New utility customer service challenges

In a just world, everyone would love the new utilities like Google, Skype and Facebook.  Reality isn’t like that because people expect great customer service.  New utilities could meet that expectation.  But they need a new approach to service management and design.

People have dreamed of omniscience –of “knowing everything” – since the start of history.  Google brings it a big leap closer – free of charge – and gets eighty-million “Hate Google” search results for its trouble. “Hate Skype” gets an ungrateful 8.3 million and “Hate Facebook” a curmudgeonly 79 million results.

Existentially, customers may be hitting out at the utility’s reach and pervasiveness.  But there’s another profoundly controllable reason.  Customers are demanding a great service experience and that’s exactly what the new utilities struggle to provide when things go wrong.

Customer service asymmetry

The essence of the problem is the asymmetry between a massive customer base, low average revenue per user and therefore relatively tiny service resources.  For example, the generally accepted cost of taking a single call in a contact centre is about 5 times bigger than Skype’s average annual revenue per user.

This is compounded by customers’ high service expectations and the technologically-intense nature of online propositions.   The inherent risk in all of this is that a dark pool of customer angst, propagated across social networks, could undermine the sector, damaging its brands and putting a brake on monetising the user bases. 

The solution is to avoid customer problems, create elegant, effective self-service and then, intelligently, open up to customer contact.

Evading customer service?

Like tax, there’s a subtle but important difference between contact evasion and contact avoidance.  Evasion lands you in jail and avoidance makes you more money.  Utilities need to move away from strategies that evade customer service contact.

New utilities need to declare a zero-tolerance war on all forms of value-destroying customer problem.  If a process causes customer issues it gets redesigned; if text causes confusion it gets re-written and if technology doesn’t work it, gets replaced.

Self-service needs to be elegant, highly usable and integrated with all the other service channels so that customers have a choice.

With these approaches embedded, it should be possible to reduce like-for-like service demand by 50% a year on a repeating basis.

Achieving that begins to provide the headroom to open up to customers intelligently and without “drinking from the fire hydrant”.  Initially, this could be through premium service offerings, call back or intelligent click-to-chat utilities that match service demand to capacity.

Ultimately, the goal should be to make brilliant basic customer service available to everyone.

About Simon Kirby

Digital strategist, CX advisor and agile Product Owner. My core expertise is aligning the political, strategic and human factors that determine the success of digital, CX and innovation projects. Doing that helps organisations deliver better experiences, happier customers, distinctive propositions and improved commercial bottom-line

3 Responses to New utility customer service challenges

  1. Historically Google have been very good at avoiding many of these issues by placing products and services in long, extended “beta” releases. This helps manage expectations a little better, and creates the time necessary to make the product as intuitive as possible.

    User expectations are almost universally high for these large brands, but that only turns into frustration when the product fails the “no manual needed” test. Coming back to Google again, the recent releases of Nexus One and Buzz are great examples of where they’ve skipped their own release process and created issues for themselves.

    Equally, the numbers you show for “hate” entries probably correspond to the size and ubiquity of those big offerings.

  2. And just to add a bit of additional material to my response, this on the BBC website seems to confirm the view that Google messed up with Buzz.

  3. Mick Page says:

    It seems to me that as long as good customer service is rare, providing it even at a disproportionate cost will prove profitable – simply because users will develop a loyalty to that brand for the very reason that they are getting good customer service.

    In respect of providing an elegant, responsive self-service, this sounds great, but feels evasive and will only work where it is accompanied by a thoughtful, honest and genuinely helpful response to the plea for help.

    For example, I may contact my web host to advise that my website is corrupted. However quickly, slickly, automatedly or politely I get a response, it’s of no use unless my website is restored. Telling me why it isn’t restored doesn’t really cut it for me.

    It’s right and proper to acknowledge when things go wrong, to treat your clients with the honesty and integrity you expect yourself and to focus on efficient mechanisms that provide a resolution, but the complaint is only likely to be there if you fouled-up in the first place.

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