The Future of Customer Service: Autonomous Self-Healing Robotic Avatars in the Cloud – Part 1

The Times They Are a-Changin” and so is Customer Service.  Wonder what’s in store for the future?  We asked John Burton, Director of Product Management for SAP CRM, to provide his thoughts in this 4-part series.  First up, the impact of technology on service.

/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/5126030385_e67759eb7f_n_420226.jpgTechnology doesn’t make you feel special

Unlike some industry analysts, I don’t think the future customer service involves autonomous robots answering phones in call centers in outer space, or genetically engineered clones that don’t sleep or eat (and don’t spend half their day checking Facebook or playing Candy Crush). No, the future of customer service will be less about robots, clones and drones and more about old-fashioned eye-contact, warm smiles, and firm handshakes.

Sure, trends like Cloud/SaaS, mobile, social media, big data, and real-time predictive analytics have driven – and will continue to drive – IT investments in 2014 and beyond. But providing good customer service involves more than just adopting the latest technologies and trends. Great customer service is about making customers feel special and, when necessary, promptly resolving their issues with a warm smile and a sincere apology.

Technology is important, but technology doesn’t matter. Customers don’t particularly care whether a company’s call center is deployed in a cloud, on the moon or in someone’s basement.  However, customers do care whether companies are able to resolve issues on the first call, in a professional and friendly manner. When something goes wrong with a product or service, customers expect answers. And ideally, customers want those answers to be quick, correct and hassle-free.

Today’s customers are savvy and self-reliant. Many customers will first attempt to resolve issues on their own – whether via an Internet search, a social media forum, or the company’s self-service page.  Yet, when a customer isn’t able to resolve an issue and reaches out to the company, the customer expects more than just a lame IVR recording that directs them back to the company’s web site; or even worse, a second-rate first-tier agent who is sufficiently friendly and polite, but who is only able to offer the most basic suggestions that could easily be found by any ten year old with an iPad.

“Have you tried pressing the reset button,” is likely to be answered with, “Yes of course I’ve tried pressing the !@#$ reset button… fifteen times”. Customers expect more and they deserve better.

Customers expect contact center agents to be knowledgeable, helpful, and empowered to resolve complex issues. Today’s customers have no tolerance for service reps that don’t have insight into the customer’s products, history and preferences, or who ask the customer to repeat information that is – or should already be – in the CRM system. Similarly, customers expect a company’s mobile app or web site to provide personalized context-relevant solutions and recommendations, and not just a generic list of “top 10 frequently asked questions”.

While keeping up to date with technology is certainly necessary, it isn’t enough. Deploying technology is just table stakes. Leveraging that technology to allow the customer-service department to anticipate and serve customer needs is going all in. Simply stated, the future of customer service will rely more on common sense, empathy, and human decision making and less on algorithms and machine-to-machine messaging protocols.

CC Image courtesy of Ben Husman on Flickr

Stay tuned for Part 2 on the impact of Social Media…

John Burton grew up on his grandmother’s farm in rural Northern Michigan. When he wasn’t milking goats he was writing computer programs on his school’s lone Radio Shack Tandy 1000 computer. John has spent the last fifteen years at SAP, where he helps design products for CRM, Customer Service, and Social Media. Prior to joining SAP, John taught business computer courses at Central Michigan University. John is also the author of the SAP Press book, “Maximizing Your SAP CRM Interaction Center”.

Considering elevating your customer service to a social-level? Learn more about potential use cases in HypatiaResearch’s report on Customer Centricity. Read more here.

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