Recently, more and more people have been asking me if I’m a robot as I reply to chat messages. I usually check but the answer is always the same: I still haven’t changed into a stainless steel machine with a computer instead of a brain.
What stuns me the most though is that in most cases, when I reply that I am in fact an actual human being, people won’t believe me. Would a robot really reply “nope!” to a question with such bad spelling?! Still, they insist on asking me questions that apparently only a person made out of flesh would be able to answer like what’s 3+1 or what’s the color of a banana. Just because they can’t believe that an actual human being is on the other side of the screen.
A part from the fact that I’m losing time telling people that the color of a banana actually depends on its ripeness (again, what robot would answer that?) when I could be helping them out with real issues they might be having, these experiences push me to wonder what kind of customer service world we’ve entered. Customers are so used to having to deal with automated messages, sophisticated knowledge bases and pre-recorded voicemails that they don’t even consider talking to a real human being like a possibility anymore. And this leads me to wonder if we’re doing everything right.
Yes, customer service automation makes us save a lot of time and money. Yes, it helps customer service teams work better and faster without having to repeat the same things over and over again. And yes the customer might actually get a quicker response through a robot that through one of your customer service rep.
But this also means that customers are getting used to being taken care by robots or being considered like just a request among many others. And this is happening to the detriment of any type of human connection between your company and your customers.
So maybe it’s time we start working on building meaningful relationships with our customers, between humans.
Here’s how we could make this work.
Customers are becoming increasingly vigilant about being marketed and advertised at in all the messages they receive. They are more aware today of the tips and tricks companies use today as far as “personal” automated messages go and receive too many email advertising to trust it. This means that they will filter out anything that they consider like untrustworthy: branded content, advertising, fake personalized customer support…
To avoid this, the only solution is to be as authentic as you can possibly be. Your customers should feel like even though messages are probably sent out to them through automated mechanisms, there is an actual human being behind it all they can reach out to if they need.
This mean finding the perfect tone to talk to your customers, with the right balance between marketing buzzwords or tech vocabulary, commonplace customer service sentences and over-friendly messages. Keep it simple and treat each and every one of your customers as an individual, not a ticket number, with his best interest at heart, not yours.
If customers think we’re robots, it might also be because more often than not, we act like ones, focusing on “closing” conversations in the quickest and most efficient manner. After all, this is what most customer service departments track at the end of the day: number of requests answered, time spent on the phone (in order to minimize it), average reply time. But customer requests shouldn’t be something that we want to go through as quickly as possible. Instead, we should consider each and every one of them as the beginning of possible conversations.
Solving your customers’ issues is obviously the priority. But once you’ve managed to find the right solution, these interactions don’t have to end there. They can be used as a springboard for further exchanges and discussion. Ask them how their projects are going, if they need help on anything else or if they want to contribute to your next product development brainstorm.
You can even take this opportunity to ask them questions about your service or your product. Because it’s easy to consider customers are simple entries in a data spreadsheet, it’s also easy to forget that if asked, they will quite happily answer any simple human question you might be asking yourself. By being straightforward and engaging in simple conversations, you might realize that the relationship you’re building with your customers goes way beyond this small bug you helped them fix yesterday.
Thankfully, there are things robots still can’t do. And this is what you need to focus on doing really really well if you want to build a meaningful relationship with your customers. Listening is one of these things.
If done well, your knowledge base will always be able to give a solution to a given issue. But it probably won’t be able to distinguish that behind this small bug your customer is contacting you about actually lays a much wider issue that also needs fixing. Or it won’t be able to choose and present the best solution for your customers, among the different possibilities that exist. And that’s because you and only you, as an customer service representative and human being, has the ability to listen to your customers’ issues and adapt your responses to their specific needs, personalizing the solution and identifying the best options to go through.
By listening better to your customers and understanding their real needs, not only will your customers get a better solution for their issues but you will also be able to gain something out of all the efforts you’re putting in creating a very personalized experience for all of your customers. You will be able to understand the way they use your product or service better and change the way you work and exchange based on that.
It turns out the battle against automated customer service shouldn’t be that hard after all. Robots might know the color of a banana by now but they still don’t know how to engage in meaningful conversations or listen to their customers’ needs (at least not yet). If being human is all that’s needed, we’re on the right path for success. Now all it takes is to prove it!