive leaders will need to evaluate this to ensure they understand their target customer’s tolerance. Perhaps they are happy to engage with real-time messaging and social media, but find chatbots unwieldy. Perhaps they prefer to utilise mobile apps with face-to-face video communication.

Successful CX strategies should also avoid the error of chasing ubiquity. Leaders should be implementing CX tech and solutions that are relevant and lead to differentiation for their customers. 

3. The customer success team

Well-thought-out and implemented CX tech can bring immense benefits to the customer experience. But data indicates customers still want human interactions too. In fact, Salesforce’s State of Customer Service Report reveals human beings trump tech channels. The study also confirms customers are not only seeking a human connection, but an Australian one as well.

Takeaway

The growing expectation of ubiquitous customer support means companies must learn how to offer customer services anytime, anywhere, and in a multitude of different ways. Cutting-edge CX tech can take a company a great way.

Yet, at the end of the customer service journey, there also needs to be an excellent customer service team, who are willing and able to take the customer from a journey to a success. 

The balance of a digital and human touch will be the competitive differentiator in the customer service space.

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Mark Fazio

Mark is the general manager at Mate. Prior, he has worked at Microsoft and 20th Century Fox.

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