The advent of the digital age dictates that companies rethink how they run their businesses. Customer service is one of the areas where a completely new approach is needed. Once conducted in an organizational silo, customer service touches virtually every aspect of a business.
The digital customer service transformation that is underway not only impacts large and mid-market businesses but also small businesses. The upside for small businesses is that the entry point is much easier for them. Larger counterparts already have significant investments in technology and business processes, and simply bolting additional components onto these existing pieces produces further fragmentation and inefficiencies. Without much of the same legacy infrastructure in place, small businesses can adopt new capabilities focused on a holistic transformation of customer service experience.
Ignoring the digital revolution isn’t an option for small businesses. Those that fail to embrace the digital age do so at their own peril. The reality is that customers of small business—just like those of their larger counterparts—are talking, texting, emailing, browsing, tweeting, posting, researching, and chatting more than ever. Small businesses that remain unplugged and unengaged put their businesses at risk. In addition, the goal of customer service is no longer to simply resolve an issue. It is now much more strategic, spanning the customer lifecycle and involving multiple touch points and operational areas.
Implications of Customer Service in the Digital Age
When it comes to executing on customer service within the context of this new digital paradigm, the implications of providing great experiences across a number of different channels is imperative. There are at least three factors driving these changes:
- Technology disruption. Technology is rapidly disrupting the marketplace for both businesses and their customers. Evolution in cloud computing, social networks, and data analytics, along with rapid adoption of mobile devices and apps create significant consequences for customer service. Engagement models only available to large businesses only a few years ago are now accessible to small businesses. Without legacy technology infrastructures that took years to construct and evolve, small businesses can quickly and easily choose, implement, and integrate cloud-based solutions that match their needs.
- Customer changes. Customer demographics and preferences are changing. Customers expect businesses to provide greater transparency and demonstrate greater levels of corporate responsibility. The new digital-first generation elects to conduct business via online channels, and they demand the ability to do so on any number of devices. It doesn’t matter whether the company is big or small, customers expect their suppliers to offer omnichannel digital experiences.
Along with this embrace of digital engagement comes a much greater likelihood on the part of the customer to advocate or complain about their respective experiences. As a result, harnessing this new mood in the marketplace can have a substantial impact—from word-of-mouth referrals, to social promoters and detractors, to new or lost opportunities.
- Competitive landscape. The barriers to compete and enter new markets are lower than ever as a result of technology disruption and globalization, and they will continue to shrink. New companies can suddenly spring to life with competitive solutions, while existing players can agilely and quickly evolve offerings to capture into new market segments. As a result, because keeping and growing existing accounts (customers) costs substantially less than acquiring new ones, the need to deliver outstanding customer service experiences is greater than ever.
The New World of Customer Service
The world in which small businesses operate today are much different than the one of a few years ago. The digital revolution mandates a different approach to customer service than before. Strategic focus is no longer about operational efficiencies, service transactions, and problem resolution, but rather about customer advocacy, lifecycle management, and nurturing communities of engaged and connected customers.
As small businesses navigate this new digital customer service world, there are four principles that they need to remember to be successful:
- Human component. Ironically, elevating the human component is what differentiates customer service in the digital age. Customers want their experiences optimized, not automated. Self-service technologies are not a replacement to human interactions; instead, they complement them. In this scenario, customer service agents become an important linchpin, resolving difficult issues while forming a moment of inspiration for the customer.
Admittedly, creating a personalized experience across different channels is challenging for businesses of all sizes—and particularly for small businesses with resource constraints. Here, choosing the right partners who understand the importance of the human element and have integrated that into their service offerings is crucial.
- No more generalization. Digital customer service does not equate to delivering digital-only solutions. Customers simultaneously live in the digital and the physical worlds and expect their suppliers to do so as well. This means that service must be tightly integrated across all channels—phone, email, communities, social, the website, etc.
Consider a recent survey by Accenture. Only 30 percent of customers consider online channels as their preferred choice; this is only slightly higher than the 28 percent who still elect to speak to agents on the phone. Further, the same survey found that only 43 percent of those who prefer online channels believe their service issues can be solved without the intervention of an agent—and only 36 percent believe online channels are better.
The resulting extrapolation is that companies must provide an integrated customer service model, one that combines both human and online elements. Further, with the availability of tools such as content personalization and live chat, the lines between the two blur. Agents must be able to move between different channels while providing customers with subject-matter expertise. “Moments of inspiration” occur during these human-to-human engagements and are pivotal in creating experiences that prompt everything from loyalty to advocacy. To create moments of inspiration, organizations need to rethink talent recruitment, development, and management models.
- Companies no longer control the service experience. One-quarter of customers now turn to third-party websites and forums to resolve issues. When they do so, they control the interaction. For small businesses, this requires an understanding of what third-party communities and websites they visit as well as monitoring of social channels where their customers are active. But customers also want to control the service experience when they interact directly with their suppliers. This means they want to choose when, where, and on what device.
Get Help When Embracing the Digital Age of Customer Service
Many small businesses may be overwhelmed with all of this talk about customer service in the digital era. They simply don’t have the resources, time, or expertise to check off all of the different boxes, let alone manage all of them on an ongoing basis. At Davinci Virtual, we understand this dilemma and have worked with thousands of small businesses to help the create and manage customer service solutions that transform how they interact and engage with the customers.
There are a number of ways that we can help small businesses do so. Our solution offerings cover the gamut of engagement channels—email, phone, live chat, in-person, and more. All of these are backed with our professional team of customer service agents. Broken into teams of typically five agents who serve as subject-matter experts for groups of assigned clients, our agents deliver outstanding customer experiences that increase conversion rates, cultivate advocates, and proactively resolve thorny issues.
Make sure to watch for Part 2 of this two-part blog series. Having established the business case for digital customer service in this blog post, we will examine some of the ways in which small businesses can leverage digital customer service solutions and their potential impact in this forthcoming post.