Who killed personal customer service?

By Wyatt Urmey

| Banking

I spent some time at a home improvement store this past weekend, and as I stood at the self-service checkout, it struck me how many companies are taking advantage of digital technologies to speed up and automate customer service. These solutions exist not just in physical stores, but also in online chats and sophisticated automated phone menus. We may not always like that technology has replaced speaking to a person, but we begrudgingly have to admit that these solutions are getting better at solving our immediate problems.

There’s no denying customer service is changing. Digital technologies, with mobile as the foundation, are revolutionizing how consumers interact with brands. While it might now be more difficult to find a person to assist you than it used to be, companies are working hard to make customer experiences more engaging and personalized. So the answer to the title question is this: no one killed personal customer service, but it has a new face.

Customers want digital experiences

As Wired reports, more Americans shopped online than in stores during the past holiday season. It was the first year that mobile led the way in online sales, overtaking desktop sales, according to Internet Retailer. The consumer appetite for digital engagement is evident. People are quite literally taking their customer service needs into their own hands through their smartphones. Smart businesses and organizations are capitalizing on this transition.

Many brands are now investing in mobile capabilities that enhance the customer experience. In a recent IBM Institute for Business Value customer service study, “The experience revolution,” 86 percent of respondents shared that their brands are investing in location-sensing technologies, and 85 percent reported they are implementing mobile payments or loyalty programs as key capabilities to deepen their customers’ mobile experience. These are the top two customer engagement initiatives companies plan to implement in the near future.

The pace of digital change already seems dramatic, but according to the study’s findings, the world will be radically different in another 12 months. In fact, almost 60 percent of survey respondents were in the process of piloting virtual showrooms, and nearly half are preparing to implement 3-D printing as another innovation to deepen and personalize the experience.

All these technologies — combined with mobile — offer opportunities for brands to innovate and improve the customer experience.

Service is still personal, just in a new way

While the trend toward retail self-service and cutbacks to service personnel are likely to continue, it doesn’t indicate an irreversible descent into lower-quality customer service. In fact, companies are more concerned than ever about creating engaging, personalized customer experiences — and they’re using digital technology to do just that.

In addition to putting customer-facing initiatives in place, brands are arming employees with mobile technology to help them provide a deeper level of customer engagement and investing in new talent to support these digital initiatives. As brands utilize mobile and digital innovations to improve the customer experience, they will need employees who have great facility with digital and an ability to solve problems by using new technology.

Emphasizing personalization in all phases of a customer’s experience can give companies an opportunity to differentiate themselves. While personal customer service might look a bit different in the digital age, making sure customers are satisfied remains a top priority — and businesses are focusing on mobile apps and technologies to take customer engagement to the next level.

Here’s a look at how Tangerine Bank has seen customer self-service and growth in mobility as a great opportunity to get ahead of its competitors:

If you’d like to learn more about how mobile is revolutionizing the customer experience, join us at IBM Amplify.