When we think about the evolution of customer service over the past couple of years, it may seem as though technology has drastically transformed the way we communicate with customers. But in actuality, the nature of customer service really hasn’t changed all that much. Decades ago, the approach to proactive customer service simply involved a product manual that required customers to read. Now, that process is different. Companies still arm their customers with the tools they need to solve their own problems, but the “manual” isn’t a hard copy that comes with the product. Instead, it’s a forum or a blog post online.
While there are more channels available for customers to get the support they need, overall the fundamentals of customer service really haven’t changed. Customers still have the same basic needs and are delighted and disappointed by the same things they always have been. But now, companies use technology to anticipate their customers’ needs and solve their problems.
Much of what has changed in the customer service landscape is due to technological innovation and the resulting shift in generational expectations. Millennials demand and reward instant gratification and immediate access to brands. They are especially drawn to brands that connect with them where they prefer to be — on social media, chat or mobile. And when they don’t get the service they expect, they won’t hesitate to share their feedback with anyone who will listen (most often on social media).
Perhaps the proliferation of Millennials in the workforce (research shows they will make up more than 75 percent of the global workforce by 2030) and as consumers (they will collectively spend $200 billion annually beginning in 2017) gives the perception that they are responsible for how customer service has evolved over the years. However, the Millennial generation really doesn’t vary that much from Gen Y and Baby Boomers. At a basic level, they all want the same thing — to feel respected and heard. They want to know that brands are listening to them.
Changing business practices
As the nature of business has changed, there is a perception that customer service has also changed. Before the days of social media and email, customer and brand interactions had to occur in person or over the phone. Whether or not it was specifically called that in earlier times, customer service existed even in the days of general stores. Storeowners were on a first-name basis with all their customers and stocked their shelves with the products their customers needed. In small, local communities, when a general store owner made a mistake, everyone in town heard about it.
Now, technology has simply expanded our communities. When brands or storeowners make mistakes today, the entire “town” still hears about it, but that town can span seven continents and hundreds of countries thanks to social media. While business has become more global, and the way brands and customers interact has changed, the basics have remained the same. Brands still need to get to know customers on a personal level, just like the owner of a general store. But today they may not meet that customer face to face. Companies can now use technology to get to know their customers.
Starting with the fundamentals
There’s no question that the process of supporting customers has changed over the years. The technology and speed is very different from 50 years ago. Younger generations demand instant communication from brands, and technology has transformed how and where brands must deliver on that expectation. It no longer comes down to carrying a customer’s favorite item on the shelf. It’s about interacting with customers on Twitter, Facebook, the Web, and Mobile Apps (and delivering items rapidly).
But by starting with the fundamentals of great customer service, brands can identify what customers really need and focus on the best ways to meet those needs. As we look at the trajectory of customer service, it’s important to remember that the basics haven’t changed. Customers still want respect, they want to be heard, they want companies to respond in a timely fashion and they want them to solve their problems. Yes, the process has changed over the years, but the fundamentals of building great relationships between brands and customers have remained the same.
— Jill Soley is the Vice President of Marketing for Freshdesk. With 15 years of experience, Jill has helped Freshdesk bring a customer-focused approach to product and marketing management. Prior to joining Freshdesk, Jill played a key leadership role in the successful launch of Creative Cloud, representing a transformation of Adobe’s shrink-wrap software business to a service and subscription model. She was also responsible for Adobe’s mobile app strategy for Adobe’s Creative Pro business. Jill received both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from MIT and continues to bring an innovative approach to marketing through Silicon Valley.