Laura OlcelliLaura OlcelliFebruary 28, 2019


“Time heals all wounds,” they say… except for consumers. For them, it seems time actually exacerbates all wounds.

We 21st century customers have become used to having virtually all we want – from online shopping to real-time support – in the blink of an eye and the click of a mouse. Waiting (impatiently), on the other hand, causes us all sorts of brand allergies and long-term intolerance.

This might have to do with consumers’ changing perceptions of time when it comes to customer service and Customer Experience.

Time through time

Time is a slippery concept to grasp and define.

Without looking at the multi-dimensional and distorted scientific context of space-time, and leaving aside the concept of time as ‘the suitable moment/season’, I’ll only focus on present time. That’s right: present (or mostly programmed), because past or future time is just a time to remember or imagine.

We often think of time as seconds, minutes, hours, and days, but these are the units of measure of time, and not time itself.

By definition, time is “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events” (OED), or the interval between beginning and end, and vice versa.

In today’s commercial world, time might be best defined as the passing of each instant between when consumers want something and when they’re going to get it. Between wish and relish – or anger and alleviation. And this time seems to be ticking on a clock of its own.

Tech revolution & CX

The technological revolution has certainly contributed to create a widespread sense of urgency, as Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina argues, but what impact did it specifically have on customer expectations?

Recent research from Salesforce shows that, on average, 64 percent of consumers (out of a sample of 6,700 people worldwide) expect immediate replies from the companies they do business with. This percentage rises to 66 percent when it comes to millennial customers. What’s more, as many as 80 percent of customers agree that real-time responses positively influence brand loyalty.

This might explain why live support is no longer just optional, but an essential component of companies’ customer service tools. Because compared to the average response times of emails or social media (12-10 hours), web chat customers can have their questions answered in a matter of minutes.

At the same time, as Dan Gingiss suggests, social media has “changed the game” in customer service, giving customers more control, and forcing companies – now more than ever in the limelight – to pay more attention.

Clearly customers are gaining the upper hand in this digital reality we live in, and with their higher expectations, average response times are shrinking.

Does this mean that quantity (quick reaction) is set to triumph over quality (outstanding customer service)? Or are they both necessary to blow customers away? Of course they are, it’s 2019! So how can businesses reply to customers in a tick and nurture the company–customer relationship in 280 characters, or just a few lines?


It’s not surprising that responsiveness is increasingly emerging as the key to excellent customer service. Already, for over two decades, it’s been one of the five dimensions known as SERVQUAL, which customers use to evaluate the quality of the service they receive. The immediacy of a real-time response gives customers the reassurance they’re being listened to. It’s also a promising sign of a speedy resolution.

But along with responsiveness come other priorities, which can be easily remembered as the ABC of digital customer communication.

A – Attitude:

Virtually all companies nowadays want to be caring, empathetic, friendly and the like – or at least this is what most brand guidelines preach. So why shouldn’t customers expect just that?

There’s a plethora of strategies that front-line staff can use to come across as expected: from embracing an emotive language, to preferring warm over cold words, to controlling their tone through active verb voice. Any comeback – even the fastest one – that reveals indifference would only remind customers that their money can be better spent elsewhere.

B – Brand vs platform balance

Social media and web chat communication present a unique challenge: they require fine tuning the brand tone of voice to the platform where it’s being applied. It would be oxymoronic to sound too formal or artificial. Like travelling to Italy and not eating pizza – it’s just wrong!

On the contrary, vibrant yet professional language, a concise style, and a just touch of emojis whenever appropriate are all good rules of thumb.

C – Correct English, grammar & punctuation

It must not be easy for web chat and social media customer service advisors to be constantly fighting against time, or to be feeling the trepidation of being exposed to a global stage. Yet their writing must be 100 percent error free. There are no excuses.

Perhaps my latest web chat experience would have had a happier ending if Gyles Brandreth’s Have you Eaten Grandma? were part of companies’ compulsive readings. ‘Should of’ would have been written correctly, and ‘story’ might not have been confused with ‘storey’. Instead, was the online support faster and easier than speaking over the phone? Yes.

Did it leave a mark? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons.

As a millennial, someone might say I know very well what it means to want it all and want it now. At the same time though, I recognise that ‘fast and furious’ is not always where it’s all at in customer service. Give me a piece of communication that’s so good I wish I had written it – showing you care and using impeccable English – and you’ll make my day. As for you, you’ll make a customer.

Laura OlcelliLaura OlcelliApril 13, 2018


Reading the latest technology news or skimming through this year’s topics for customer service conferences, it’s not difficult to picture a not-so-distant future where customer service jobs will be taken over by robots.

According to research, six percent of all US jobs will be eliminated as a consequence of automation in only four year’s time. While in the UK, 35% of current jobs will likely be computerized by 2030.

As exciting or alarming as it might seem, automation is nothing we haven’t witnessed before, in some form or other. Over the past few decades, factory workers have been replaced by machines, and front-line staff across a number of industries – from hospitality to retail and travel – by self-service kiosks.

More recently, the first hotel staffed by robots opened in Japan in 2015. Two years afterwards, Robocop joined the Dubai Police. Since the beginning of 2018, NatWest hired – on probation – life-like virtual teller Cora to answer up to 200 basic questions, while Amazon went a step further, launching its first supermarket without humans, self-service, or checkouts in Seattle.

What’s more, hybrid video kiosks have begun combining humans and machines, offering the convenience of self-service with the expertise of a human ‘on demand’.

“Hello, my name is I, Robot. How can I help?”

The advent of automation is – as CXM readers will be acutely aware – predicted to have major repercussions on the customer service sector.

This prospect seems to be largely embraced with optimism, on multiple fronts. In today’s demanding and competitive world, cutting costs and minimising mistakes are imperatives for all companies. While in customers’ utopia, service needs to be increasingly fast, efficient, personal, and unbiased.

But because of the gradual technological developments the customer service industry has already witnessed, this time there seems to be a greater sense of anticipation for what lies ahead.

Call centres have largely been replaced by omnichannel contact centres, which now feature IVR, live chats, and social customer service. In the near future, technology is expected to have an even greater impact, especially at the expenses of human capital.

After all, who needs a human when we can have a robot, just like in our favourite sci-fi movies?

This time though, reality is overcoming fiction, and to find out what the current attitude about the future’s impending changes in the customer service industry are, we decided to do some research.

The study

Over the course of three months, over 200 people between 16 and 87 years old, of all genders and backgrounds, and coming from both the private and public sectors, have replied to a few easy questions.

The aim of the research was, on the one hand, to find out if people are happy talking to a robot or if they’d rather talk to a person, and on the other, to establish if humans or machines are more trustworthy.

In standard customer service scenarios (such as general enquiries), 81.3 percent of participants said they prefer to interact with humans rather than robots. The percentage increased to 86.1 percent for complex situations, such as complaints.

Similarly, the great majority of people (82.4 percent) said they trust humans more than machines. This is possibly due to the fact that machines are programmed by humans, and as such it’d be contradictory to trust a machine, but not the person behind it.

In contrast with the increasing weaving of tech and AI in the customer service sector, it appears that people still prefer to deal with people, and also trust them significantly more than robots.

Are we being nostalgic already? Or perhaps a little sceptical?

AI is happening, whether we’re ready for it or not. But while machines have already taken over several customer service functions previously controlled by humans, and robots will carry out increasingly more basic customer service tasks, I believe humans will continue to be indispensable for escalated complaints, complex questions, or sensitive issues.

Bots might be cheaper and faster, but they can’t yet display the same level of reliability, trust, empathy, and creativity that characterises humans – especially well-trained, engaged, and committed front-line staff. Nor can we yet foresee a future when they will embody all these quintessentially human hallmarks.

Until then, it seems we’re set to live a customer service paradox: human preference versus machine predominance.

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