digital customer

The History of Customer Service in 500 Words

The history of commerce stretches back 150,000 years. And as long as there have been customers, there has been customer service. Even as professional merchants began to flourish about 3,000 years ago, every exchange of goods and services remained face to face. That meant customer service was tailored to each individual. Until relatively recently a merchant knew all his customers and therefore had a personal interest in taking care of them. 

Customer service has come a long way in the last 1,500 centuries. The responsibility of taking care of customers has remained a constant, but just how that happens has changed incredibly. When we fast-forward to the age of modern commerce, we see how customer service has always evolved alongside technology. That has its benefits and drawbacks. While technology has enabled companies to serve more customers more quickly, it has also tended to put barriers between customers and companies that we're only now beginning to overcome.

The idea is to get back to that sense of personalized service with technology's added advantages of efficiency and scalability.  

Mark Hillary of the CX Files recently talked to me about what customers want and how a digital first mindset will help businesses deliver. Having the right tools is also critical.

From phone service to digital

To know where customer service is going, it's important to know where it came from. Once customer service switched from over the counter to over-the-phone, it was no longer so intimate. The sense of service being reactive rather than proactive became deeply ingrained for most companies. Customer service transactions over the phone tend to be functional, nothing more. Companies don’t go looking for customers they can help, they simply wait for the phone to ring.

While there have been attempts to update phone technology for business, too often they fall short. Companies that have embraced services like interactive voice response (IVR) don’t seem to realize how indirect this method can be, and how frustrating it is for customers to have to press buttons on their phone repeatedly to get to speak with an actual agent.

Email and social media changed the game as customers began to demand that companies be available and easy to reach on these channels, but even today many brands seem to engage with customers on social media only when they must. They aren't taking full advantage of the benefits of digital customer service technology, for customers and agents.

Many brands that really mean well don’t give their agents the right tools. Brands that use a variety of channels for customer communication often make little attempt to share data between channels to create a better picture of who customers are. Agents can’t work efficiently because they’re forced to start from scratch with every customer, spending time finding information about who they’re communicating with. It seems like a case of "two steps forward, three steps back."

Digital customer service powered by humans

That brings us to today. We now have the technology to offer a truly omnichannel customer service solution that focuses on the digital channels customers use most. The future of customer service isn’t linear; the future is an interactive digital customer service ecosystem.

With the right digital customer service solution, customer data is aggregated, and every query is sent to the best agent for the job. That way personal connections can be made between customers and brands, and agents can offer the personalized service today’s customers demand, with the benefits of technology. No more information silos, no more overtaxed and inefficient agents, no more reactive service. Just extraordinary customer service powered by humans and helped by technology.

Three Stages of Customer Service

  • Voice: Linear; not interconnected; functional transactions
  • Mix of channels: Still linear; little data sharing
  • Omnichannel: Multifaceted; interactive customer service environment; fulfilling customer experience

The irony is that customers today want exactly what customers have always wanted: results-based service that makes them feel valued as individuals, not like problems to be solved. But because most customers are using social media and digital technologies, they expect to be able to communicate with brands with all the ease and speed these technologies make possible.

Most companies know they should be offering effective digital customer service, but they don’t know how to do it.  Learn more on the digital age and how it is changing customer expectations. Check out our webinar, Digital – First Customer Service: The Future is Here Today.