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This article was published on October 21, 2010

The Future of Customer Service

The Future of Customer Service

Customer service through social media is a pretty hot topic at the moment. More companies are investing in this, and more people expect to have their problems solved through Twitter or Facebook. We’ve already seen a glimpse of what customer service will look in the future, when Gatorade shared their Mission Control Centre earlier this year.  The centre allows staff to track real-time mentions of their brand and monitor current trends in sports conversations, and those that are relevant to their brand. It’s exactly what I’ve been imagining for quite a while now, and it’s fantastic to see it being done.

Welcome to customer service of the future :

This is incredible for quite a few reasons, and shows just how much customer service can involve. It’s not necessarily that what each individual is doing is remarkable – many companies now have an in-house social media expert. But the fact that they have a whole team, and whole room dedicated to it, shows what we can come to expect other companies to hopefully adopt. Here’s what I think you can come to expect from customer service of the future :

They find you before you know you have a problem

We’re starting to see this with some of the more savvy social media practitioners, but I think that more and more we’ll start experiencing being approached proactively by companies, to solve our problems, before we even really know we have one. From personal experience, it takes quite a lot to be wrong before I can be bothered to pick up the phone and face a lengthy call wait with a company. It takes a lot less effort for me to tweet that I might not know how to find a particular setting, or clean something properly. The more savvy companies get, the more they will be proactive in approaching people who are not necessarily complaining, but who clearly have a problem.

This gets really clever when you think about combining with my online history. On Saturday I might tweet that I bought a new Mac, and on Tuesday I might tweet that I’m annoyed because I can’t access wifi on my new computer . If I haven’t used the word ‘Mac’ in my second tweet, the company typically won’t know about it. But if instead they’ve been monitoring me from the first tweet, they can then help me out. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, certainly for a large organisation and for some it may be a scary thought, but it shows how far customer service can still progress.

Call Centres will be a thing of the past

So maybe this is more like 5 years time, but I don’t think that call centres as we know them will exist for much longer. Instead what we’ll be seeing is more like the Mission Control Centre shown above. For one thing it’s a much sexier name! But in a very real way, phones being replaced with computers will start to have a real effect on the way customer queries are dealt with. Not just from the perspective of the service staff, but how queries are dealt with in forums and boards. At the moment lots of people are happy to give up their spare time to help others with queries and this works well up to a point. With support staff now being wired in, they can hopefully try to engage with this grass-roots support more. And not control it or replace it in any way, but shape it and ensure that people are getting the right information.

On-the-ground team to serve people locally

As much as you can help customers from your Mission Control Centre, this isn’t always a replacement for serving someone face to face, if you need to exchange a product for example. Just as online service is becoming more real-time, on the ground service will have to adapt as well, as we demand more, quicker. There is a lot of work to be done in joining up the staff who are at the computer, with the staff who will visit your house and make repairs. I’d expect to see these on-the-ground staff eventually utilising location based technologies to serve people within their area, tracking the local conversation in real-time.

Social CRM tools as standard

I’ve previously written about the advantages of social CRM tools, but at the moment these are relatively in the niche and haven’t yet reached mainstream adoption. The potential of social CRM is absolutely huge and if done well, can address a problem that many customer service staff may face. One of the biggest difficulties with customer service online, is that you may be talking to one person on their blog, and your co-worker could be talking to them on their Twitter  account, where they’re using a different name. You’re talking to the same person, but you can never feasibly know this unless you have the right tools in place. This not only makes you more efficient as a company, taking 2 conversations to one, but also results in a more satisfactory experience for the customer, without having to give the same information to 2 different people.

Relationships with support staff

This is one of the most intriguing things about online customer service, and I get to see it first-hand with some of our clients. When you pick up a phone to a company, you rarely know their name, and would hardly recognise it from one call to the next. But online, and through Twitter specifically, it’s different. It’s often the case that support staff build up identities online, using their real names and injecting a bit of their real self into their tweets. This is an incredibly valuable relationship, and one that benefits both sides. You’ll find that customers can be a lot less cranky if they know you by first name, and remember when they spoke to you a few weeks ago about another problem. This changes the dynamic somewhat. Instead of calling a faceless company and not knowing where you’ll be directed to, you can instead address a person that you know, and where you might feel slightly more in control.

Online support staff will be in demand

Where once customer care staff were seen as fairly easy to employ, and quite low down the pecking order, the customer service rep of the future is someone different altogether. It is a skill to be able to talk to people, but an even bigger skill to talk to them online and an even bigger skill yet to deftly monitor conversations, spot potential problems and process the information into something actionable. Companies that aren’t already, should be investing in training up their own staff into using social tools to serve customers. Or you’ll find that this is what your customers demand and you’re not in a position to deliver it. Developing social media customer service skills could be a pretty keen career choice for many and you might find you’re not so low down the pecking order after all!

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