Customer Service. Can Technology Fix It?

A lot has been written lately about how banks and credit unions need “digital transformation” to succeed.  Is that true?  Sure. If you don’t offer a great app or online banking services, you may as well turn your branch locations into coffee shops.  Note: Some are pretty close to that now!?

But how about customer service?

You know, the best personalized digital banking experience in the world isn’t going to help you keep (or earn) a customer if you abandon customer service. 

This is, of course, a problem across every industry at the moment… probably most notably in food service. The, in “2021 customer service trends: Doubling down, post-pandemic,” states that “this year has put the spotlight on customer service as businesses grappled with an influx of calls from distressed customers as well as wide-ranging disruptions to their operations.” I’m sure you’ve experienced it, too.

While I don’t do fast food very often, I was just recently in a burger joint drive thru where I was told that the wait might be extra long because there weren’t enough employees working.  There was even a handwritten note taped on the drive thru window glass (I’m surprised that letters cut out of a newspaper weren’t used) asking patrons to “not lose it with the worker at the window. It’s not their fault that the food takes so long.” At a local restaurant, I was told that even though the dining room was empty that my wait would be close to thirty minutes. The reason?  Only one server.  When I asked if they were hiring, the hostess told me “yes, we’ve been trying but we can’t get anyone to work.”  On the other hand, get in a Chick-fil-A drive thru line and you can pretty much bet on having your food -- even where there are a dozen cars ahead of you -- in just 5 to 10 minutes.  Which is probably why the line at Chick-fil-A is 12 cars deep and the one at the burger joint is non-existent; and you still have to wait 15 minutes to get food you didn’t order! 

Now, onto online businesses. As for seeking help over the phone for issues I’ve had with some of my favorite e-commerce sites, well, “fuggedaboutit,” as Joey Peeps used to say. Canva, for example.  Canva throws everything but the kitchen sink onto their website in hopes that they’ve covered everything. Unfortunately, like most e-commerce sites, the word “support” doesn’t even make the top navigation. Instead, if you scroll all the way down to the footer, you’ll find -- somewhere under what they call “Resources,” I think -- answers to “commonly asked” questions.  What happens if your question isn’t commonly asked?  It doesn’t get answered, and there is no one to call to get it answered, either.

Then there are those companies that do go the extra couple hundred yards and offer an 800 number for customer service. If you can actually wait long enough to simply get a recorded, audio-animatronic response, it usually starts with “Thank you for your patience.” I’m not sure what makes these people think I’m being patient; I’m not. I’m not just calling to say hello.  I’m calling because I need help and urgently. The shopping cart won’t accept my card, my login credentials aren’t working, an item I want to order is out of stock and I’d like to know when it will be back in stock… Then the recorded customer service person goes through a litany of things that I could have done, rather than try getting someone on the phone.  “If this is a medical emergency, call 9-1-1. Did you know that you can visit us online?”  Yes, I did. In fact, that’s why I’m calling; your online isn’t working!  And this old standby: “This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes.”  Obviously, no quality or training is going on here, so I’m not sure what the point of that is. One of my favorites is “press 1 for English”. Unfortunately, more often than not, the person you’ll finally get to speak with is probably in another country, and however well intended, does not speak English as their first language.

A bright spot in all this?  My community bank. Can we say small community bank? I love these people.  Why is their customer service so much better than everything else out there that I’m encountering?  I don’t know the behind-the-scenes, but I do appreciate the result:  A friendly and knowledgeable individual who answers the phone within about four rings.  Even if they told me that there was absolutely nothing that they could do to help, I’d still appreciate it. That’s because, well, at least it’s something. also makes this observation, which I found interesting: “After a challenging year, organizations are looking to the potential of this alignment -- between sales and service -- to improve customer experience, increase revenue, and reduce cost. Too often, customer service is seen as a separate unit, triggered when something goes wrong and customers complain. This mindset causes businesses to miss out on growth opportunities. Aligning sales and service helps customer service agents deliver more personalized customer experiences, which naturally leads to better business outcomes. Also, agents with insight into how customers have interacted with sales teams have increased upsell and cross-selling opportunities.”

Is the balancing act that companies walk in controlling customer service costs without sacrificing service quality a tough one?  Absolutely. I’m even a bit reluctant to say this, since a reliance on technologies helped get us into this customer service mess in the first place, but maybe technology can offer the solution. With intelligent technologies like machine learning and the Internet of Things, companies can automate routine tasks like ticket categorizations, giving service agents more time to focus on value-added interactions with customers in need. in “5 Ways to Improve Customer Happiness Through Technology:” “Now that we have so many ways to contact customers, there’s really no excuse for businesses to have a poor communication model. The best thing about having so many forms of technology available is that you can connect with customers through their favorite communication media. For example, there’s a huge majority of customers today that would rather use live chat to communicate.”  Hmmm. My experience with live chat has been less than stellar. Instead of chatting with a live human, I end up with an AI “chat bot” who can do little more than greet me, then redirect me to another useless page on their website. Or, my question gets referred, finally, to a real human being who, unfortunately, proves to be no more help than the robot.

In the end, I just don’t know.  Can technology fix the problem?  Maybe. What do you think?  As always, I welcome your thoughts!

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