Advancements in technology have been hugely beneficial to businesses and their customers. However, in a world where technological change is happening at great pace, it is critical that businesses do not overlook the importance of the human element, particularly when it comes to customer service.
Technology is a means to an end. It can help businesses better serve their customers, but the right tools must be deployed at the right time. For example, Moneypenny, the outsourced communications provider, has not only invested heavily in digital customer engagement tools such as web chat and automated switchboards, but also grown its talented pool of Personal Assistants so it can provide its customers, and their end users, with a premium, blended approach depending on their needs.
The communication channel which a customer wishes to engage on can vary greatly, for example – some customers may be happy to engage with an automated system or chatbot; but others will expect to engage with a human who is able to provide informed advice and support real-time.
A key element of digital transformation is understanding what customers want – and that this might differ. A recent Zendesk survey reported that more than 60% of customers use more than one channel to contact customer service. It is therefore crucial to offer flexibility across channels, offering both human and technology-based services.
A positive customer experience will build loyalty, but get it wrong and businesses could find themselves with real problems: 56% of people say automated phone systems that make it hard to reach a human are one of the most frustrating aspects of poor customer service; equally, 40% of customers are perfectly happy to start with self-serve solutions such as the company website when looking for support.
Talking to customers about their preferences is therefore crucial. There are plenty of different ways to do that, including customer surveys, but it makes sense to seek feedback and act on it, on an ongoing, iterative basis, rather than through single large-scale tech projects.
Employees have the answers
The employees actually delivering customer service have to be part of the conversation too. There may be anxiety about the roll-out of new technologies and what that might mean for their roles. Automation usually provides more opportunity for teams to deliver higher-value activity and more meaningful interactions, but they need to be taken on that journey. Moreover, it is frontline customer service staff who often have the best grasp of customers’ needs and wants.
Indeed, cross-department feedback loops are crucial. They provide intelligence on what problems need solving, but also on the knock-on effects as new tools are introduced. For example, how does moving a button on the page impact your sales’ team filling out details? When these loops are responsive and inclusive, staff will welcome new technologies because they’ll make their lives easier.
Looking inward matters too
Another piece in the jigsaw is to recognise that new technologies aren’t only valuable for improving frontline customer service; they can also transform collaboration and communication within the organisation. Platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Facebook Workplace make it easier for staff to speak to one another, to organise their time, and to keep track of what everyone is doing, but they can also support “softer” benefits, such as company culture. Facebook’s Workplace community feature, for example, enables staff to share personal news as well as to call out colleagues’ good work.
Indeed the full potential of technology may only be realised as staff use and improve it. For example, AI natural language processing has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade, so there’s a huge opportunity there, but voicemail transcription can still produce some unfortunate translations. It’s important not to be blindsided by the potential of new technology, but really understand and gather intelligence on the impact. Listening to staff feedback will deliver better transformation results in the long-term, with iterative improvements over time.
Leading from the top
Transformation, in that sense, is bottom up as well as top down. This is not to underplay the importance of having strong executive leadership, particularly from a CTO who has the commercial vision as well as the technical expertise to drive the right kind of strategic change.
That dual skillset will also help CTOs to get the rest of the leadership behind new technologies – to inspire C-suite colleagues on the basis of what the technology can do for the business, rather than its technical attributes. And as ownership and engagement spreads, there will be broader opportunities to see both the challenges and the opportunities of new technology initiatives.
By getting ahead of customers’ demands and ensuring your team are able to deliver it effectively and be part of the feedback loop, digital transformation will have a much better chance of actually transforming your business for the better.