Sunday, March 18, 2012

Is Technology Replacing Customer Service?

“Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you.” ~Mark Cuban

Watching trends is such an important task for entrepreneurs. One trend that I see happening now is the replacement of traditional customer service with technology. This trend has been at work for some time, but now is really starting to accelerate at a break-neck pace. This is a game changer for any business, and you just cannot afford to miss out.

One of the reasons the use of technology is becoming so widespread so quickly is that the younger generation prefers to communicate through technology as opposed to traditional, in-person methods of contact. In addition, increased competition has made it more important than ever to keep costs in line, and businesses are using technology as a more cost-efficient alternative.

From a customer service perspective, technology has changed how consumers interact with companies and receive information and assistance with their products and services. Smart phones and mobile apps have given consumers the ability to do so many things for themselves that formerly required a phone call to a customer service representative.

In addition, it used to be that you had to have personal contact to learn about a product, but so many companies, from Amazon to Sears, now offer short videos about products and services on their websites. A wealth of videos about product and services are also available on YouTube. Though not always professionally done, you can glean so much information from them. With all these resources so readily accessible, consumers are able to get information about a business’ products and services without ever setting foot in the door or talking to a representative of the business.

Case in point: I am buying a new house and have been shopping for a new refrigerator. I was able to go online, view videos of each model I was considering, and even see other customers’ reviews. I had everything I needed to make a decision without ever talking to a living person.

For another example of how technology is being used in customer service roles, just look at how many stores have moved to automated cashier machines. You no longer have to talk to a person to check out. Of course, these are not my favorite things, as every time I use one, I have to call for help. This may just be my problem, however.

There is probably no other type of business where the adoption of technology is having a greater impact than financial institutions. Credit unions and banks typically operate with a gross margin of approximately 4 percent – that is, they have to cover all of their operating expenses with this very small number. Now, with interest rates being so low, this margin is shrinking even further. With profits continuing to be squeezed, financial institutions have no other choice but to change their business model from customer service-oriented to more technology-oriented in favor of the cost savings.

Consumers are now able to handle so many of their banking needs using electronic methods – conduct basic transactions on their mobile phones, open new accounts online, apply for loans online and even get approvals electronically. This is significantly reducing the number of new locations being built.

Now, I am not saying that you should decrease the level of customer service you provide. Rather, what I am saying is that you need to recognize these trends are quickly becoming standard practice for many businesses.

Now go out and make sure you are thinking of how technology will change your customer service function. Do I think this will happen overnight? No, but the trend is fast becoming the norm, so you need to board this train early!

You can do this.

1 comment:

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