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 human interaction. For many businesses, the pandemic highlighted the need for innovation, but while transformation can drive post-crisis recovery, it is vital not to lose sight 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 tool 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, automated switchboards and apps, 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 depending on personal preference, the nature of the enquiry, time of day and the speed of response required. For example, a customer wishing to reschedule an appointment may be happy to engage with an automated system or chatbot; but someone with a medical or legal concern will expect to engage with a human who is able to provide informed advice and support real-time.
What does the customer want?
A key element of digital transformation, in other words, is understanding what customers want – and that different customers may want different things at different times. A recent Zendesk survey reported that more than 60% of customers sometimes, often or always use more than one channel to contact customer service. It is therefore crucial to offer flexibility across 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: according to Zendesk 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 web site when looking for support.
Talking to customers about their preferences – and these might vary according to circumstance – 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
Equally, the employees actually delivering customer service have to be part of the conversation too. For one thing, 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 today, but also on the knock-on effects as new tools are introduced. How does moving a button on the page impact your sales team filling out details? Does the introduction of automation in one department create issues for your customer service team? When these loops are responsive and inclusive, staff will welcome new technologies because they’ll make their lives easier.
These loops can be informal as well as formal. Moneypenny, for example, has a “technology garden” in its office. This is a casual area where staff can look at new tools and technologies ahead of their roll-out – and provide active feedback on what might work (and what might not).
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, to allocate work 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, or even to organise a game of bingo.
Again, it is employees’ use of these platforms that drives the biggest gains, not the technology itself. Indeed, the full potential of many new technologies will only be realised as staff use and improve them. Technology is improving at pace, but it isn’t until the tools are used at scale that you truly understand the strengths and weaknesses. 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. Your team will spend their days hearing from customers about whether new functionality is working well – and what might make for a better experience. Listening and acting on that 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. Still, 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.
Indeed, getting on the front foot is crucial, not least because customers’ expectations are changing. In Zendesk’s research, 80% of baby boomers surveyed said they preferred to solve problems with the companies they deal with by phone, but that figure fell to 56% amongst Generation X customers who preferred to engage via search engines and FAQ sections. 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.