Evolution of the Customer Service Agent: Customer Satisfaction in the New Age
A little over two decades ago, there were close to 50,000 Americans who worked in the textile industry. According to MIT Technology Review, this number is now down to less than 6,000. While changes in international trade policy have definitely had a negative impact on the steady decline in blue-collar jobs, the data points to another culprit that’s here to stay: automation.
The slow death suffered by manual labor is giving birth to new and evolved white-collar jobs. One business practice that’s had a lot of keeping-up to do is customer service. As technology advanced from Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems to intuitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) software, companies are forced to gradually demand higher-level skills and educational requirements for customer service roles.
There’s also pressure coming from the consumer side. The 2016 Microsoft State of Global Customer Service report found that 69% of customers prefer to self-serve, that is, by using search engines to find answers, instead of waiting in line to get help. Expectations of customer service representatives’ product knowledge are higher than ever.
Additionally, the Customers 2020 report from Walker reveals that by 2020, customer service will be the key brand differentiator, and it is now slowly overtaking price and product quality.
So, with AI taking over tasks with precision, how does human interaction stay relevant in customer service delivery? The answer is the same as it has been since the switchboard was introduced to the world. Top-notch customer experience lies not in competing with technology, but in adapting along and utilizing its best qualities.
Data collection and analysis are AI’s two key advantages in the area of customer service. Because computers can pull up and analyze information at lightning speed, customer service agents are empowered to provide seamless service by skipping introduction and validation steps. Representatives can review customers’ account information, transaction history and even buying behavior prior to getting connected with the customer. In turn, the problem-solving process is seamless, personalized, consistent and efficient. For customer service agents to flourish in this new environment, critical thinking that’s beyond what software algorithm can offer is a must.
Throughout the history of customer service, empathy has taken center stage. We may access customer support through different channels now, but we still need other human beings to assure us that we are valued. However, the results of a study made by Harvard Business Review show that “empathizers,” those who “enjoy solving others' problems, seek to understand behaviors and motives and listen sympathetically” have been overtaken by “controllers” as the most effective reps. Controllers are “outspoken and opinionated, like demonstrating expertise and directing the customer interaction.”
Because consumers are now more educated and impatient than ever, customer service agents are expected to provide clear guidance and be confident in decision-making.
So where does customer service stand? According to the theory of evolution, we must change in order to adapt to new environments. As such, there shouldn’t be a cookie-cutter type of customer service representative. In order to demonstrate expertise, one must not only be knowledgeable, but also be passionate about the brand.
Finally, technology isn’t the enemy. Whatever the industry, businesses now have every opportunity to understand what makes their customers tick by analyzing post-transaction survey data. To come out on top of the customer experience food chain, companies need to invest in recruiting the right people for their brand. Moreover, companies would benefit the most from first-class talent development that isn’t only a source of expertise, but also of employee pride.
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