Personal Service in the Age of the Customer

Today, we live in the age of the customer. Everyone and everything is connected. Just about anything you want can be ordered with one tap and delivered to you within the hour. And new companies are cropping up constantly, largely designed around making everyday, mundane tasks like laundry, commuting, getting a taxi, or even having your taxes done with minimal effort. Yet, somehow in this era where customers come first, personal service got left at the altar.

Our ability to personalize the gadgets and screens with which we spend many of our waking hours has become an obsession. But when it comes to getting service from the companies that provide those apps, we're left with the impersonal service for the masses that we associate with the era of the 1-800 number. This was the kind of service that featured long hold times, transfers, repeating information, and escalating to supervisors, social media, and other channels to resolve routine service issues. This was the type of service that drove so many customers away. There is a better way, a new way, and it's here.

That better way isn't yesterday's version of personal service. It's not the kind of one-to-one, personalized service that my parents reminisce about: the days when the neighborhood storekeeper remembered them by name, kept notes about their special interests, and tailored their service accordingly. A time when a person answered the phone, a CRM system was a notebook, and people didn't use the Web.

Today, with the advent of so many diverse channels, including Snapchat, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Skype, etc., there is a new opportunity for service leaders to deliver personalized service.

Service is the most disruptive force that a company can leverage to transform itself or an industry. It's giving rise to new business models and companies bringing the kind of "Wow!" moments that stick with customers. And as companies use personalized service as the source of that innovation, they're reaching customers in a whole new way. In my own life, that means service that supports how and when I can engage, and is specific to what I am trying to do. As a working mother, I want to pack all of my work into my workday so that my personal time is with my daughter, not troubleshooting service issues. That means asynchronous service, picking up right where we left off instead of starting over every time. It means moving the issue I am trying to resolve forward in my channel of choice, leveraging the few minutes I have to engage, and not requiring me to be at the other end of that line instantly for a reply.

As customers engage with companies in an asynchronous fashion, the companies that can accommodate that communication will redefine what we think of when we talk about personalized service. That might take the form of deeply personalized help with service integrated right into their Web or mobile app experience. Or it might mean being able to call into someone to talk through their help, but with an agent who matches their disposition.

The world companies are dealing with is very different today. There is no main channel of choice for all customers, yet when a company makes a connection with customers on their preferred channels, that's when they start to create true customer loyalty. For the service leaders that reach customers in new ways, there is an incredible opportunity to make personal service in the age of the customer happen. And as a result, create a sustainable competitive advantage for their company.

Sarah Patterson is senior vice president of product marketing for's Service Cloud.