Only 30 years ago, it simply wasn’t possible to automate many of the customer service functions that are automated today.
But with the rise of automation (and AI just around the bend), many companies have gotten far, far away from the customer-focused mentality beloved by the Baby Boomers.
Now, to be fair, older folks have always complained about the sad state of things now that the dang kids are takin’ over, and to be fair, providing excellent customer service with a gentle human touch is expensive… and, well, to be fair, there are a ton of really awesome automation solutions out there right now… and, you know, we shouldn’t be so hard on businesses that just want to save a little money in these trying economic times, right?
The truth is, most customers are on the Baby Boomer’s side on this one (sorry big businesses).
In fact, the vast majority of modern customers prefer a live representative when they contact a business.
And that includes those pesky Millennials.
That being said, we’re still seeing lots of customers who expect a response on social media, but even in this case, we still need a human being behind the scenes to make sure that response on social media is accurate, fast, and helpful (chatbots simply can’t do that).
But is the lack of humanity in modern customer service really a problem? Just because people want a human to respond to them when they contact a business doesn’t mean businesses have to prioritize this. After all, customers don’t always know what they want, and listening to someone who has no clue what’s good for them might not always be in a business’ best interest.
Well let me just tell you, yes, the lack of humanity is a problem — a very expensive problem.
Bad Customer Service Loses Businesses Billions
It’s one thing to think, vaguely, “When I get bad customer service, I’m less likely to work with that business!” But there are plenty of situations where this might not apply. Take utilities in the United States, especially internet. In my neck of the woods (that’d be Texas), a lotta’ folks (myself among them) live in apartments.
And all over the northern section of this great state, most apartments provide precisely one internet option. It doesn’t matter that people in houses might have two or three or four choices— for us poor plebs, if we don’t like Spectrum, tough shizzle, ’cause that’s the only option you get.
Their customer service, at least for the hundreds of us in this apartment complex, can be as wonderful or as horrible as they please, and it won’t mean a dang thing, because we’re living in a tiny monopoly.
However, generally speaking, these cases are rare, and, generally speaking, B2C businesses have plenty of competition…
And plenty to lose if they can’t provide excellent customer service.
In 2016, businesses were losing $62 billion per year thanks to poor customer service.
Further, we know that customer service can justify higher pricing, increase customer loyalty, and decrease the likelihood of a customer running to a competitor.
So yeah, you need to be providing truly excellent customer service if you want your business to thrive — and for most folks in the modern era, this means ditching the automated systems and putting people in charge.
Here’s what happens when you don’t do that.
I Got a Little Story For Ya
Not so long ago, I woke up on a bright, sunny Sunday morning ready to meet the day. My direct deposit had gone through the night before, and rent was due, so I hopped on my computer to pay the piper and then go out into the wide world.
I checked my bank account before doing so, and I found that I’d been robbed! My money was gone, taken during a series of middle-of-the-night ATM transactions.
I was in a real pickle, mostly because the bank is closed on Sundays… but this is the modern era! Surely I can simply use the automated phone system to shut down my cards and ensure no more funds are stolen, right?
One would think…
Turns out the automated phone system was about as useful as an icepick in Hawaii. I cannot tell you how many times I ran through that system, found the appropriate option to cancel my cards (which, let me just tell you, was buried so deep in their phone system it was a miracle I ever found it in the first place), and attempted to do so.
I tried it over and over, but it simply would not shut my card down.
Meanwhile, I’m freaking out because I think these guys are going to rob me right into the negative and cause all kinds of havoc in the process.
I get the genius idea to contact the bank via social media, and someone responded! They got me in contact with someone who was able to simply shut down my, but that was only after a harrowing 120 minutes of anxiety and agony.
Their customer service eventually came through, but it was a far cry from being excellent — and it led me to seriously consider a new bank.
Worse, it cost them a bundle.
A Human Being Could Have Kept Me Around Much More Easily — And Saved the Bank a Bunch of Cash
When you rely on automation and businesses begin to rely on that as well, customers are only going to find it pleasant if these technologies can literally imitate a human being…
And we are a long way off from that folks.
Most automated phone systems are garbage, and even the best ones are a gamble.
How many customers are you losing simply because they got frustrated with the phone system? Because they got tired of being asked if they wanted to press 2 for a different language? Because the phone system dropped them or they got sent to the wrong department?
Is it really worth the savings? Is the reputation of your brand so cheap that you’re willing to sacrifice it on the altar of slightly-lower-overhead?
I hope not.
In the example above, the automated system kept me from bothering the human beings at the bank, ultimately to their detriment — they ate the cost of that stolen money, and by the time I got them on the phone, all I cared about was shutting down the card, and all they got was someone not in the mood to file a police report.
By the time I had calmed down and the bank was able to meet with me (several days later), it no longer mattered if I filed a police report or not — I was done with the bank because of how they handled things (and their garbage automated system), and the perps had hightailed it outta there.
Everyone lost (except the thieves) because this bank was more interested in saving a little money than in providing even a basic level of customer service on the weekend. If I had gotten a human on the phone from the start, this might have been a very different story.
Excellent Customer Service Is Good for Your Brand and Good for Your Business
It’s also good for retention.
The truth is, customers today want a human being to help them along their journey — period. They’re willing to pay more, which means you can charge more! It also means they’re more likely to stick around.
This is a win for everyone.
It increases the value of what your customers get, it increases their estimation of the value of your brand, and, generally speaking, it leads to better interactions down the line — one negative interaction can color your customers’ perception of you for the rest of their lives…
Which means they walk away.
Retention depends, always and primarily, on excellent customer service.
You can take that one to the bank (just not to mine).
Oh, and make sure you’re sincere about your customer service efforts — nothing’s worse than a company that’s faux-customer centric.