Opportunities: Customer Support
Recently (from around 2010) the concept of “customer experience” has come to the forefront as the new battlefield in the business world. Customer support is one of the key elements of that overall “customer experience.” It is hard to imagine a life without customer support. Over the last century, customer support and the technologies helping to improve it have come a long way. We understand more clearly now that with social media, the word about negative experiences travels faster and further than the positive ones. It is also well known that companies hear only from a small percentage (about 4%) of dissatisfied customers. Rest quietly drops off after a negative experience. A vast majority (86%) of customers would even pay more for better service. Despite all this, big business in India mostly has unpleasant customer support experiences.
This aspect is potentially the competitive advantage that organisations are recognising only very recently and investing in. However, the customer support piece is probably one of the least satisfying aspects of the overall experience.
Of channels, “phone” is still the leading channel for accessing customer support. It has the most immediacy, thus most utilised. It is not going away anytime soon. It will get augmented with more rich media like video, AR, and VR. There is scope for innovation here. We also see a growth towards social media, making organisations publicly more accountable for not just their products and services, but also for the overall customer experience they provide.
Many startups are able to provide excellent customer support at the early stages owed to small scale, greater control, more flexibility, and personal motivation. I believe a lot can be done by large organisations to build and maintain the quality of support, even at large scale. No matter what the channel or the technology, few ingredients are missing in today’s customer support experience:
Empathy: This is the big one. Empathy for the customer is the primary factor in providing highly satisfying customer support and is usually missing. Fixing this would eliminate the root-cause of many problems. A way to tackle this is to provide comprehensive and recurring empathy training to agents.
Context: The empathy aspect would be quite difficult without fully understanding the specific context of the customer. Context comprehension would require customer data gathering and analytics. The data analytics need to include behavioural and emotional aspects as well. This analytics also need to be presented to the support agent in the right way in the right context. This provisioning will enable support agencies to personalise interaction and the nature of follow-up actions.
Motivation: Most large organisations outsource their support function. How can you expect an underpaid support agent, sitting out of context, with no loyalty or motivation, not knowing anything about the customer, to efficiently solve customer problems by following a call-flow or checklist? Organisations need to engage agents (even if outsourced) in activities to build loyalty and provide the right set of motivations. They need to create a sense of ownership and pride among agents.
Control: Most of the time support agents are not authorised to take decisions. This needs to change. Organisations need to provide some autonomy and decision-making authority to these agencies. Human beings love a sense of autonomy, and it often works as a motivator. This change would require organisations to provide additional training on topics such as conflict resolution, decision making, problem-solving, and such.
On the other side, when a customer seeks assistance, they are often in a state of frustration and anger resulting from loss of control. Many desperate situations can be neutralised quickly if support agents are taught to provide their customers with a sense of control.
There is a tremendous scope for innovation in all the above areas. Also, customer support function needs to be catalysed by suitable benchmarks, goals, and reward structures. An excellent customer support experience is one that is empathic, contextual, personalised, decisive and makes the customer feel they are wanted and in control. I am sure everyone has experienced good and bad customer support. Do share any other thoughts that you may have.