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Voice of the Customer

The advent of the digital world – and in particular social media – has redefined how organisations deliver customer service in recent years. We buy online so we expect service online when things go wrong to be simple and efficient. If we complain on Twitter or Facebook within minutes of a problem, or post a blog about it, we expect it to be solved equally quickly through that channel.

Businesses are pouring effort into their online sites, feeds and social media pages. They have people stationed by the computer whose job is to provide instant responses to any issue that arises. Magazines, websites and trade journals are filled with articles offering advice on how companies can do a better job and deliver a better service online.

It’s all good, but in the rush to embrace the digital marketplace, I wonder if businesses forget to invest in the people sitting behind the technology. After all, they still have the direct customer contact.

Sometimes we buy online and the only human contact is with a delivery driver or postman. But for other purchases, such as hiring a car or eating out, the online experience is only part of the journey. That’s when the face-to-face connection – the personal service, the human touch – comes into its own.

There are many layers. One is personal preferences – great service means the person behind the counter knows I want extra pickles on my cheeseburger or that I have my latte with a shot of caramel. We actually found this out recently with our own customers; we get much better scores for service when the branch keeps a record of the types of cars customers like to drive, as well as whether they’ve had difficulties with particular makes in the past.

Great service requires empathy and the ability to pre-empt issues. Imagine walking into a coffee shop juggling a mobile phone, pen and notebook, clearly wanting coffee but having a difficult day. If the barista on the other side of the counter grasps that you’ve got a lot on your plate and points to different options to help you make your choice without dropping the call – that’s great service.

Similarly, the best self-service systems are those were there is a sensitive, smiling and resilient human being to guide the customer through sticky moments. While in car rental, many drivers may be getting into a car they’ve not driven before and we know they might find it tricky to use. As customers may not know about new types of ignition and brake, a call or email (or a note in the car) can help solve problems before they arise.

Some purchases are complex and customers may not be expert in selecting the choices that will be right for them. Additionally, service doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. When we buy a can of Coke, we just want a swift, effortless transaction. But when we buy something more complex we might need to speak to someone who knows what the options are and which one would suit us best. The first type of purchase works great online, the second, not so much.

Technology has improved many aspects of how we get what we want, but it can’t replace the attention of a thoughtful human being who builds rapport and trust. With some purchases we might think we’re an expert even when we’re not, so when counter staff take the time to help and guide us through what we are buying, it can make everything that much smoother and stop us making mistakes we didn’t have to make. And that’s great service.

 

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