Predicting the future is hard to do. In the recent World Cup tournament, there was an estimated one in four-thousand chance that Germany would beat Brazil by a score of seven to one. Sometimes a day just happens to be a one-in-four-thousand day. When it comes to business trends, people are hungry for predictions. These predictions are even less accurate than sports predictions. For example, I remember the first time I tested out the Google search engine. I was amazed at how much better the Google search results were. And yet, I thought, how could this company ever make money? If at that moment someone offered me a fresh cup of Starbuck’s coffee or one share of Google stock, I would have chosen the coffee. Today I could purchase about 280 cups of coffee with that one share. Obviously, I am not qualified to predict the future of business.
We have been writing and thinking a lot these last few months about customer service and the technology that improves it. As an alternative to predicting the future of customer service, we have produced an eBook called Customer Service – 4 Emerging Opportunities. An “emerging opportunity” is not a prediction, but a recognition of things that are actually happening. It’s the difference between saying it will rain at noon tomorrow, and spotting a rain cloud blowing your way.
Extrapolating on current trends, though, can be as problematic as predicting the future for a few reasons. First, many times the person doing the extrapolating will have a financial stake in a trend continuing. As someone producing marketing material for a company that implements the latest customer service technology, I should expect some skepticism. Additionally, extrapolating on current trends is problematic because we sometimes forget that there are basic truths in life and business that will not change. For example, I remember hearing about a futurist in 1900 predicting that because of the adoption of the automobile, horses will be extinct by the year 2000. Of course, what that futurist ignored was the fact that people love horses. So with that in mind, when reading about the future of customer service, keep the following truths in mind:
1. Customers want to be respected.
In the constant drive for efficiency in customer service technology, respect for the customer can sometimes be forgotten. Today, this means not wasting time by having a customer search for answers in a bad knowledge base. But soon, respecting a customer will mean not creeping them out by replacing actually listening to them with data science. The internet-of-things (IoT) will soon bring massive changes to the customer service landscape, but cannot replace the sympathetic ear of a knowledgeable customer service representative. IoT will become a standard augmentation to good customer service practice, not a replacement.
2. Employees want to make progress.
One way to improve customer service is for companies to have happier employees serving customers. The key to employee happiness was described in the Harvard Business Review as the Progress Principle. Customer service technology that will work best will let employees be productive while allowing for creativity and learning.
3. Companies want to make money.
Like Human Resource systems, Customer Service systems are often relegated to the category of technology “things a company just needs to have”. This is why HR systems are often terrible, and many customer service representatives work with AS/400 green screens. Wise technology leaders, however, are starting to recognize that having a short-sighted view of customer service technology is leaving money on the table. A customer’s interaction with their vendor’s systems conveys brand and determines loyalty.