- Returning Purchased Items for a Refund/Credit
Prior to 1995, in-person visits to a vendor, a telephone call, or snail mail were about the only options for returning an item for a refund or credit. If purchased from a catalog, the customer paid the shipping cost and the return cost, as well. The original receipt was required for a refund. Further complicating the return of an item was that long-distance phone calls were very expensive. Invariably, the customer would be on hold—for who knows how long—while the customer’s phone charges skyrocketed.
Today, most companies have generous return policies. The vendor maintains the customer’s buying record and can easily verify the purchase. A customer service representative can be easily reached via telephone, email, or online on the company’s website. A customer can even print a return label and drop off the package at a UPS store. And best of all, the company pays the return postage. An email will be sent to the customer when the returned merchandise arrives at the warehouse, along with a notice that a refund will post to the customer’s credit card within a few days. Alternatively, many online purchases can be returned at a physical store if one exists in your area.
- Order Tracking and Delivery Tracking
Two or three decades ago, a catalog order from companies such as Sears or Spiegel offered sketchy information about when a customer would receive items ordered by telephone. A best guess for a delivery date was all a customer could be offered.
Today, package carriers notify a customer by email when a customer’s order is shipped. A customer is provided with a tracking number so he/she can view the route of the package online—every step of the way. The customer knows the exact delivery date so he/she can plan to be at home for the delivery moment.
- Access to Live Customer Service Agents During Business Hours vs. 24/7 Availability
Pre-1995, a consumer had a small window of opportunity to get their questions answered due to the fact that majority of businesses provided live service agents via the telephone only during business hours. You would have to make time in your busy schedule in order to make this possible.
Today is another story. Now customers have much more information available to them whenever they need it. Gaining the ability to locate the answer to your question through a customer portal a company FAQ page, or community forums has made it much more convenient. Live agents are also available round the clock via live chat, live telephone help, and Facebook and other forms of social media.
- Customer History and Records
Maintaining a reliable customer database with purchase history, etc., has always been a challenge for businesses. Prior to the early 1990s, customer histories were minimal at best. Data wasn’t stored in the cloud easily accessible to any customer service representative, it was located on a clunky system, pen and paper rolodex, that was inconvenient for accurate documentation.
With modern software applications, customer profiles and histories are easily maintained, and every transaction and communication is recorded. Software applications for Customer Relationship Management are plentiful, now allowing the client to make updates to certain information alongside the company. All while utilizing the Cloud for storage so information can be accessed anytime, anywhere, from any device.
- Obtaining Detailed Product Information
Other than a personal visit to a store or by calling on the telephone, it was difficult two decades ago to gather detailed information about products of interest. There may be no “expert” available to answer the customer’s questions. Now, a customer can find complete details online of any product desired. This ability has increased the quality of customer service we have come to expect, no longer okay with rudimentary help, but valuable quick assistance to get us back on to the next task of the day.
- Accessible Account Information
With the advancement of technology, a customer can obtain all details of their accounts either online or via an automated telephone system. Gone are the days of waiting for a phone operator to get account information. A simple login will give you access to payment options, contact information, notifications, etc. from a laptop or even your phone. Constant connection allows you to take the waiting out of this process.
An owner’s manual nearly always accompanies a purchase, but what does a customer do if “it doesn’t work” as expected? It used to be that customers had limited resources for troubleshooting other than calling on the phone during normal business hours. With the Internet, however, a customer has access to an extensive database on the product and possible malfunctions at any time without waiting and without interfacing with a customer service agent anytime, anywhere, by phone or live chat—all on a 24/7 basis. Customers can also check FAQs for possible solutions.
- Better Inventory Control
In years gone by, maintaining a supply of products for customers was difficult at best. Too frequently, the products customers wanted were out of stock or backordered for weeks at a time. In recent years, inventory control has been streamlined and simplified through the use of technology. Store clerks use hand-held or mounted scanners for a customer’s purchases. Elaborate records are kept of every product purchased, and automatic reorders of sold products are initiated. If one store is out of a product, computerized inventory records can be checked to see if the product is available at another store nearby. These advancements have allowed access to real time information for customers and service agents directly to their fingertips.
- Product Reviews
Twenty years ago, reliable product reviews (testimonials) were essentially nonexistent. Consumers relied on the word of sales personnel or friends to validate the quality of products. Today, there are readily available depositories of reviews for every product or service imaginable. Savvy customers always “check the reviews” before making a purchasing decision. Reviews can be found online on websites and via social media.
- Availability of Self-service Options
Prior to the early 1990s, customers relied on customer service agents to assist them with their inquiries. Modern consumers, however, want customer service on their own terms. They feel entirely capable of doing their own research to determine a course of action. This situation has given rise to many types of self-service customer service such as self-service portals and customer portals, and self-service communities. Management determines the information made available for customers’ perusal and can add or delete relevant information as deemed appropriate.
As reported by Internet Live Stats, 40% of the world population currently has an Internet connection, in 1995, it was less than 1%. As of 2014, there are over 3 billion Internet users. The level of reach for businesses here is phenomenal and not minimizing anytime soon. With this, customer service will have to become even more in sync with the needs and demands of the consumers.
Commitment to meeting the needs of customers is convincingly evidenced by the dramatic strides in technology over the past two decades. Computers, phones, and software advancement have all played major roles to shape the current form of service that is now available.
This being said, companies now utilize Twitter and Facebook to get speedy and direct messages to followers. The Pew Research Center reports that 74% of all Internet users use social media networking sites. Connecting with consumers in this manner has opened the gates to more personal interactions while still updating new product offerings, answering concerns, and much more.
2015 State of Service reports, companies with high-performing service teams will continue to keep up with customers’ changing expectations.