Revolutionizing convenience

How customer service can differentiate your company in the COVID-19 era

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the customer experience. It has also catalyzed new strategies to keep customers loyal and competitors at bay. This was the focus of a recent virtual conversation between Dean Robison, SVP of customer service at ServiceNow, and customer experience guru Shep Hyken.

Robison noted that while the pandemic was certainly disruptive, it had also accelerated adoption of digital workflows, which prompted unexpected productivity gains within his department. “We’ve never had a higher CSAT score, never had a higher productivity score or productivity results,” he said.

So how can companies maintain customer service continuity in tough times? Start by planning for the next crisis now. “What have you done to plan for the next bad thing to happen, that we aren’t anticipating?” Hyken asked. “Noah didn’t build the ark after it started raining. Have a plan and be prepared for the worst.”

Hyken added his thoughts on leveraging digital tools to raise the customer experience bar in the COVID era. The pandemic “forced us to make changes we never thought we’d have to make,” he said. “It’s happening in support centers around the world. You’re seeing the acceleration of technology, the acceleration of automation, and acceleration of the adoption of new tools.”

[Read also: How to please customers at scale]

Emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning, and natural language processing will increasingly play a role in customer service automation, Hyken said. He cautioned, however, that advanced tech can’t produce great customer experiences on its own.

“You can’t automate a relationship,” Hyken said. Customers want more help and they love getting it quickly through automation. But they also want the ability to connect with human beings. “They want a human fallback,” Hyken added. “That need for empathy and understanding is at a higher level than ever.”

Hyken stressed the delicate balance between human and automation. “If you digitize the relationship, you become a commodity and it’s robot versus robot,” he said. In short, organizations should only automate customer service processes if it makes sense for the customer.

What customers want

In his book The Convenience Revolution, Hyken presents six principles that organizations should apply to master customer service. They include reducing friction, embracing technology, adopting self-service, implementing subscription models, optimizing delivery, and ensuring access.

Customer service is rarely about perfection, Hyken said. Instead it’s about being reliable, attentive, and above average. That’s how customer service teams can reach what Hyken calls the “always” tier:

  • “They always get back to me so quickly.”
  • “They’re always so knowledgeable.”
  • “They’re always friendly.”
  • “They’re always so helpful.”

Even when there’s a problem, Hyken said, you want to hear the word “always,” as in: “I can always count on them.” In short, average customer experiences don’t cut it. Customers want a consistent, predictable, above-average experience.

As an example, Hyken recounted a conversation he’d had with the co-founder of a global luxury hotel chain. “I asked him, how much better than average do you have to be?” Hyken said. “He replied, without hesitating, ‘10% better than average.’”

Give them tools

Your customers should have easy access to mobile, automated support tools. This saves your employees from having to spend time guiding them there.

Robison’s customer service team implemented new mobile support tools just as the pandemic hit. They’ve been a raging success, he said.

“Mobile gives customers the ability to walk away, go veg out on the couch, watch Netflix, and remain connected,” Robison said. “They can still monitor that case, add case comments, through mobile.”

Automation also boosted job satisfaction on Robison’s team during the early days of the pandemic, he said. “When we initially adapted and adjusted to what was going to hit us, I didn’t think I’d have the capacity to handle demand, with everyone working remotely, or because some people would get sick.”

“Turns out, I didn’t have that lack of capacity for the reasons I anticipated,” he added. “I did lose capacity in nontraditional ways, because employees needed to take care of their families or because they just needed to take a break.”

Automation reduced the burden of mundane, repetitive work, Robison said. “This made the service people’s lives better because now they could focus on difficult issues, which is the reason they got into this business.”