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Technology has redefined how we all communicate – including customers!

When was the last time you interacted with a customer service team – on any channel – and came away from the experience feeling really good? Of course it happens, but in most surveys there are only a minority of customers who claim to be really satisfied with their service experiences. The customer experience is all too often sacrificed for the convenience of the brand.

There has always been a traditional view of customer service that the brand sits at the centre of the relationship. The customers and prospective customers swirl around like satellites and reach out to the brand when they have a question. This is now an extremely dated view of how brand relationships work.

It was true that this is how customer service worked when calls and emails were funnelled to the brand using a specific freephone number or email address, but with the advent of mobile Internet access using smartphones and social networking brands now need to go out seeking places where the customer is talking about them and their products.

Technology has changed the expectations of the customer and is no longer just facilitating access. Think back just five or ten years and it was always the brand that defined how a customer relationship could take place. Physical stores were open at defined hours, customer service could be emailed on a specific address, a specific phone number could be used to get help… the brand created the pathway to service. This has entirely changed, with the customer now defining how and when service should be offered.

If a customer reviews your restaurant on Tripadvisor it’s now expected that you will provide some feedback on that channel. If a customer tweets a rail company to ask why a train is delayed, they expect a rapid response on Twitter. If a customer leaves a long Facebook message to a retailer asking why they did not have a product in stock, the retailer needs to answer on Facebook.

Most forward-thinking customer service managers have seen this coming. We have seen the growth of multichannel service for a few years now, right from the early days when it just meant answering a tweet, to the present day operations that require Big Data expertise and command centres that sweep the Internet looking for any customers talking about your products.

But how many companies are really preparing for what we see today let alone how these expectations will change in future? Are customer service leaders already getting overwhelmed and not planning strategically for the future?

There is a scary thought experiment that I read about (strangely enough) in the diaries of the late Labour MP Tony Benn. Take your present age and subtract that from the year you were born so you can compare life the same number of years before you were born to the same number of years after you were born. In my case, I would be comparing the present day to the years between World War One and Two. That’s quite scary, as the world has changed enormously since then.

But now think about the same experiment on a much smaller scale. How much has your customer service function changed in – say – the past five years? I would guess that in that short period of time you have had to introduce social media management, start managing a wide array of channels, start exploring data analytics and other tools that allow you to analyse what’s out there. Life today is very different to the customer service you were managing in 2010.

Now try thinking forward five years. The rate of technological change is accelerating enormously. I just upgraded to an iPhone 6 from my previous 4S. The 4S was state of the art technology at the time of the London Olympics in 2012, now it looks like it may as well be powered by steam.

This is how fast we are moving. Technology is obsolete within a couple of years. Can you plan strategically enough to cope with wearable technologies, virtual reality, augmented reality, and other technologies that are going to shape the customer experience soon?

What do you really think your customers are going to expect five years from now? It’s an interesting thought experiment that connects together how quickly your business can change with the new technologies that might be available in the next few years. Think about it and leave a comment here or tweet me on @markhillary.

BIO

Mark is a British writer based in São Paulo, Brazil. He heads up the Carnaby content company, which focuses on publishing, blogging, social media, and translation for clients in five continents.

Mark is a well-known technology and customer experience writer, with a regular column in the Huffington Post, and he has published 13 books about the management of technology and globalisation – the last book being about how senior executives are using blogs to interact with clients directly. Before writing took over, Mark was a CIO and gained extensive experience of managing outsourcing programmes by working with suppliers in several countries.

Mark was an official blogger at the London 2012 Olympic games, he has worked as a UN advisor helping small businesses in several developing countries to develop business using social networks, and he has twice been shortlisted by Computer Weekly magazine as the UK business blogger of the year. In addition to ghost-writing blogs for several business leaders Mark has also written blogs and speeches for several ambassadors, senior politicians in several countries, and helped Commander Neil Armstrong with his jokes about the moon!

www.markhillary.com.

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