Customer Service: Change Is Good, but Only If You're Prepared (Q&A)

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The landscape of customer service is evolving at a rapid clip. Every day, vendors are releasing software to make life easier for their customers, who, in turn, hope to make customer service more palatable for their end customers. Armed with extensive contact center experience on both the front lines and behind the scenes, Justin Robbins, senior analyst at the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), doesn't sugarcoat his thoughts. Robbins talked to Smart Customer Service about the state of the industry today, issues organization need to be cognizant of, and how to stand out from the pack.

Smart Customer Service: How would you describe the current customer service climate?

Justin Robbins: It's at a really interesting place. It's a really great time for customers because they have direct access to more options than they've ever had before. It's really easy to identify companies that are providing great experiences. If customers do just a little bit of homework or tune into what other customers are saying about their experiences, it's easy to find out where you can go to get great service—and also not such great experiences. Whether or not I've had a personal experience with a company, I can look at my social network and see what's being said.

SCS: Are companies meeting the challenge in serving savvy customers?

JR: For a majority of organizations, this is the time to wake up and smell the coffee about what it means to provide great customer experiences today. I'm seeing this with organizations that have historically had an attitude that customer service is something they have to provide: "We have a product and therefore we have to provide service to support the customers." Now, good customer service will be a differentiator. People can go anywhere to find the same or similar products. What stands out to customers is the experience.

Start-up organizations get it—they're quick to embrace this. They know if they want to stand out, they have to provide great customer experiences. Companies can do some cool, interesting stuff to provide great customer experiences. In the next three to 10 years, we'll see which companies stand out and which are no longer around.

SCS: How much of this change is a result of social media?

JR: Sophisticated customers are the ones who are driving changes in companies. Organizational changes should no longer be inward-driven—they're now a result of these sophisticated customers. Customers realize that too. For example, people are posting about their experiences onTwitter. Even a year ago, if I wrote to a company on Twitter, I might have been surprised and thought it was cool that they responded to me. Today, if I post to Twitter—and I know I'm not alone in this—if a company doesn't respond to me, I write them off. How can you not be listening?

SCS: So it seems as though customers just want to be heard.

JR: Customers are realizing that they're in the driver's seat. Social media lets people complain—maybe not necessarily for justified reasons, but it amplifies their voice. Companies have to pay attention to that, even if they don't know if a customer's concern is legitimate or not, but by and large, there is usually something that gets people upset.

SCS: Multichannel seems to be geared to helping customers who don't want to call into the contact center. Is this a positive [development] for the industry?

JR: So much has been depersonalized in our regular life, the way we interact with people. Look at people when you're at a restaurant or the airport. People are so tapped into technology, but I think that there's a part of us that craves personal interaction and feeling that someone knows and cares about us.

Brands are realizing that this is where customers are being drawn to. A person is there whenever they need them, no matter where they are. They [agents] understand them and want what's best for them. At a psychological level, this is where customer experience is. Technology is a great avenue, but it's still about 

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