I sat down to watch the finale of my favorite sci-fi series on a recent Sunday evening when I discovered that I had been locked out of my TV streaming service. After struggling to find a solution online, I fired off a tweet asking the company for help. The company responded a few minutes later: "I'm so sorry you're having trouble connecting to your account -- DM us your phone number, and we'll have a customer service representative call you back soon." I DMed my number, and asked, "Why can't you just help me here? And how long will it take to get a call back?"
After 10 minutes, I gave up and just called them (my least favorite way of getting help). I waded through a complex phone menu, then waited on hold for 20 minutes before finally getting through. Though the representative was very nice and resolved my issue quickly, it was too late -- I was incredibly upset that I'd wasted almost an hour of my Sunday evening for a pretty simple issue. I didn't care how sorry the company was, or how friendly the agent was when I eventually got through. I especially didn't care for hearing "your call is very important to us" every two minutes as my evening dragged on. I just wanted my problem solved quickly and easily, and ideally without having to actually speak to anyone. The same holds true for countless others today. Welcome to the era of the bullshit-proof consumer.
Almost anything is now possible at the touch of a button -- ordering a taxi, controlling your home, running your business or even finding true love (or whatever kind of love you're looking for). But, customer service has fallen behind. Inspired by the Zappos model (phone anytime and speak instantly to a highly motivated customer service agent), many brands started training their agents to deliver the best possible service; to throw away the script and to be human, emotive and caring. But, maintaining this level of service at a large scale is expensive -- so expensive that the same brands began to make it increasingly difficult for consumers to actually speak to the agents they'd trained so intensely. Phone numbers became buried deep in websites, and phone menus were designed to encourage people to give up before they actually got through to anyone.
At the same time, seeing that customers were escalating their issues to public social media sites like Twitter, brands hired community managers to respond and make it appear as if they cared -- even though the community managers didn't have the training or ability to resolve any real issues. Inevitably, the end result was frustrated customers who found it easier to just buy a new product from a competing brand on Amazon than actually get their problems resolved.
It's time to throw away the excuses, get rid of the platitudes and invest in resolving customers' complaints quickly, easily and in the channels they prefer.
Making customer service effortless
Customer effort is the most important factor in deciding whether a service interaction will increase or decrease customer loyalty. In Effortless Experience, a book from the Corporate Executive Board (now part of Gartner), the authors found that "84 percent of customers simply want their issue resolved as quickly and easily as possible," and that "any customer service interaction is four times more likely to drive disloyalty than to drive loyalty." According to Effortless Experience, the biggest drivers of disloyalty include taking more than one contact to resolve, making customers repeat information and switching between agents and channels. A brand can have the best customer service agent in the world on the other end of the phone, but if it's taken the customer a lot of effort to finally speak to them, it won't matter.
Luckily, the tools now exist for any brand to create an effortless experience. Over the past few years, social messaging apps (like Facebook Messenger) have become the dominant way people interact with each other, and in the last 12 months they've exploded as customer service channels. More than 8 billion messages are sent between businesses and consumers every month on Messenger, and the volume of messaging conversations for major brands is already twice the volume of public social media.
Using a messaging app for customer service is incredibly convenient and easy -- you pull out your phone and hit send, just like messaging your friends. No waiting on hold, and no painful voice menus. As an extra bonus, messaging is also more efficient for brands -- the same number of agents can handle significantly more customers over messaging than over other service channels.
The rise, fall and rise again of chat bots
I was at F8 (Facebook's annual developer conference) a couple of years ago when Mark Zuckerbergannounced the launch of the bot platform for Messenger. Over the next few weeks, the world went bot crazy. But, the reality was disappointing -- almost all of the bots released struggled with the complexity of even simple service interactions. The hype disappeared almost as fast as it had arisen.
Despite the false start, however, the combination of bots and messaging holds immense potential for customer service. Unlike live chat, where an agent is expected to respond within seconds, messaging is more like texting with friends -- after customers message an agent, they can go on to do other things while they wait for a response. An agent can respond within five to 10 minutes and it's still considered real time. This means a brand can have a bot that handles simple questions, then seamlessly hands the interaction to a human agent to deal with more complex questions, all within the same conversation. Customers get their problems solved quickly and easily, businesses save money and there's never a painful moment where the bot says it can't understand the customer. This approach is enabling brands to automate up to 25 percent of inbound messages, a number that will rapidly increase in the next few years.
Tips for providing an effortless experience to bullshit proof consumers
1. Stop saying sorry, and start fixing your customers' issues as quickly as possible, in whatever channel they use to reach out.
2. Invest into social messaging channels for customer service, enabling your customers to message you for help the same way they message their friends.
3. Don't build standalone bots that end up frustrating customers even more. Instead, combine bots with human agents in messaging to create a faster, more effortless experience for customers.
With new social messaging channels opening up for business (including WhatsApp and Apple Business Chat) and the rapid development of artificial intelligence, it's becoming easier and easier to provide an effortless customer service experience without needing to just spend more money on agents. Consumers have changed -- now it's time for customer service to catch up.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors