Some companies have succeeded for decades by being traditionalists when it comes to customer service (which is my consulting wheelhouse). These are companies that have thrived over the years by keeping their approach to customer service simple: They hire good people, train them well, and inspire them continually.
Lately, though, such clients have been asking me about all the technology that has come on the market that’s been built to ease the way when it comes to providing a great customer service experience. They’re worried that they’ll soon be shortchanging both their customers and their employees if they ignore these new tools completely. The question they have for me is this: Is it possible to use the new technology–CRM and even AI–without negatively affecting the bond a company currently has with its customers?
Here’s what I tell them: The solution, when introducing new technology in a customer service context, is to keep the technology “below eye level.” Think of how technology is literally kept below eye level in the lobby of a great hotel (or even a pretty good hotel, for that matter). The employees at the registration desk arable to maintain eye contact with each arriving guest, who never need to be aware of the spiffy technology the employees have working for them, because the terminal with all this good stuff–individual guest preferences, guaranteed rate, status of every room–is out of view of the guest.
In other scenarios, the principle of keeping technology below eye level doesn’t have to be taken literally, but it’s a great conceptual model to keep in mind. Even if technological tools do need to be visible to the customer, a solution here is for every employee to be trained on it well enough that it nonetheless enhances rather than interferes with the customer experience. You don’t want to be one of these companies that gives every customer-facing employee a tablet with proprietary software that is either so clunky or so foreign to the employees using it that the employee spends more energy and attention on interacting with the tablet than with the customer who’s in front of them.
An exception to this model is, of course, self-service, where the technology is going to be right in the customer’s face. And there are going to be situations where your customers will want to work with your technology directly; times when all you need to do is get out of the way. For example, I’m going to assume you don’t answer your phones 24 hours a day–and you certainly don’t want to be pushed in the direction of needing to do so. This is a great place to let technology lend a hand: you can set up “my account” functionality where customers can check on how their projects are going regardless of the time of day, (and regardless of time zone as well, if your customer base is international). This way, the customers are interacting directly with the technology, but they’re doing it for their own benefit in a way that they by and large appreciate.
A final point to consider is that customers may prefer self-service sometimes, and human-delivered service at others. This is a reason why banks still have branches and that financial advisors still have physical locations that clients can visit. Studies show that customers of these types of “trusted authority” businesses still prefer–in our app-obsessed era–to meet the human or humans handling their account at least once. After they have that meeting in person and make that personal connection with “their” person, they may never feel a need to visit in three dimensions again.
From there on, every automated or textual or web-based or telephone interaction is infused with the client’s memories of that meeting, and retain a warmth that would not have attached to it without that in-person introduction. (Less extreme but similar scenarios include customers who want to use a kiosk when they’re in a rush, but want to speak with a person when they have something complex to untangle. Yes, this can be the same customer, even within the course of the same day.)
Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, customer experience turnaround expert, keynote speaker, trainer, and author; feel free to email Micah directly, visit his website, or download three free chapters of his new book: Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away): The Simple Playbook for Delivering the Ultimate Customer Service Experience, recently published by HarperCollins Leadership.