How to Break Through the Status Quo of Customer Care

Customer service remains locked in an outdated model, focused on after-the-fact approaches to addressing issues or system failures as the default for ensuring customer satisfaction. The real opportunity for customer care is much greater than reactive service and next-best initiatives. It is time to restructure the customer service field to be one rooted in proactive and preventative solutions, blurring the boundaries between service, marketing, and sales.

What's more, shifting the focus of customer service from fixing to predicting will also improve behind-the-scenes workflows to identify and address problems even before a customer has a cause for concern. When combined with a marketing technology stack, prediction strategies also help businesses connect with customers in more innovative and personalized ways to address various troubleshooting needs and produce a seamless experience on both sides of service.

With 25 years in customer, sales, and services, I intimately understand the organizational roadblocks and technological challenges businesses face. But when others say we can't, I say we can. And in today's landscape, from evolving marketplaces and changing behaviors to environmental and social responsibility, businesses that don't lean into these seismic shifts in customer care will be left behind.

A first step in the right direction requires companies to look inward to identify where they can improve across all their marketing and sales functions with a lens on customer care. To get started, businesses should focus on the following three central features of customer service where the shift from reactive to proactive care is rooted:

  1. Embedding service into the core of all business operations;
  2. Thoughtful use and incorporation of technology; and
  3. Increased awareness of and connection with consumer mindsets.

Improving customer service by focusing entirely on the customer service team might make sense on the surface, but in reality, it requires engagement with every branch and team across the business. To break out of the status quo and transform your customer service network to be proactive and predictive, service must be at the forefront of how executives, designers, manufacturers, sales representatives, and everyone in between approaches their work.

Achieving this requires an investment in cross-company collaboration and connection to ensure that no branch becomes siloed and loses sight of the end goal: creating the best product or service. This level of interaction will not only improve the final product, but will also streamline the process of predicting, preventing, and addressing potential issues that consumers might have down the line. Companies that invest in service as integral to their business model understand that their success and the satisfaction of their customer are synonymous.

Technology as a Tool

Widespread digital transformation was well on its way prior to the COVID-19 pandemic but was kicked into overdrive as normal, in-person interaction became impossible. While we can't wait for some experiences and services to go back to normal, many others are likely to remain in the virtual realm even after the pandemic is behind us. For example, Accenture research found that more than 80 percent of consumers who increased their digital usage during the pandemic are expected to sustain these levels moving forward.

With this knowledge, it is imperative for customer service to follow this trend and invest in innovative technologies to ensure they are meeting their customers' needs and expectations. For instance, retailers can invest in artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies to rewrite the shopping experience through virtual showrooms online and within mobile apps. Innovations like this will make customers feel more connected to employees and the products, making digital shopping a more personal experience. Likewise, pairing data-driven AI technologies with human customer service teams can alleviate employee burnout, make sure callers are routed to the agent best suited to help them, and in general, ensure the highest level of service and care.

The Human Factor

The human factor of this new proactive approach to service is rooted in the fact that connection is the most important aspect of customer care. Customers' mindsets, behaviors, and preferences are varied and constantly shifting; what works for one person might alienate or confuse another, and understanding these nuances is central to delivering the best service possible.

Having options and levels of service is a great way for companies to ensure they can connect with all of their consumers. For example, some people might feel most comfortable talking to a human representative over the phone or in person, while others might favor using an AI-chatbot, messaging service, or in-store kiosk. Providing a range of customer service options shows that your business truly puts the consumer experience first.

Customer service should no longer be seen as yet another operating cost, but rather, it should become a cornerstone of business strategy. Companies that want to reach new customers and keep them happy must break through the status quo of customer care and invest a new, proactive approach to service or risk losing a relationship or leaving a sale on the table.

Dawn Anderson is a senior managing director and global lead for customer strategy and consulting at Accenture.