One year into the pandemic – why is customer service still struggling?

Customer service – it matters

It’s an occupational hazard for those who work in customer experience – we can never just be a customer.  When we’re on the receiving end of good or poor customer service, we’re always deconstructing it, what made that such a good experience or what made it so awful?  And how does that make me feel about this brand? 

Why the obsession?  Check out these stats if you need convincing that getting customer service right is critical to business growth.

Service gaps exposed

2020 was a bumpy year for customer service.  It’s understandable: with businesses thrown into disarray by rapid decline and growth of different business streams and businesses forced to digitise and switch to remote working rapidly, many businesses have struggled to cope and adapt.  Customer service has been faced with a combination of increased volumes, a dramatic shift in the nature of customer issues to handle, total disruption of systems and workflows and workforce under pressure. 

It’s been fascinating to watch how businesses have responded to the customer service challenges that the pandemic has thrown at them.  The vast majority of businesses had to really think on their feet with, according to this report by Salesforce, 88% of businesses saying that the pandemic exposed service gaps.  

And reportedly there’s high awareness of how customer service is struggling and a commitment to improve.  But, we’re one year into this now, why’s it taking so long to fix?

Here are a few theories:

Rapid digitisation

Typically the response has been to invest in new technology (78% of businesses having done so during the course of the pandemic) and there has clearly been a move towards digitisation with increases in the number of businesses using each of a large number of digital solutions.

But digital migration is complex stuff and prone to failure if the right building blocks aren’t in place – the need to transform at speed means many will have gone off half-cock underestimating the time and effort involved.  

Over-reliance on technology

While there’s been an investment in technology there’s also been a reduction in the number of businesses offering the more human customer service elements – phone, email and in-person customer service.  Digitisation is not about making everything digital, but rather putting digital in place where it makes sense – sometimes you just need to speak to someone, so investing in a great digital system but removing the human elements will leave customers frustrated by lack of empathy and resolution.

Customer centricity (a lack of it)

Businesses are growing increasingly aware of the importance of customer centricity but this can’t be achieved by just telling staff to be more empathetic. 

You really need to give thought to your workflows but more importantly, you need to look at them from the perspective of the customer experience not the internal process.

Are customer service processes thought of as workflows or as customer journeys – there is a key difference here. 

And were customer needs taken into account in the service design (i.e. was the customer insight building block in place?    

When businesses look inwards focusing on internal operations, cost reduction etc.  but give little consideration to the customer experience the customer service pips start to squeak.

Change as a one-off event vs ongoing need

Many businesses will have fallen into the trap of viewing digitisation of their customer services as an initiative, a one-off event vs an ongoing process.  Each new phase of the lockdown will have brought with it new operational challenges and customer needs and expectations will shift through these different stages as customer needs and expectations are impacted by socio-economic backdrop, consumer confidence and experience of service in other categories.  The model needs to keep adapting to hit the right notes. Hitting the right notes can have a fundamental impact on your bottom line, so this is a worthwhile investment.

Back to basics

So how do we fix this?  I’d argue for a return to basics and that doesn’t mean a return to analogue – please do continue with the tech solutions!

There’s a trend to calling customer service teams customer success teams which is great – let’s focus on a positive outcome for the customer by all means! 

But maybe focusing on an older term customer care is what’s needed now.  To deliver good customer service you really need to care about your customer, understand their situation, needs and priorities and whether the experience you give them is delivering against those needs today and whether it will be fit for purpose tomorrow.  It’s pretty basic, but it works.  Give it a try.

Do get in touch if you’d like to know how.