What Does Digital Customer Service Mean to You? These days we live in an ‘always on’ society and business is being carried out all the time, day and night, every day of the week and in every time zone of the world. So providing a customer service whenever and wherever the customer wants it is more important than ever.

But it’s not just being driven by customer demand. In many ways, “digital” is being viewed as a panacea to offset the increasing costs of servicing growing volumes of customers. Chief Experience Officers are firing on all cylinders to try and drive their customers to digital channels, where the cost of serving them is less expensive, more scalable, and more strategic compared to the traditional channels of engagement like phone, email and branch locations.

Towards this end, companies are pushing hard to get consumers to resolve customer service issues through their digital assets such as their website, mobile apps, SMS and now messaging platforms, as we’ve seen with the latest developments with chat bots.

Make Customer Service a One-Stop Shop

Recently, Mary Meeker, a former Morgan Stanley internet analyst and now partner at venture-capital fund Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers released her much anticipated 21st annual report on the biggest trends in technology and the Internet.

A couple of things stood out to me in terms of what businesses should consider when looking to “go digital:”

  • Millennials don’t want to talk on the phone – While this is not a new insight, what we have always suspected is now confirmed by this report. Millennials represent 27% of the population, and their spending power will rise significantly over the next 10 years. Customer service organisations and marketers are scrambling to figure out how to serve this population. As businesses think about their current and future mix of customers, this is a reality they’ll need to not only accept, but openly embrace.
  • Messaging is evolving from simple conversations to rich interactions –Messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp are a great way for businesses and consumers to interact because they have an easy interface, along with a wide and hugely engaged user base. If you think about it, traditional social engagement hasn’t provided a complete view of a customer’s journey or history.

For example, a consumer might complain about a business on Facebook or Twitter, only to be directed to a 0800 Free-phone-number and moved onto a different channel. Messaging apps keep the conversation in one place, and messaging platforms allow agents to share visual elements like forms or images of products, which actually enable consumers to get things done in one single place.

The Meeker report points to a number of exciting evolutions – from voice as the next major interface, to the rise of conversational commerce in messaging apps. This is a future to get excited about – one in which connecting with a business can feel as easy and intuitive as connecting with a friend.

But “going digital” has little to do with the proliferation of apps, devices or channels. It has everything to do with building well-connected, intelligent and intuitive experiences in or across all channels. The fewer channels the consumer has to interact with, the better, and the magic comes from stage managing the experience at each touchpoint.

One Size DOESN’T Fit All

Some businesses are continually surprised when their customer satisfaction surveys come back with negative or mixed results. They don’t understand why all the improvements they’ve made to their websites aren’t resulting in greater customer satisfaction scores. It’s not that they’re asking the wrong questions, but rather that they may be trying to force-fit consumer interactions into the wrong channel.

Customer wants and needs are broad, and the pathways they take to resolve an issue or accomplish a task will be highly varied from person to person. A recent global study of 3,500 consumers concluded that:

  • 84% of consumers are very connected, owning both smartphones and tablets
  • 64% of consumers start customer service journeys on the website vs. 23% who start on the phone
  • 32% who start a customer service journey in a digital channel will then pick up the phone and call when they can’t get their issue resolved on that digital channel in the first place

Taking a “one size fits all” approach to customer engagement is a mistake, and businesses would be wise to invest some time in better understanding the variances in consumer preferences.

Avoid “Uncomfortable Silences” – Keep Customers Engaged and Empowered

You might offer customer service on five different social media channels, boast low waiting times on the phone and have a clear, easy-to-spot ‘contact us’ page with no shortage of ways for customers to contact you. But the foundation of successful digital transformation is all about truly understanding a customer’s intent. It’s not about more ways to contact – in fact, it can be about fewer ways, but making them better.

Consumers want to accomplish tasks – book a flight, return an item or pay a bill – not embark on a lengthy journey of exploration around your customer service system. As economist Theodore Levitt once said: ‘People don’t want to buy a ¼” drill; they just want a ¼” hole!’.

Better yet, you can personalise the response to that consumer which can lead to an order of magnitude improvement in customer satisfaction, brand loyalty and potential revenue streams.

Businesses are always looking for the fastest path to their digital future, and it’s true there are a few ways they can get there more quickly. As a result of handling billions of digital interactions across virtual agents, messaging, chat, intelligent IVR and mobile experiences, I’ve gained tremendous insights into customer journeys and what works best when companies want to “go digital.” I’ve assembled a short checklist for companies who want to get there quickly.

Five Steps to Going “Digital”

  1. Tag, you’re it. Establish your digital roots and put the sensors in place. Because most journeys start online (the web, mobile web or mobile app), tagging these digital properties helps to provide insight from the very start of the customer’s journey. This is a critical step in understanding what the customer wants or needs to do (aka their intent).
  2. Data builds on data. Data is a great competitive advantage for enterprises, but frankly, not enough companies take data from one channel to build and optimise another. Prudent companies will use data strategically to optimise their touchpoints across the board. For example, virtual agent and chat transcripts can be used to train natural language models for IVR, and this same natural language layer can be used across all channels. This leads to quicker evolution cycles for conversational engagement and greater consistency in customer engagement. We recently helped a major credit card issuer create a conversational speech and text strategy straddled by a single natural language layer that spans three channels.
  3. Orchestrate the Journey. Because customers move from one channel to another, it’s important for enterprises to synchronise those channels. This means managing the experience in real-time so that customers can transition effectively without asking them to start all over again. They should be able to continue the journey, on that device, and in that channel so they can get things done faster.
  4. Connect the dots. By identifying the true nature of the customer’s query, the journey can be shaped in real-time to get that customer to resolution quickly.
  5. Be Lego®-minded. Future-proofing any investments in technology these days means investing in a platform that supports platform reusability and modular enhancements through a galaxy of APIs to bring together new channels, conversational and cognitive capabilities (like natural language, AI and prediction), and user-centred design. There is a lot of science behind design, and a lot of elements can be repurposed for an intuitive, predictable customer experience.
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