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Use technology to help customers – not lose them | accountingweb

Use technology to help customers – not lose them


Technology is crucial for running a business today but beware of using it to cut expenses at the cost of customer satisfaction.

28th Sep 2022
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The trump card in any debate around the challenges of doing business today is digital technology. Whatever the question is, the clever use of technology will solve that for you. I’ve said it myself multiple times, from making decisions in unpredictable times, and achieving a better work-life balance, to squaring the economics of the four-day work week and even going solo as an accountant. What a shame then, that so many companies, and especially big companies, are hiding behind the cloak of new technology and innovation to cut expenses at the cost of customer satisfaction.

Chatbot or chat not

A glaring example of this is the chatbot. This technology is intended to improve customer service by providing 24/7 availability to help and information. And in turn, it frees up service teams to help customers with more complex questions than “What are your opening hours?” Unfortunately, if your query does not fit into the straight jacket of questions the company is happy to answer, you just simply don’t get anywhere. Too often, at no stage are you offered actual human interaction.

Limitations with artificial intelligence and natural language processing aside (if you don’t magically happen upon the exact trigger phrase, the response you get is seldom better than random, but this is likely to improve) it sometimes feels that chatbots have been designed to be as unhelpful as possible. It’s as if the lens used when designing the conversation flows is “What can this investment in technology do for our bottom line?” instead of “What can this technology do for our customers?” 

It’s not good to talk

To be honest, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We see the same thing with interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Again, these are supposedly put in place to help customers get the information they need faster and free up customer care to deal with more complex requests. In other words, let the machines do the things they’re good at – repetitive, clearly defined tasks – and let the humans step in where they are best suited – engaging with empathy, offering human connection and understanding exceptions. 

But it seems as if IVR systems are designed to never let you speak to a human, to the extent that you begin to wonder if a helpdesk behind the scenes actually exists. You get shunted into logical cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac with no back button. If your request doesn’t fit into one of the preset scripts then, sorry, you’re out and thanks for playing. 

Don’t contact us

It used to be a simple matter to find the details for the company you wanted to contact. You’d go online and check out the “Contact Us” page on the company’s website to find a telephone number, email address and physical address. Today though, how many sites have a phone number or even an address? At best you get a form to fill in with an undertaking they will get back to you. Unfortunately, the response is often from a “this is an unmonitored mailbox” so if the reply does not answer your question, you are back to square one.

And if you do get a response from an individual, it is usually from a generic mailbox and signed by an identity-less Trish or Pete without a personal email address or telephone number. 

So once again it is almost impossible to have a 30-second conversation with a real human who would be able to answer your question immediately.  Instead, you are forced into an endless cycle of “customer service innovations”, driving you to distraction and, it seems, almost deliberately obstructing you, the customer, from access to the business. And they call this progress?

Self-congratulatory sleight of hand

To add insult to injury, those same companies release self-congratulatory press releases telling the world about their innovations and the digital technology they have deployed to benefit their customers. They add a ticker tape to their websites displaying exemplary customer service response times, which in no way reflect the experience of anyone trying to speak to them in real life. 

At a very literal level, this strategy (because I do feel it is a deliberate strategy) does deliver on one of its promises: cost savings. With a strategy like this, you can reduce your customer service team, relocate them to Timbuktu, and de facto dismiss any customer query that doesn't fit your ideal profile. 

But at what cost? Your brand reputation, customer loyalty and trust will inevitably suffer. The rule of thumb is that it costs five to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. So those cost savings from cutting customer service had best be redeployed into sales and marketing, otherwise your business is going to go into reverse pretty quickly. 

But more than this, if your approach to digital technology at a systemic level is not balanced between customer service and cost savings, what does this mean for the potential of technology to build the workplace and business of the future? Will these companies ever unlock the efficiency and productivity gains promised by technology if their motivations are so far from the mark?

Real customer service

Companies need to end the charade that the technology they implement makes things better for their customers if they are not going to implement the technology correctly and with that motivation. Just because the bar is low, it doesn’t mean the smart thing to do is to match that, especially in an economic downturn. Instead, take the opportunity to do things properly, and win and retain loyal customers. This is likely to result in a far bigger boost to your bottom line, which will continue well beyond the current tough economy.

Replies (3)

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By Tornado
28th Sep 2022 14:19

Technology is at its best when it can connect you very quickly to someone who can help you.

Better still, dump technology and arrange to have a well staffed help desk with real intelligent people who can connect you to the right person, probably faster than any artificial intelligence could ever do.

"Why are you ringing us today"
"I have a query on my account"
"You want to close your account"
"No, I just have a query on my account"
"If you want to close your account then you will need to ring another number"
"No, I just want to speak to someone about my account
" Do you have an account with us"
"Yes, it is number 12345678"
"That is not the number to ring if you want to close your account. Do you want to close your account"
"Then please tell me why you are ringing us today"
"I cannot stand any more of this and feel like ending it all"
"In that case you will need to close your account"

Phone goes dead.

Thanks (2)
By Hugo Fair
28th Sep 2022 22:46

100% agree ... but you left out (what for me is) the killer punch.

After managing to deny you access to any sensible answer (even an incorrect response from a human would be an improvement), the coup de grâce ...
... the system (aka another unmanned mailbox) sends you a 'how did we do today' style message (with no options for any details where you could explain and/or vent your feelings) AND sends these both as text messages as well as emails AND chases you a day or so later if you don't respond!

It's not as though they read your '(dis)satisfaction responses' ... so must be doing it just to annoy?

Thanks (1)
By Paul Crowley
29th Sep 2022 14:03

Banks are probably the worst for this

Thanks (0)