Amazoning Your Customer Service

In today's subscription economy, customer expectations are being shaped by a new reality. People don't have the time or patience to tell companies they're having problems. They just want them fixed. And if problems do arise, customers increasingly expect the company to acknowledge their pain and fast.

When customers expect continuous value delivery, even brief disruptions can have a long-lasting impact on brand and revenue. Companies like Amazon, to name the most prominent one of many, are setting our expectations higher than ever.

I know this, because it happened to me recently. One rainy Saturday a few months ago, my preschooler was getting bored staying inside so I scrambled to find a movie that we both could enjoy—no small task given the infinite choices of entertainment that are at our fingertips today.

Fortunately, on Amazon Prime, we found Zootopia, a great Disney film written for both adults and children. We're snuggled on the couch, loving it, and about 15 minutes in, the video skipped. It jiggered. I didn't think much of it. The cable connection could have been bad. No biggie—the problem went away before I could do anything.

A half hour later, in my inbox, was a $5 credit from Amazon apologizing for the bad experience. I was surprised and yet delighted.

This brings home that idea that the next generation will come to expect a more proactive customer service experience, one that takes full advantage of the digital paths that connect consumers to companies. As businesses digitally enable more of their revenue, they gain better insight into how people use their services. The companies know it, and so do their customers. I';m certain that my preschooler will grow up in a world in which this type of proactive service will be the norm.

Customer service is in a different place than it was even two years ago because of what companies like Amazon are doing.

If you look at my Zootopia experience from a traditional customer service angle, I didn't engage. I didn't log a ticket. I didn't go to a website. I didn't even tweet about my complaint. Amazon just knew something bad had happened.

Amazon knows that if I have a good experience, I'll probably maintain my subscription to Prime. And if I hit too many weird glitches, I'll probably cancel. So to protect its revenue stream, it took two key positions from the new customer service playbook:

  • It played offense. Customer service always used to be a defensive position, in which companies waited for disgruntled customers to call. No more. Companies are owning their problems and setting things right before the customer has a chance to fire off that nastygram.
  • It reduced demand. Demand for customer service has always outstripped supply and probably always will. But automated systems let companies manage that demand. I don't know this for a fact, but I'd bet that in my case, Amazon's system probably saw some percentage of customers having an issue with their stream and sent an alert to engineering. Once engineering fixed the problem, calls to customer service were eliminated.

Companies increasingly have unprecedented insight into when, where, and how their products and services are used, as nearly everything becomes connected. With this new ability to understand how customers use their products, customer service organizations will become active participants in the value-delivery chain and not simply responsible for providing reactive support. This hyper-connectivity will drive greater expectations for support from ever-connected customers.

At the same time, nearly every industry is looking for a model to drive recurring revenue. To effectively address this subscription economy, customer service organizations will need to shift from reactive support models to proactive success models, where customer success is directly associated with usage and renewal.

To do that, you can't just pay lip service. You must believe in customer service. You have to dedicate your company to making the customer experience as smooth and delightful as possible.

That takes preparation. You must do the hard work that customers will probably never see. A lot of technology running in the background—like that Amazon system that detected the shuddering broadcast the second it hit my screen—will help your customer service organization stay on offense in protecting your brand's value.

My advice is, start building that system. If Google can be a verb, why not Amazon? Go ahead and Amazon your customer service. Make it seamless. Your customers will thank you—maybe not with an email or a tweet, but with something even better: a subscription renewal.>

Nitin Badjatia is global head of product strategy for customer service management at ServiceNow.