Promoting Self Service Versus Easy Access to Live Agents

Promoting Self Service Versus Easy Access to Live Agents

An article in the Wall Street Journal on November 2nd hit the nail on the head about where customer service is headed.  Christopher Mims, a technology columnist for the prestigious financial paper wrote it.  The title is Customer Service: From Touchy Feely to Do it Yourself.  Thank you Mr. Mims for your clear insights and explanations.

As a customer service expert I am always thinking about the best way to provide the most excellent customer experience in various business settings. I appreciate Mr. Mims’ summaries of two competing and viable philosophies; promoting self-service or easy access to live agents. On one side, Tony Hsieh, chief executive of Zappos says “we are actually trying to figure out how to get customers to call us more often.”  On the other hand, Uber has no customer service line, preferring that customers file complaints through their app. There is also the monetary aspect to consider. It is less expensive to solve problems online, but people still must be employed to answer emails and chat queries. Whatever the vehicle, bottom line, as the author says, “customer service is straightforward; at the end of it, you want people to like you.”

Some highlights from the article:

  • Touchy Feely
    • Zappos’ goal is “by the time the customer gets off the phone, it’s like they’ve made a new friend.” Their phone number is on every page of its website since the lifetime value of a Zappos customer who calls is five to six times higher as those that don’t
    • Zip-car answers questions or resolves a consumer’s issues on the phone before communicating to the customer that they could have used self-serve options such as their app and received faster and more efficient service
    • Companies are aware that in the age of social media, any customer-service interactions, good or bad, can go viral
  • Self-Serve
    • Customers don’t want to talk to customer service representatives anymore, especially with long hold times
    • “I hate calling customer service says”, Everlane CEO’s Michael Preysman. Their company is built on the premise that customers want high-quality clothes for less. They do not have a dedicated customer-service line. They feel their customers want to solve problems themselves or with little assistance. Instead Everlane uses Facebook Messenger for tasks ranging from confirming an order has been placed to resolving issues with delivery.
    • For lean retail start-ups growing at an exponential pace, it’s easier to acquire new customers than to worry about those who might be alienated by a lack of customer service.

There are pros and cons to any customer service delivery system.  Easy access is key, whether on the phone or through an app.  The real test, in my opinion, should be based on the percentage of repeat customers, specifically first-time users.   No one has come up with a strong argument countering the proven notion that it costs significantly more money to bring in a new customer than keep the ones you already have.

Customer service is not black or white, telephone conversation or app.  There are always gray areas.  Uber doesn’t offer live agent support. However, when I had a problem with my first Uber experience, not their fault, I received an extremely customer friendly and timely email apology from their team.  That’s good customer service. However, when I called American Express recently and wanted to speak with an agent, the voice recording told me, “due to unforeseen circumstances, we are not able to take calls, but you can either go to our web page or leave a message.” Immediately I pressed “O” and just as immediately I was transferred to a live agent who solved my problem.  I don’t think it is a wise business decision to mislead customers by telling them you can’t answer in a timely manner, when the real reason is that you want customers to self-serve.

While it may be true according to current research that self-serve has become the first option, emailing second, and calling third, what remains constant is that customers still demand good service. What’s really important is that if a customer has a question or concern, the company can be easily reached to address the issue. The customer service department is the heart of any company and must be reliable, transparent and consistent.

Which side of the argument do you favor: self-serve or full-serve?

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