When was the last time you had to make a call to a company’s customer service team? How did you get the number? From a website? Before making the call, did you Tweet at the company? Did you call on the same smartphone you just Tweeted on?
Were you smiling when you hung up?
Chances are you got the number from a website: 40 percent of visitors to self-service platforms such as a company’s support forum end up dialing the call center. But if you were born after 1986, more than 60 percent of your friends would rather use an app than have to call. And if you used Twitter, chances are twice as high that you would be complaining about a company versus praising it. Oh, and based on anecdotal evidence from conversations we’ve been having at Orange Silicon Valley about customer service over the past few months, that phone call most likely didn’t leave you with a smile on your face.
I’ve been looking at the call center and customer care industry for over 20 years, and it is stunning to see how the customer journey has branched out thanks to these four aspects, which we’ll dive deeper into later on:
- changes in customer behavior
- sharing of experiences on social media
- analytics including Big Data
- booming self-service options
From an IT spending perspective, Software as a Service-based platforms such as Zendesk and Get Satisfaction, Twitter, Facebook, and on-device solutions like Amazon’s Mayday have blown past the tens of billions of dollars spent on call centers since toll-free 800 phone number service was introduced by AT&T as a way to increase long-distance network usage.
Today, as Chief Information, Marketing, and Experience Officers collaborate on the great Digital Transformation of the enterprise, we find ourselves at the intersection of Customer Experience and Customer Care. No longer is it a beleaguered call center manager facing tens – in some cases hundreds of millions of calls a year – there are a lot more people who care about the customer’s happiness. Which is why we titled our upcoming study on the topic Who Cares?
I work for a twenty-first century communications provider, and the services our industry sells and supports in the past five years have become ferociously complex, to the point where even the CEOs of America’s biggest telecommunication firms and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are discussing the confusion out there. Since Apple introduced the app store, and a model that today delivers over 5 million ways to consume data over mobile networks (a.k.a apps), the shift for mobile in the US has been from voice to data as the driver of revenue and capital expenditures. Likewise, the cable industry has for the past several years been shedding video subscribers and expanding highly-profitable broadband service.
The devices running these data-burning apps is exploding as well, with tablets and cars now outpacing smartphones in AT&T’s Q3 2014 key metric of net customer adds. And, in terms of the customer experience and care connection, the much-loved embedded Mayday video agent feature on Kindle Fire tablets from Amazon is delivering a radical new vision for the contact center. Likewise, as the February 2013 brouhaha pitting the New York Times versus Elon Musk showcased, instrumented cars with on-board analytics are disrupting the middlemen of consumer reporters.
All of these factors are impacting massively on a community of practice that was trained to pick up a call in a queue on a multi-million dollar telephone switch, identify the caller, and work through a script that often involves not only fixing the problem but selling additional features.
Earlier, we identified four customer service trends. Here’s more details about how they impact not only who the enterprise should care about, but how they care as well.
millennials do customer service their way
The Digital Natives who came of age on the Web expect self-service online, and they are frustrated when they don’t get an answer immediately: 61 percent of all millennial customers agree that “I would rather use a mobile app of web browser on my smart phone than call a contact center for an answer.” But convenience quickly leads to multi-channel confusion (more on that later), as 40 percent of self-service users end up in a phone call. There, they encounter a very different world than what they see and hear on the Web or mobile browser, from tone-of-voice to even capturing the phone call and publishing it on social media, the research we’ve seen suggests there is a massive disconnect between what call center agent pools are trained to do and how Millenials expect to be treated. As we see below, the agent locked into a single screen is at a disadvantage to the customer, with Google, Twitter, and multiple other channels to compare and evaluate answers
multiple channels are expanding choices, and complexity
Based on Millenial behaviors, the call center has become the point of last resort, not the first choice – this is fundamental shift that managers in call centers may or may not fully appreciate. Because of this, consistency of information becomes aa key factor in satisfaction: 74 percent of customers expect the same answer online as in the contact center. This idea of consistency across the expanding spectrum of touch points also infects the call center’s handling of customer data: 42 percent of customers list having to repeat their information to an agent in a transfer is their number one source of frustrating experiences. The track record by the contact center here is not great: 51 percent of call centers do not ask customers about their channel preferences.
social media, the great equalizer
The classic one-on-one/one-and-done model of the call center, where an agent has a private conversation and succeeds when she resolves the customer problem inside one call is fragmenting, and social media is playing a huge part. For several years now, I have been telling executive audiences that they should assume any conversation in their contact centers should be considered public and publishable. We were forcibly reminded of how true this was this past July when AOL executive Ryan Block published a scathing recording of a disconnect request called into Comcast – which received almost 6 million plays. The blowback was immediate, with a corporate reshuffle, and an admission by Comcast’s CEO that “it may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we’re known for.” This kind of public feedback in real-time is why recent surveys show 83 percent of consumers posting on Twitter expecting a response the same day.
mobile + multichannel + social = big data feeding frenzy
There is a Perfect Storm engulfing the customer care function that looks like Big Data, but underneath is a convergence of multiple data streams, that reshape the experience from the initial touch point to the back-end customer data warehouse. Cookies on the web, Supercookies on mobile, AI and machine learning along with computational linguistics for automated agent conversations, and even robots answering questions – all of these are creating natural language interactions between live customers and algorithmic assets that bring us very close to the scary place that game designers know well as the Uncanny Valley.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, one that is getting bigger every month, witness almost a half-billion dollars raised by startups focused on Net promoter Scores (NPS) in Q4 2014 as noted by my colleague Tony Mignot. There is a lot more to talk about, including how Millennials provide customer care as well as consume it, the impact of third-party data in shaping customer experience and customer care assets, including data management platforms (DMPs) such as Oracle’s reformulation of Blue Kai.
We’ve been conducting interviews with providers, customers, and other parties, and have been looking at the growing corpus of surveys about customer service out there – our findings are being written up for publication in a report entitled Who Cares?. Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts, especially if you’re a practitioner or executive responsible for customer experience and/or care, because this is something that everybody cares about.