Forbes Guest Post by Agent.ai CEO, Fred Hsu
When Your Digital Customer Support Focuses On Deflection, Everyone Loses
As technology and digital communication have exploded, we’ve quickly gone from 1:1 customer support in brick and mortar settings, to a situation in which a company’s support system can field many customer requests at once. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened due to more customer service reps being hired – instead, it’s been achieved by instituting do-it-yourself FAQs, “lite” search widgets, automated email responses and other tactics that deflect customers without providing a personalized experience.
In fact, we seem to increasingly be in the age of “self-help support” where customers are expected to look through FAQs and documents to find answers. While self-help and deflection can help your company streamline support costs, they do little to generate increased revenue from happy customers who become your fans and brand ambassadors. This focus on deflection and efficiency means companies are moving their attention away from key pillars of customer service and satisfaction: responsiveness, helpfulness and personalization. Just because products are digital, does not mean these principles should be lost.
A relentless focus on cost has pushed technology vendors to build products that help companies keep margins low and focus on triage, deflection, and self-service, pushing companies further down that path. Today, many software vendors measure success by emails, calls and interactions that don’t happen — rather than celebrating improvements in service outcomes.
The IRS shouldn’t be providing better customer service than app companies
We’ve read so many statistics around poor customer support in the world of apps specifically but wanted to see it for ourselves. So we decided to run a survey in which we sent a support request to the top 100 Android apps on the Google Play store, asking if their app would support the newest Samsung Galaxy phone. Simple, right? Well…not exactly.
Our study found only 29% of top 100 Android apps were able to answer even the most basic question. Conversely, we did not even hear back from 71% of apps. Moreover, it took an average of 25 hours for companies to send back a response to a very simple yes/no question.
Only a single app – KodiTV – answered our question quickly (within 3 minutes) and correctly. They were also the only company to use chat for support. The next best set of apps all took 3 hours or more to answer our question. Chase, Amazon, Crowdstar, Imangi, Ubisoft, and IRS (the IRS2Go app) all took around 3 hours and responded via email. This may be focused on app companies, but we feel it’s symptomatic of a general trend with online businesses in general (which, increasingly, most businesses tend to be).If the IRS can provide decent customer service then so can you!
A focus on efficiency through tech will not promote positive word of mouth
Many statistics show the importance of support in increasing customer retention. In 2011, 86% of consumers quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience (Customer Experience Impact Report by Harris Interactive/RightNow). Meanwhile, resolving a complaint in the customer’s favor leads to a return customer 70% of the time (Lee Resources). Lastly, the White House Office of Consumer Affairs finds that, on average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase.
Newer technology in the form of chat, better data and AI should help companies maintain efficiency while improving timeliness and personalization. AI productivity tools should help provide accurate, custom responses for simpler questions when a human agent is not available. More customer data and better historical logs will help provide better context for human customer service agents without needing to ask the same questions over and over. More data will also help train chatbots that actually work. Lastly, moving towards synchronous communication channels, like chat, over asynchronous ones, like email, should help response speed.
New solutions that strike the balance between artificial and human intelligence will move companies in the right direction. So far, non-human chatbots only add to the deflection issue – 70 percent of interactions on FB messenger do not work. Vendors are finally realizing that human managers will need to look over bots for the foreseeable future.
Finally, basic CRM services like those provided by Zendesk and Helpshift are becoming commoditized solutions and will drop in price over time, freeing up company budget to focus on quality support channels rather than self-help channels. In the end, companies will need to give up a little efficiency for much higher responsiveness, helpfulness and personalization.
And more entrepreneurs need to commit to investing their time in quality support. But support vendors also need to push back and guide companies to focus on service quality and timeliness, over cost reduction. It won’t be enough to create better technology (support has gotten worse as technology has improved) – rather a philosophical shift is just as important.
In order to turn the tide, the product focus of tech providers needs to decisively shift from triage and deflection to service quality and timeliness. It’s time for companies to leverage technology for better service – not just better margins.