As customers, we expect our interactions with service companies to be easy, quick and faultless. That’s increasingly the case thanks to the technology we have at our disposal, or more accurately, the technology we put at the disposal of our customers.

The human touch isn’t going to entirely disappear, but Gartner predicts that by 2020, the customer will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise, without interacting with a human. And customers seem to be pretty happy about that: 43% of respondents in a recent AYTM survey (rising to 62% when aged 18-24) feel they can solve service issues on their own if companies put better self-service tools in place.

We already have these tools in the form of automated customer service interactions, email response systems and intelligent agents. Now future self-service technology promises greater capabilities such as retailer-specific mobile alert applications; entirely new personalized and enriched shelf-edge experiences; and data management that is orders of magnitude better at order processing and prediction within very precise timescales.

Organisations who have built their businesses from the ground up on the Internet, like Amazon and Uber, know the value of these self-service models all too well. Though their customers rarely come into contact with actual staff, they rely on extremely efficient customer processes and as a result can boast high levels of satisfaction.

Transformation

To keep up with the Amazons of the world, traditional business sectors which have lagged behind the times will have to embrace transformative technologies and new operating models.

It will be a giant opportunity for many, as they unlock new digital powers, re-assess how service is currently delivered, and raise the bar for previously banal customer interactions in their sectors. The skill in overhauling the old service model will be in knowing which elements of customer interaction can be better performed by technology, and where technology can help staff to serve better.

Take as an example, order fulfilment, once considered the boring, functional side of any business. It can now totally redefine an organisation as highly innovative (Uber springs to mind again). Creating service opportunities of this scale is an exciting proposition in a number of different markets where customer expectations are low – wave your arm to hail a cab? – and transformative thinking can very quickly solve what your competitors cannot.

A shift to self-service can also happen while keeping things personal. Customers still need to be able to trust the company behind the digitization, and if anything can possibly go awry in the self-service process there must remain a personal (and emotional) connection with the customer. We’re heading for exciting retail experiences that are overwhelmingly digital, albeit with a human touch.

 

By Rod Brown, co-founder and CEO of MCADO.


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