Customer Service in the Digital Age – How Much has Really Changed?

There has been a shift in perception of customer service as businesses across virtually every industry have undergone digital transformation. Nearly all of it falls within one of two buckets: For some, the digital age is a godsend for customers and service providers because of the abundance of online tools available.

To them, it’s the dawning of a new age of virtual cuddling and coziness. Others, however, believe the digital age has ushered in an era of shoddy support because the same online tools make it easy for service providers to be lazy, to hide, be aloof or lack empathy.

While I find the second bucket more interesting, it isn’t necessarily more accurate. It’s easy to find breathless blog posts bemoaning the never-ending problems with the digital age. Ironically, many of these same posts work in the notion that “harnessing the power of social communication” will save the day and restore balance to the Force. Right.

Is there a really a problem with the digital age? Did its advent unravel the Golden Age of Great Support? The truth is, the principles of good customer service are not bound to a period of time. These ingredients of superior service have remained the same. Here are five that have withstood the test of time:

Adopt the right attitude. If you believe that customer service is a necessary evil, you’re doomed for mediocrity. That’s really good news for those who take the opposite approach – that customer service should be used for offense rather than defense. The benefits of this view are that you’ll differentiate yourself because a lot of companies surprisingly don’t make customer service a priority. Moreover, you’ll earn the coveted role of trusted advisor, thereby cementing the relationship and unlocking the lifetime value of the customer.

Share. Worry about preventing customer support tickets as much as you worry about handling them once they arrive. If you want to proactively engage customers, publish your information, make it easy to access and keep it fresh.

Set the right expectations. Setting expectations is more than telling the customer something in advance. There’s a place for finesse. For example, if you want customers to follow your process — let’s say you want all interactions with your support team to start with the customer submitting a ticket online — tell them why it’s good for them. Otherwise it feels like a rule that’s good for you and a nuisance for them.

Talk amongst yourselves. If you don’t have your act together inside, it will take all of five seconds to confuse your clients. Create healthy internal communication systems, then decide how, what and when you expose portions of those systems to your customers.

Speak up. Let customers know what’s happening. No news is bad news. Communicate, be transparent and be truthful.

These five timeless components have always been important in creating effective, reliable customer service teams. The impact of the digital age, then, comes into play in the method by which service is delivered.

The digital age has introduced new tools and methods for customer service delivery that can and will make it easier to abide by the five aforementioned principles. For example, knowledge bases, forums, and webcasts can be utilized to address popular topics to help support teams proactively share information with their customers. Here are a few pointers for putting them to use:

  • Utilize internal communication tools and CRM to keep your team organized and proactive, so customers the attention they expect.
  • Take advantage of tools like chat functionality, online support tickets and automatic status updates to create the type of relationship with your customers that they are getting elsewhere.
  • Improve your relationship with your customers by allowing them access to digital self-service opportunities, which they have come to know and expect in any kind of buying or shopping experience.

Superior customer service isn’t bound to a period of time, but the tools through which it’s delivered have evolved greatly. Keep these critical components at the center of your strategy and you’ll be in a good place for ensuring customers are informed, heard and impressed by your service whether it’s tomorrow or a decade from now.

 Jim Lahner is VP Customer Success at Four51

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