Everyone has a story about terrible customer service. And that story invariably starts with a phone call, involves redundant questions and a lot of waiting on hold, and ends in deep frustration. Yet it’s exactly this first point of contact, when a customer is reaching out to you, that you have the greatest opportunity to make a real connection, build loyalty, and even increase sales.
That’s why it’s so important to invest in your service agents and equip them with the tools they need to deliver outstanding customer service. We’ll take a closer look at how innovative companies are retooling the service function using both technology and training, but first it’s worth looking at why the service agent became such a scapegoat.
For starters, look at the realities of the job today — low pay, high turnover, inadequate training, few incentives to go the extra mile. But that still doesn’t explain how we ended up in a world where the first line of contact with customers was often staffed by poorly trained, unengaged employees in a windowless room, reading from a script.
To answer that question, you have to go back half a century to the origins of the call center. The invention of the toll-free, 800 number paved the way for companies to centralize customer service around a bank of employees who fielded calls from all over the country. Initially, the intention was to standardize service and ensure that customers could always receive personalized service from a live person. But the 800 number quickly became the go-to for customers when they had a problem — and agents were evaluated by how quickly they could resolve the issue and move on.
As the call center became viewed through this transactional lens, it came to be seen as a cost center — a necessary evil that was targeted for outsourcing, moved overseas, or cut to the bone, even if it meant leaving customers on hold for hours. Businesses have tried everything to automate or offload this function, from Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to AI. At the same time, the self-service model — directing customers to help themselves using online resources — was heralded as a panacea.
There’s some good news in this. Customers really do appreciate digital tools for solving problems on their own. But research reveals what is known as the digital paradox: Customers actually prefer self-service — but have a strong desire for human support when they encounter an issue. Consumers are seven times more likely to pick up the phone to talk to a real person than to deal with the problem online.1
The solution is a bimodal approach: Give your customers all the tools they need for self-service AND invest in your service agents, so, when needed, they can always provide the outstanding service customers demand.
Let’s start with the agents. As brick-and-mortar storefronts disappear, the customer service agent is increasingly the only point of contact where customers can expect the human touch. That puts service agents on the front lines in a critical role that demands more attention. Yet many companies still give the service function short shrift, even though the cost of recruiting, training, and nesting new agents dwarfs the amount smart companies invest in keeping agents engaged and enthusiastic.
It’s time we dispel the myth that customer service agents simply want more money. The truth is service agents want the tools to do their job right so they can feel more connected to the goals of the entire business.
Innovative leaders are already investing in the service function by giving their agents the tools they need to deliver smart, personal service. Salesforce for Service equips your agents with a complete view of your customers so agents can move beyond call scripts and engage in real conversations.
By connecting all your systems and customer data, every service agent can look at a single console and see a vast amount of data, including what the customer currently owns, the service history, and the opportunities for upgrades and cross-sells. Once you unleash your service agents’ potential to fuel sales and engender loyalty, the call center suddenly goes from cost center to profit center.
Service Cloud transforms the customer service function from the purely transactional to the role of sympathetic ear, advocate, and even upseller, with tools like:
Finally, with the right service platform, you can deliver the service experience your customers have been demanding. Customer expectations have been rising faster than companies can deliver. In fact, while approximately 80% of companies say they deliver a “superior” customer service experience, only 8% of customers think these companies actually provide it.2
The reason behind this disconnect is that companies have been slow to catch up with rapidly evolving consumer behavior. Today’s customer expects to communicate with companies the way they communicate with everyone else in their lives – by text, IM, Twitter, and Facebook. With the intelligent Service Cloud platform, you can speak with your customers in the way they (and probably your agents) feel most comfortable, switching easily from one from one medium to another in a seamless experience that’s all captured in the same screen.
Many routine tasks and requests can already be automated with technology – and machine learning promises to deliver a more and more sophisticated experience for your customers. But there is no replacement for the warm, friendly touch of an engaged, customer-first service agent who really knows your customer. Customer experience has overtaken price and product as the key brand differentiators, according to the Customers 2020 report, which means you can’t afford to ignore this key component of your service experience.
1 John A. Goodman, “Why Agent Engagement Matters Now More than Ever, Part 1: Examining the Myths and Costs of Agent Disengagement,” Customer Care Management and Consulting, September, 2016.
2 Shankman Honig Consultants.