A New Way To Take Care Of Your Customers: Autonomous Customer Service
More and more, customers are taking control of their experience. Amazon.com is a perfect example of how a company has given complete control to its customers. They can research products, compare prices, learn from customer reviews and ratings, and more. That’s self-service at every step of the customer’s journey. Even when it comes to getting customer support, Amazon encourages a self-service solution before talking to one of its customer service agents. And regarding that customer support, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said, “The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.”
The legend is that Bezos claimed Amazon didn’t need a customer service/support department. It should be so good that the customer never needs to call. That worked well until the customer had a problem, even if it wasn’t usually Amazon’s fault. Once the merchandise left the warehouse it was out of their control. Maybe the item was damaged or lost in transit. Maybe it was accidentally dropped off at the wrong address. So, if there was a problem, even if it wasn’t the company’s fault, the customer still needed someone to call.
The idea behind customers picking up the phone to call a customer support department is becoming an antiquated way of thinking. Just as customers enjoy the Amazon experience, in which they have total control, they are starting to enjoy taking control of their customer service. That means they don’t always call the company. They take matters into their own hands and try and find answers to their questions and resolutions to their problems on their own.
I recently interviewed Jeff Nicholson, global head of CRM for Pegasystems, for an episode of Amazing Business Radio. He shared some stats and facts from the brand new Relevance Revolution Report that make the case for self-service customer support and why it needs to improve.
· 56% of consumers go to a company’s website before they call customer service. I have to wonder, “Why not more?” Read the next stat.
· 82% of consumers say they are willing to use self-service options, but 46% of them don’t expect good results. And there is the answer. Almost half don’t expect to have good results.
Based on these stats, it looks like some companies that offer their customers self-service options have a long way to go. It’s not that the technology isn’t there – it’s that the right technology isn’t there. Two things are driving dissatisfaction in the self-service solutions that don’t meet the customer’s expectations. One is that the customer has learned what great service looks like from rock-star companies that get it right. Two is that many companies haven’t implemented or properly thought through their service offerings.
Nicholson believes customers now expect a higher level of self-service, whether they know it or not, and he refers to this as autonomous service.
You are most likely familiar with autonomous self-driving vehicles. Artificial intelligence (AI) is what drives (no pun intended) a self-driving car or truck. The same is happening in the customer service industry. AI and automation are becoming more and more important in the customer’s journey to get questions answered and problems resolved. Many customers now prefer these self-service options over contacting a live agent. They only go the human-to-human route if self-service options fail. And that is okay, provided the route to the human agent is easy and seamless and the customer continues the journey rather than having to start over once they reach an agent.
The game changer is that Autonomous Service is connected inherently to each customers’ journey at the center. By organizing around the customer journey, rather than generic one-size-fits-all information, or around channels, customers have the opportunity to be treated to the same level of service they may get by speaking with an agent. It starts with advanced knowledge bases and video tutorials. It moves to sophisticated IVR (interactive voice response) systems and AI-fueled intelligent virtual assistants (IVA’s). The system recognizes individual customers, can understand what they are asking, and can even anticipate their individual needs. In some cases, it can proactively or even preemptively support the customer, resolving a problem before the customer even knows there was a problem. Autonomous service is a simple, convenient way for the customer to receive their customer support.
This will only be accepted by customers if, simply put, it works. For customers to embrace the concept of autonomous service, or any digital self-service solution, the 46% of customers who don’t expect to have a good experience has to get much lower, ideally to zero percent. That only happens when the customer’s experience is on-point, predictable and consistent.
I asked Nicholson if autonomous service would eventually eliminate the live agent. His answer was reassuring to those in the customer support world. “In five years, there will still be a need for human customer service agents, but the nature of their work will be more meaningful as mundane inquiries and inquiries that may require lower levels of human empathy will be handled through autonomous capabilities.”