Farewell to customer service "The automated self-service center"

by Niels Kjellerup, Publisher and editor. 18.12.2008.

How we lost the customer in the service equation -

In 1980 when the first Answer Centers was setup in the US, large corporations realised based on the TARP research that customers demanded accountability and access to the suppliers of the product and service they purchased. The Japanese superior service culture had made a big dent in the US automotive Industry. AT&T was being dismantled and needed new revenue fast and saw the Answer centre as a key to selling 1-800 numbers.

In 1980 there were only 3-4 vendors producing ACD’s and today only the Rockwell Galaxy and Aspect remains in different ownership.

From 1985 until 1995 both AT&T and Nortel developed ACD’s and we saw the birth of the Call Centre, a more automated Answer Center. The biggest vendor group back then were the producers of predictive/power diallers. Today few are left, but those who made the transition to call centre automation have been very successful- Genesys most of all.

When the internet arrived vendors quickly embraced the idea of the contact centre, no more restrained to just taking calls, and from 1995 – to 2005 the integration of digital dialog with the customer has been all the rage. Rapid consolidation amongst the vendors has taken place to meet this new challenge. My guess-stimate is that by 2010 the last transition from Contact Centre to the automated self-service center will be completed.

What is driving this transformation is the cost of delivering 'indifferent or bad' service.  Rarely if ever have I seen a vendor ROI based on anything other than more cost savings and unsaid, deterioration of customer service.

The vendors successfully built the MYTH, that customer service was a cost needing to be contained by more automation. 

When we ask the customer (We know exactly what the customers want from their service experience): “Easy, timely access to someone, who can understand my situation and who is willing to engage and has authority to resolve that situation in a polite and effective manner”, in fact research shows that 69% of customers leaving do so because of lack of engagement & care.

When we ask Senior Management what ROI is expected from Customer Service delivery the answer is equally clear: “Happy customers who buy more, more often at a lower cost than alternative distribution channels”.

Finally we ask Service representatives: “To be allowed to engage the customer and resolve issues to the customer’s satisfaction”.

So why are call- & contact centres obsessed with call-production? Because they have adopted the vendors ‘productivity’ measures as the final valuable product of customer service delivery. An entire generation of Call Centre managers have embraced the limitation of the vendor’s software and hardware and accepted that since traffic measures is all we can measure, than that is the primary product produced by Customer Service. The mathematics of Agner Erlang’s 1917 distribution tables are the algorithms behind the workforce management software, intended to really ensure service reps are ‘being productive’.

The only way to increase these soviet style ‘productive’ measures further is to get rid of the service rep and send the customer to the automated self-service center.

Serving the customer needs is the ‘reason d’etre’ of most organisations.

But in this transformation process we first lost the customer, then the service rep and finally the support of senior management.

The automated Self-service center will not be a substitute for the customer service required by customers; the customer-walk out syndrome will very rapidly impact on the business model in terms of soft revenue growth and less profit.

Like a Phoenix the REAL customer service centres will rise from the ashes of the automated service center and meet the customers DEMAND for engagement and care.

The new kid on the block is called Net-Promoter® Score. NPS is the single most reliable indicator of a company's potential to grow and explains why large corporations are adopting this KVI to measure customer satisfaction. Worthwhile studying and introducing in your Customer Service Centre, not worth it if you’re still running a call-production facility.

Customer Service will become an integral part of the selling processes. The current vendors will most likely disappear and the new vendors will deliver web-based software tracking systems, which documents the real value of customer service to the business model. A Customer Service renaissance can be expected by 2012.

If you doubt my word – just ask Michael Dell, who built Dell Computer based on delivering ‘service beyond the customers wildest dreams’ and nearly lost the company, when cost cutters moved service delivery to India, because no one could remember that it was ‘superior service’ which built Dell Computers originally.

And so we have come full circle in the customer service industry.

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Last update: 30.03.2016