Innovative Tech in Customer Support: Only as Good as the Company Using It

by Andy Heikkila

We’ve all been there. It’s a weekday night, dinner needs to be cooked, your son is yelling for your help from another room, and you’re stuck on hold with your internet service provider because your modem took a dump on you. While you’re on hold, that elevator jam muzak is periodically interrupted by a recording of a woman who has told you several times that the internet company’s website provides several troubleshooting guides on the most basic customer inquiries.

From that automated voice system to the web form you filled out when you registered your television, customer service is constantly being refined, tweaked and modified as new innovations in technology continue to challenge and change the customer service experience. Unfortunately, like with most industries, these innovations are only as good as the company using them, as you’ll see below.

Multiple Avenues for Support

As technology has changed, so have the methods that drive customers to support. For example, let’s imagine you’ve just purchased a new phone and it doesn’t seem to be working right, running way too slow and laggy. After you Google your specific problem, you might find your hypothetical solution and stop there. That’s the beauty of the internet nowadays. If not, you’ll probably make a quick hop onto the manufacturer’s website and a click over to their customer support page, which lists a variety of options: call a customer service associate, live chat with a service representative, email your problem and wait for a response, or even search the onsite forum for solutions garnered by customers who have had similar problems.

The catch is that with multiple customer service fronts comes the propensity for multiple instances of failure. Broken contact forms, forums filled with spam or bad information, and emails that go unanswered are oft-overlooked issues that can quickly tarnish a brand’s reputation. Common logic dictates that if one of these avenues malfunctions, the average user will simply try another—but, unfortunately, just one of these maladies may leave an already disheveled customer upset and unwilling to engage with your company further. Businesses that take advantage of multiple customer service contact points need to be vigilant and positive that all of their customer service portals are up to date and functioning as intended. Any other attitude may come off as negligent, especially when many customers simply want to believe in the companies they purchase from (as Simon Sinek said, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it). Innovation, in this regard, should always serve the customer first. Show them that you care about their customer experience by providing multiple lanes of support that work, and they will care about you and your product.

Interactions and Automation

Many businesses are aware that customer service relationships can quickly head south when queue times are high and the consumer’s issue is pressing and time-sensitive. Automation is simultaneously the solution to this problem, and a tricky beast that can exacerbate it. While automated services can off-set wait times and effectively deal with customer issues and inquiries, they are just as likely to frustrate the caller, inciting them to frantically press the zero button in hopes of speaking to a live representative. While the c-suite loves the idea of cutting costs and providing more service in the same amount of time, there have been several studies that show consumers are not so in touch with the “otherness” that automated voices exhibit, and generally dislike the service. In fact, 83% of them see automated calls as providing only a cost-saving benefit or no benefit at all to the companies that deploy them.

Fortunately, there are new types of “interactive voice-response” (IVR) software systems that utilize both automation and the human touch to provide customer solutions and support—and it has been reported that most customers seem to like this system. Remember that no matter how innovative something is, in the world of customer support, you have to take care of the person that has the problem before you can actually take care of a problem itself.

Big Data Analytics & Data Security

Perhaps one of the most interesting things that has recently hit the customer service world, and honestly every other aspect of the world, is increased analytics via Big Data. If you have ever filled out a product registration form, signed up for a newsletter, or answered a survey for a product’s company, you have probably been subject to this new fancy analytics system. Through the information a company discerns about you, they are then able to cater a customer service solution more specifically to your needs. Representatives can start a phone call with immediate knowledge of what product you own, when you bought it and in some cases, where it was purchased. All of these bits of data can be strung along to form a good experience.

With such great power comes the need to harness it in an ethical and conservative way, so that customer service representatives can provide an efficient and positive experience, and so that customer data remains safe and secure. While, customer service representatives employ several tactics to ensure that the person they are interacting with is, in fact, who they say they are, from address/phone number checks to IP address match ups, there are still big problems with lack of encryption and, in fact, onsite security measures. Unfortunately, even though data breaches and hacks are on the rise, 55% of companies that participated in an IBM survey reported that they did not have a security strategy in place to protect information assets. This is outrageous, and the antithesis of customer service. If you are a company using Big Data analytics, security should be your primary concern.

Social Media & Blog Interaction

The landscapes of both social media and the blogosphere have both had a powerful effect on customer service relationships between companies and the consumer. With Twitter came the ability to hop online and tweet at celebrities, politicians, and our favorite companies. Of course, this ability exists on Facebook and Instagram as well, and some companies just don’t know how to handle customer support on social media. Others are fantastic about it, and should be commended. Nowadays, social media is paving the way for brands to be proactive about their customer service, allowing them to search keywords that mention their brand or product. When somebody complains about an Xbox problem via Twitter, for example, Microsoft has the ability to tweet at them immediately, asking if they need support. While there is a right way and a wrong way to use social media, and some brands are still figuring that out, other brands still don’t have active social media accounts. Let that sink in.

Have any other thoughts about how technology has changed the customer service game, or how we can innovate better customer service solutions? I’d love to hear them below.

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WELCOME to Andrew Heikkila, a tech enthusiast and writer from Boise, Idaho, and a new contributor to Innovation Excellence.  He also writes for Tech Crunch. You can follow him @AndyO_TheHammer

2 comments

  1. Great article on Customer Support. Right on the mark. One frustration: when directed from one person or department to another, one frequently has to repeat all of the information (such as credit card info, etc.) that should be in one database, accessible by everyone in the customer support chain.

    Don Creswell
    Co-Founder and Vice President
    SmartOrg Inc.

    • Thanks Don, and I’ve definitely felt those frustrations before too. In the age of Big Data it’s ridiculous that information transfer like that doesn’t happen a.) all the time and b.) as securely as it should. The unfortunate reality is that the customer support center, to most businesses, are a money-losing operation that the business keeps out of necessity but refuses to remedy, which frustrates the caller, the employee, and ultimately anybody associated with the center. Se la vie. Not all businesses are like this, obviously, but an unfortunate amount of them are.

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