Archive for category: Customer Service

Can Customer Service Bots Ever Be Empathetic Enough?

21 Dec
December 21, 2016

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be one of the keynotes at the iMedia Brand Summit where I talked about the social media journey my company has been on, and in particular the part customer service plays.

I touched on a few forward thinking points at the end, one of them being the possible role of bots. I got a lot of questions afterwards about how and where it can be applicable for different types of business. With the recent announcement of Twitter’s customer service tools, as well as Facebook’s earlier announcements of messenger bots, there has been a tremendous rush towards trying to apply them.

I think the opportunity for messenger bots is huge. I’m a firm believer in customer service at the core of any social media and content strategy. It must be easy for a customer to do business with you and find the answers they need quickly. Bots can fulfil this need – to a degree.

The real litmus test though (and let’s face it, the business case for investment) will come down to what your social interactions are like as a whole.

WHAT DO YOUR SOCIAL CUSTOMER SERVICE INTERACTIONS LOOK LIKE?

If you’re tagging your social interactions correctly (that is to say aligned to other business functions), then you should have a solid foundation of what your customer queries are about. From here, there are two things to consider when analysing them.

Firstly, what are they actually relating to? If you map them to your customer’s lifecycle, how many could you consider to be general questions (possibly pre-sales or account maintenance), vs the amount of customer service queries and more specifically, complaints? Bots will excel in providing responses to questions that are frequent and general. As the conversations become more personal, will they be the right thing to be putting between you and the customer?

Secondly, how personal is the customer service and complaints? I use the word personal as opposed to specific because there is a lot of variance between the two. A broken dishwasher is a very different level of personal to something like an insurance claim. When interactions get incredibly personal, they can be heavy on the emotion and detail, requiring a level of emotional intelligence and empathy that simply can’t be provided by a bot.

If I look at my previous area of financial services, social interactions were largely straightforward – it was all about stock prices and account management. I see tremendous opportunity in things like share trading, where a bot can fulfil (once your ID has been authenticated) a number of functions, like live quotes, and simple buy or sell orders. These functions are very specific in nature, and I think that the first online broker to crack this will have a distinct advantage.

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEED FOR A HUMAN

So with that considered, would a bot help or hinder the discussion around a claims complaint or anything involving an impact to finances or lifestyle, for instance? Think about how frustrating it can be to work your way through the automated phone message to find someone to speak to.

Here in Australia, 46% of us are more likely to go online to complain rather than praise*, and I believe this to actually be much higher for regulated, service-based industries like financial services. Social is an escalation point, where brand and reputation management is on public display, so it’s important to get it right.

While messenger bots will excel at the beginning of the customer journey, if you interactions lean heavily on complaints and are very personal in nature, there is a point where this interaction needs to be handed over to a human.

*Lithium Technologies 

Customer Service Is The Winner in Twitter's New DM Changes

12 Jun
June 12, 2015

UPDATE – These changes have been rolled out globally. 

Buried under the news this morning of their CEO’s decision to step down, another big announcement from the Twitter saw users now able to write direct messages with no character limit from July.

As other articles have alluded to, this seems to be the first step towards creating a competitor to things like Facebook Messenger, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the functionality grow quickly.

What it signals more to me though is that Twitter seems to be putting an equal focus on themselves as an efficient customer service channel.

Customers Are the Real Winners

A few months ago, they removed the requirement for someone to be following you in order to send you a direct message, and this was certainly a big step forward.

One of the big bug bears of users was that while they may not necessarily want to follow what a brand has to say on channel, they want easy customer service. Connecting with the brand in a manner beyond that interaction ma have been a roadblock.

With the removal of character limits on DMs, the customer service experience becomes almost frictionless, at least as far as the platform goes.

I’m not saying that it’s been impossible or difficult in the past, but for those of us who have used the platform for customer service before, you will know how challenging the character limit has made it to convey issues in a speedy fashion.

We’re talking here about efficiency. Customers not only want their issues resolved accurately, but also quickly. By allowing more characters, it provides the opportunity to communicate a depth of detail quickly, and potentially deliver a solution in less time. The customer can move on and not labour over the issues they have.

There are still the issues of customer sensitive data, and any business with an effective social service policy will have a process in place for moving these conversations offline if required, but for resolution in channel, this is a big step forward.

For brands who maintain one channel for general content as well as support, it also means that they can begin to parse out the two functions into distinct areas and provide better experiences in both.

Is There Such A Thing As Extreme Customer Service?

23 Apr
April 23, 2015

I was at a shopping centre over the weekend and dropped by a store in the food court to grab coffee and something to eat.

Stuck to the counter next to the register, facing the server, was a laminated sheet of paper titled “Our Extreme Customer Service Policy“. Under it were 4 simple points:

  • Fast
  • Accurate
  • Quality Product
  • Friendly Smile

When you put it all together, it’s basically saying serve the customer exactly what they want in the fastest and friendliest way possible. Which to me seems a bare minimum.

So while I understand the intent was to reinforce good customer service practice, would these things be considered “extreme” customer service, or are they just the core tenets of service? Granted, the example of a coffee shop is different to digital business, I think it paints an interesting picture of how businesses perceive the expectations of the customer.

Customer Expectations Have Changed

There is no doubt that the expectations of customers are now extreme compared to where they were 10, or even 5 years ago. The technology we now have for them to communicate with us has seen barriers removed and timeframes dramatically shortened.

A recent study from Lithium Technologies indicated that 43% of people expect a response to an online query in the space of an hour, and 14% of them want it in 5 minutes or less! This is where tech has raised the expectations.

So while they are extreme compared to where they have been in the past, it’s also the new normal, because we now won’t settle for the old level of service.

Using the word “extreme” to define a customer service policy is incorrect. What you’re seeking is consistently high, because the heightened expectation is now the baseline.

The policies and processes you have around how you support customers should make amazing service a rule rather than an exception.

What a Great Customer Experience Can Look Like

10 Aug
August 10, 2014

A quick post to highlight a fantastic customer experience I had last week.

I tweeted Ann Handley from Marketing Profs to ask if her new book Everybody Writes will be available in Australia at the same time as the US. Sure, I could just buy on Kindle, or order from Amazon, but I sometimes prefer a hard copy and like to support local where I can.

I really enjoyed Content Rules, Ann’s last book, so am naturally keen to read this one.

I could explain the rest of the exchange, but I’ll let Twitter do that:

This to me is a perfect customer experience – a referral from a trusted source, the surprise and delight of a price offer, quick resolution of a small issue and ultimately a sale.

All handled via Twitter. I pay about what I would pay from Amazon, and a local business has a new customer.

Couldn’t have been more straightforward.

What are the lessons here?

  • Always be listening for opportunities
  • Where possible, do something unexpected that the customer will love
  • Always be willing to follow up

UPDATE – Ann’s book is now released, here’s a post from her blog with some links to great excerpts and interviews she has done in support of the release.

PHOTO – Mark JP via Flickr

3 Social Service Tips For Those That Don't Offer It

28 Jul
July 28, 2014

Despite that fact that social media is becoming the new megaphone for customer complaints and issues, not every business has made the jump to serving customers via social channels.

Many prefer to engage with them through content that promotes the brand and engages people on their pages, rather than supporting it. According to one study, only 39% offer service on Twitter despite 76% of companies actually using it.

The reality though is different – yes, people are talking about you, and that also means people are complaining about you, and people expect some sort of response.

In a separate piece of research, 53% of people who tweeted a company expected a response within the hour. Increasing customer expectations have now grown that to 72% according to research from Lithium Technologies. Both of these were covered in an excellent article on Hubspot dealing with social response times.

Even if you are not using it, it pays to have a fundamental understanding of how social customer service works, and how to deal with it.

An encounter I had with a wine retailer last week on Twitter was a perfect example of a business that doesn’t typically do it.

A bit of background…

Sporadically, and more recently last week, I receive emails from a list that I unsubscribed from about 18 months ago. Usually I just click on unsubscribe, delete and move on, which after the third time I accepted that this was a function that was clearly broken. Once again, breaking up is hard to do.

The last email though got my attention. It was to update my preferences. In it, it had a list of various types of emails they offer, and clearly showed that I was opted out of all emails. Yet they wanted me to check that this is what I wanted to do.

Now, as far as I am concerned, once I am unsubscribed, that’s it. My name is off your list and I don’t want to hear from you again. It shouldn’t be sitting on a database somewhere so I can occasionally hear from you. Yet in this case, it seems exactly that – my name is still on a list.

In my typical first port of call for customer service, I fired off a tweet to them to suggest that they fix the unsubscribe feature before emailing me about managing my preferences for communication.

To their credit they responded, but what followed was a series of tweets that ranged from passing me off to a page on their site to have my query addressed (I don’t want to have to go through an engagement with your account service team to tell your process is broken), to talking to me like opting in and out of email lists is a concept that I should understand, and then suggesting I calm down despite merely highlighting where the problems were.

After this, I looked back over their Twitter stream. They don’t have a separate customer service channel, so this would be the only one that someone can reach them through. It became very apparent that they don’t usually use Twitter to provide customer service other than to reply to praise and basic questions about product, and so my expectations of the exchange lowered.

What it showed though were three things clearly missing from their engagement on Twitter, that I think are valuable lessons for anyone who doesn’t typically offer service through social.

Listen to the Problem

Probably the most fundamental piece of the process is listening, and this doesn’t change for any business, big or small. Not every question is the same, and it shouldn’t be assumed that there is a one size fits all answer.

It took five tweets for them to understand that the issue was with their process of removing people from the list is broken.

It also comes back to the channel – understand that if this is my preferred way of contacting you for resolution, that I don’t want to be pushed somewhere else. Deal with me here.

Don’t Treat the Customer Like an Idiot

During the exchange, I was stepped through the process of how to click an opt out link, and then I “won’t get them anymore…”. The trail off of the sentence suggests that clicking on the opt out should be the logical thing to do, and why hadn’t I thought of it.

Give you customers credit for understanding how processes work. Often times, they are highly digital savvy (if I can work out Twitter, I get email) and familiar with a product that they know more than the person on the other side of the keyboard.

Never assume the problem belongs to the customer alone. Every business has pain points.

Don’t Go on the Offensive

Probably the most important thing is not to lose your cool with the customer. Despite a rational description of the problem and where it was going wrong, I was told there was “no need to get aggressive”.

Nothing will make a rational customer more annoyed than being talked down to.

Remember, today’s consumer has more power than ever before – the power of reach, the power of a voice, and the power of choice with their wallet.

What Next?

So in the end I was removed from the list. I got my outcome, but in a process that took longer than it should have.

While social may not be your primary service channel, or even one you plan on using, understand that people will reach out to you there. Being prepared to deal with it will make for a better customer experience. A happy customer is more likely to come back, and most importantly in the social, more likely to recommend your brand.

UPDATE: CoSchedule has just published a fantastic piece about this very topic, which I think is a must read. Check it out here – Responding to Customer Complaints with Social Media.

Want some more ideas? Here’s a great post from The Next Web on Awesome Customer Service on Social.

PHOTO – 10ch via Flickr