Some Thoughts on What's Next for Customer Service and What's in a Brand


Some Thoughts on What's Next for Customer Service and What's in a Brand

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  March 18, 2014

Is the next-generation customer service center one that amps up what we have in place with the added ability to communicate with customers via newer channels such as e-mail, IM, mobile, social media, and possibly video channels? Or is it going look entirely different, possibly leveraging technologies like WebRTC and/or employees throughout an organization as opposed to dedicated agents?

Those are some of the questions a panel of customer service experts discussed last month during one of the CUSTOMER tracks at ITEXPO. Panelists on the session included Max Ball, product marketing for contact center at 8x8; Rick McFarland, president and CEO at Voice4Net; and Brian Spraetz (News - Alert), solutions marketing manager at Interactive Intelligence. Jon Arnold, principal at consulting firm J Arnold & Associates, moderated.

The possibility exists that rather than operating a traditional contact center the next-generation contact center could simply consist of a company assigning all or several of its employees a chunk of time to address customer service requests related to their areas of expertise, said McFarland. The technology is available now to do that kind of thing, he added.

Another new model of customer service involves enabling the customer to call for help direct from the device with which they need assistance. We’re referring here to Amazon Mayday, which allows Kindle users to click a button on the device to launch a videoconference with a customer support person. Arnold noted that other companies could adopt this model for other products. For example, he said, down the road a company like GE could build a Mayday-type button into its microwave ovens.

WebRTC would be great technology to enable that kind of thing, said Ball.

The high-profile launch of Amazon Mayday is great for the customer service space, Ball added, because it raised the bar on customer service. However, Ball voiced his concern that not all customer service representatives will be as video-ready as the lovely young lady on the Mayday commercial.

“I’m not sure I want to see the guy with the purple mohawk,” he said.

This conversation is all very exciting, but it doesn’t really accurately reflect the norm of what’s actually happening in customer service today. The reality is that there’s a lot of technology available that could help companies deliver better customer service by doing even simple things like providing contact center agents with customer information like account numbers to expedite agent-customer exchanges, but many companies still are not using such solutions. That’s too bad, because using such solutions can not only improve customer satisfaction, the panelists indicated, it also can lower customer care costs.

A Dimension Data (News - Alert) report indicates more half of the IVR systems out there don’t provide any customer information, Spraetz said. That’s a mistake we should not repeat as we launch mobile self-help applications, he added.

Gen Y says the phone is No. 4 on their list in how they want to communicate, so that’s pretty far down the list, Spraetz said. But for all the talk about the new, more empowered and connected customer, and how companies need to cater to these people with multimodal/omnichannel contact centers, the bottom line is that sometimes people need to talk, he added, and voice is what people use when they can’t fix their issue using the other channels.

Another CUSTOMER-related ITEXPO panel I found especially interesting focused on brand. The session featured Kathleen Reed, director of marketing at Sangoma Technologies (News - Alert), and Rich Williams, president of Connect2 Communications, a public relations and marketing firm.

The first question to be posed to the panel was: What is brand?

 “It’s everything you are, it’s your identity,” Reed answered.

What your company views as its identity and outsiders’ knowledge of the brand, however, can be two very different things, said Williams.

Here Williams told a story about a Connect2 client for which his firm interviewed customers to get a sense of how they view the client. Key themes that came to light  included reliable, innovative, and trustworthy. While innovation is exciting and grabs headlines, Williams said, to have the trust of your customers is huge, so it’s really important to promote that not only to customers, but also to anyone you’re trying to urge to action, which can include current or potential investors.

The panelists also discussed how a brand can and should evolve over the life of the company. As Williams noted, a company’s promise of value is different when it first launches than it at points along its path, for example, after customers have its solutions deployed. That said, added Reed, the branding message needs to evolve. But it needs to do so in a way that makes sense and doesn’t create a disconnect with customers and prospects.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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