Customer service innovation needs to step out of the shadows

Today is Groundhog Day – the time of year when everyone watches to see if groundhogs will see their shadow and go back to their burrow for another six weeks. Groundhog Day is a perfect time to reflect on the challenges facing customer service organizations – internal demands to do-more-with-less coupled with external demands from empowered customers with increasingly high expectations. Business as usual, the equivalent of hibernating for the rest of winter, is not an option.
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This Groundhog Day, don’t let your shadow prevent your customer service organization from innovating.

Today is Groundhog Day – the time of year when everyone watches to see if groundhogs like Punxsutawney Phil will see their shadow and go back to their burrow for another six weeks. In modern day culture, the most famous witness to the annual emergence must be Phil Connors, the weatherman in the movie Groundhog Day, who gets caught in a blizzard he didn’t predict and finds himself trapped in a time warp. He’s then doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.

It occurs to me that Groundhog Day is a perfect time to reflect on the challenges facing customer service organizations – internal demands to do-more-with-less coupled with external demands from empowered customers with increasingly high expectations.  Business as usual, the equivalent of hibernating for the rest of winter, is not an option. Reinvention and innovation are required to “get it right” like Phil and break free from a pattern of rising operational costs and easily dissatisfied customers.

Avoiding the time warp requires customer-facing organizations to continually look ahead – taking note of service trends outside their industry and being cognizant of changing consumer expectations and emerging technology innovations. For 2015, Nuance’s Gregory Pal predicted that it will be the year that artificial intelligence enters the conversation for customer service. Gartner also centered its top technology trends around intelligence, calling this the “smart machine era.”

Forrester analyst Kate Leggett also recently revealed her predictions on the top customer service trends that will surface in 2015 and beyond. In her words, “good service — whether it’s to answer a customer’s question prior to purchase, or help a customer resolve an issue post-purchase should be pain-free, proactive at a minimum and preemptive at best, deeply personalized, and delivered with maximum productivity.” In essence, interactions must be fast, intuitive and easy.

We’ve written in the past about the need for effortless customer service to drive loyalty and increase revenues. Kate’s insights on the top customer service trends for 2015 support this – including the embrace of emerging channels to reduce friction and the need for more proactive engagement.  What I find particularly compelling is her forecast is that service will shift from being reactionary to anticipatory, with companies leveraging automation to “preemptively diagnose and fix issues.

Kate attributes the shift to the proliferation of connected devices and the Internet of Things (loT) becoming a reality. We’re definitely seeing global organizations beginning to offer anticipatory service as a means to increase their contact center efficiency and satisfy their customers. For example, when passengers need to contact Delta Airlines, they’re greeted by a voice that already knows who they are and anticipates the intent of a call. I actually had a business traveler track me down after a speaking engagement in Chicago to rave about how much better his travel experience is now that Delta anticipates and proactively provides the terminal information he needs, before he even says hello. Delta’s passengers are delighted and their highly trained reservation agents are able to focus on more complex transactions.

Delta isn’t alone in its shift to offering preemptive service that anticipates customer needs. We’re seeing major financial institutions, healthcare organizations and retailers do the same. A Wakefield Research study conducted with 1,000 American consumers, revealed that their top service complaints revolve around not valuing their time – asking them to repeat themselves, keeping them on hold – practices that drive up internal costs. Speeding time to completion by quickly understanding intent and anticipating needs is a time-warp breaking shift in customer service that is rapidly taking hold.

As we look ahead to the rest of the year, it’s clear that businesses can’t afford to be chasing shadows like Punxsutawney Phil. To be successful – and not be caught by circumstances they didn’t foresee – companies must move to embrace intelligent self-service solutions that both increase efficiency and deliver a rich personalized customer experience.

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Lynn Ridenour

About Lynn Ridenour

Lynn leads the solutions and channel marketing efforts for the Nuance Enterprise Division. She enjoys engaging with customers, learning about their businesses, listening closely to understand their challenges, and exploring how they are optimizing their customer care experiences. Lynn has spent more than 20 years working at the intersection of marketing and innovation. She’s a veteran of several venture-backed companies in the telecommunications, software, Internet and clean technology industries.