July 21, 2014 - We recently heard about a tool that automatically generates blog topics, so we tried it out.
We entered the terms “call center,” “customer service” and “inbound,” and within two seconds the tool generated five topics, including the one for this post. At first the topic made us laugh, but then it got us thinking – what will customer service be like in the next century?
We assume, like so much else, customer service will become increasingly automated. The thrust of technology innovation is to speed up processes and eliminate costs, particularly labor costs. But customer service to a great extent is a hold-out against the automation tide.
This is because humans are intensely social, and at the point of deciding whether to buy a product human interaction is usually required. If customer service is done too fast, the customer feels rushed and rudely treated. If it lacks the involvement of friendly and helpful human being, the customer feels unappreciated. So most companies have maintained much of their human-based customer service capabilities.
But that doesn’t mean things won’t change. We assume that as computing power grows, technology innovation will increasingly be turned toward developing more sophisticated voice recognition applications used in customer service environments. The next major milestone for high performance computers is “exascale” levels of power, which means, literally, a million million million calculations per second. If, as expected, that milestone is achieved within 10 years, just think where computer performance will be 25 and 50 years from now? We can envision customer service systems that increasingly mimic human behavior and grow in intelligence as more questions and answers are programmed into it – an FAQ application on steroids.
The mind boggles.
But that future is not now. Sure, some customer service technology has worked well, such as bank ATMs. And while IVRs are broadly accepted, there is a limit to the layers of questions that customers are willing to put up with. Other attempts outside of automation to lower customer service costs have been notably unsuccessful. We’re thinking of the diminishing off-shore outsourcing model that produced customer service interactions in which, too often, neither the question nor the answer are understood.
In the foreseeable future, for companies that place a value on good quality customer service, there’s no substitute for the trained, helpful, knowledgeable and friendly customer service agent who enjoys assisting people, for whom the customer’s language is the representative’s first language, who understands and can explain products and services, who grasps order processing procedures and who has the ability to make suggestions that result in larger order sizes.
It’s possible that call center customer service agents will someday go the way of the bank teller, but we don’t think it will be any time soon.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Portsmouth, New Hampshire