Six Ways Customer Service Can Transform Customer Experience

John Heald

“Customer service is the way to change your customer experience.”

I lost count of the number of times I heard people saying that at Customer Contact Week (CCW) Europe, an event that attracted dozens of the world’s most influential customer service experts.

Customer service is now involved much earlier in the customer journey, not just post-sales, and is integrated as part of providing an overall great customer experience.

Following are six ways customer service can transform customer experience.

1. Customers that complain could be your most valuable (and it’s worth investing in them)

What drives people to go through the effort of getting in touch to complain? It might be because they care about your brand and consider their relationship with you an important part of their lives. When a customer’s experience goes wrong, it matters.

According to Claire Carroll from the UK grocery retailer The Co-op, you’ve got to be “pretty motivated to complain about a sandwich.” She also noted that “complainers” spend £200m a year with the Co-op, so the company radically changed the way it handled complaints.

Under her watch as head of customer services, the company started to make truly personal responses to complaints, such as sending a box of Disney toys to a child with a Disney obsession who had a complaint. Carroll said some people in the company viewed this sort of recompense as trivial and a waste of money, but the payoff was clear when 12 months later the £200m had risen by £12m and complaints were down by 20%.

2. Contact centers are not just a complaint hotline

Treat call centers as a direct line to your customers and as a method to help them make the right choices. Some of the biggest success stories at CCW came from organizations that changed their view of the contact center from necessary evil to an important means of listening to customers. Getting contact center staff to believe this is also crucial. If your people are always saying no, try changing the culture and introducing some autonomy. Empower them to do what is necessary to solve a problem – as long as it gets resolved.

3. Throw away the script

Robotic, transactional responses from staff to customers are often a turnoff to consumers. You might think you’re creating an efficient, accurate way of talking to people, but customers report that it’s like speaking to a machine. Hui Wui Curtis of Choice Hotels realized this when she began the task of improving Choice’s contact center operations, so she threw out the script and the complex QA forms and got agents to talk to customers.

“We focused on the interaction with the customer as a means of measuring success,” she said. They were even encouraged to make sales, a controversial concept in a world where it’s often accepted that selling can and does drive people away. The result? The traditional hotel industry summer sales slump was reduced in the first year and flattened out in the second. Curtis described this as “a win for us.”

4. When things are bad for your customers, make their lives easier

The theme of dealing with a recently deceased customer’s account cropped up several times at CCW. Greg Reed, CEO of UK heating insurance firm Homeserve, said his company stopped turning the procedure into a marathon of form filling – it instead began taking a relative’s word for it, no longer requiring a death certificate. Choice Hotels has done the same thing, and by simplifying (and humanizing) the process, it cut the time for issuing refunds after a death from three to five weeks to three to five days.

5. The jury is out on video as a means of contact

Video calling has been around for years but still hasn’t made much of an impact on customer service. At a CCW discussion session, there was a very mixed opinion on the value of video. Some reckoned it offers an unbeatable method of relating to customers’ emotions, others thought millennials disliked the idea of talking to a customer service agent, let alone doing it face-to-face.

But there was some consensus on its use in a B2B environment or as a tool to solve technical issues. For example, a customer with a broken machine can call the service team and show the technician what’s wrong via video, so when the tech arrives onsite they spend their time repairing, not diagnosing.

6. Automation isn’t about saving money

Introducing automation, AI, and machine learning does not create a reason to cut staff and save money. Instead, automation should help customer service become faster, more convenient, and work better. If you’re not automating to do that, you could be doing it for the wrong reasons. Dr. Volker Hildebrand, global VP of strategy at SAP Hybris, says that if you’re measuring the success of automation by how much money it saves, you’re in the wrong place. “If it does those things – speed, convenience, and providing the right answer – then it’s working. That’s how to measure its success, not by how much it allows you to cut costs.”

Learn more about how to transform customer service

This article originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.