The Balancing Act of Today’s Customer Service
February 25, 2020
Recently, I watched an elderly woman go up to the snack bar of a warehouse club to place an order. In an “Ok, Boomer” tone, the clerk directed her to the self-service kiosk because the counter was just for pick up. Frustrated, the customer went looking for a manager instead. As I was leaving the store, she was still bending the manager’s ear about her bad experience.
You’ve probably felt her pain, either in a customer-friendless retail environment or the last time you had to navigate the maze of an automated customer service call, answering question after question to a computer voice before finally getting a live person. (And that person probably asked you the same questions all over again!)
In a rush to enhance the 21st-century customer experience with technology, companies are leaving out a key piece – actual people delivering customer service. Whether it’s the kiosk, the Artificial-Intelligence-generated phone response, or ordering apps, companies are funneling their customers towards technology and away from human interaction.
This makes perfect bottom-line sense. But does it make perfect business sense? Sure, it’s more efficient and reduces labor costs. And some customers may prefer the automated approach. But can anything ever replace the true customer service experience, the one in which real people trained in the art of making the customer feel appreciated actually interact with that customer?
I would argue that this experience is irreplaceable even as it’s becoming rare everywhere – at the bank, airport, restaurant, supermarket, you name it. So much so that the niceties we used to take for granted, and which were a prerequisite for employment – eye contact, a smile and a “How may I help?”- constitute the pinnacle of customer service today.
There are many companies still keeping people and customer service in the forefront. “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” is the Ritz Carlton motto. Saying “Thank you” at a Chick-fil-A gets you a smile and a “My pleasure” in return. Drop your pizza as you leave Domino’s, and they’ll say “sorry” and quickly make you another pie. It’s no surprise these are the same businesses that regularly top the national consumer surveys. It’s also worth noting that these companies tailor their approach to their customers’ specific needs and circumstances.
These companies are not turning away from technology. They rely on apps and automation to take reservations, payment and orders. Rather, they’ve found the right balance between technology providing efficiency and humans providing service.
That’s the winning combination. But there’s no one-size-fits-all key. Striking the balance is the job of company leaders, who need to find equilibrium between technology and the type of personal interaction they have determined is most important to the people they value.
How much of your customer experience needs to be technology-driven? How much still needs that human touch? I believe these are among the biggest questions facing brands today – and that the only way to find the answers is to ask customers directly. You can count on them to answer – especially if you ask in person, and not via robocall.