I Spent 29 Years Adopting Channels for Customer Service – Here is What I Learned

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I figured I’d try a little bit of click-baiting, see how it works…

Beyond the lame title, this is a good post.  Another one in the “I did an amazing webinar, and these are the questions I did not get to” series.

Number two, and am doing another one on Tuesday (tomorrow), so I will have more questions I do not get to – my content, it is that awesome (thanks, Jon).  Trust me.

And, for the record, I do have 29+ years working in customer service, and I did learn a few things in that time.

My good friends at ServiceNow asked me to do a webinar with TSIA about digital transformation in customer service a couple of weeks ago (the delay in posting this was that my hosting provider decided to upgrade their servers – resulting in a week+ of downtime for my blog, and travel).  It was very good (well, my part was for sure — KWIM?) and very informative, and I used some of the data from my latest research study on customer service adoption to highlight the trends in customer service.  Who would’ve thought that was going to generate so many questions?  There was a good dozen or so questions about it, we managed to get through a few, and the ones below are the ones I did not get to (I must confess, I redacted them to include others that were similar, but didn’t want to repeat myself).

Without further do, these are the four questions (and the answers) that emerged from the webinar with ServiceNow and TSIA:

Which channel do you see gaining dominance as voice flattens out?

Very good question – mostly, because I spent the last 6 years asking the same question from as many participants in my research projects as I could.  The chart below is the tip of the iceberg, but let me explain to you – post chart – what it really means.


There are three points we need to discuss in this chart:

  1. This chart shows channel adoption, not usage – usage follows adoption, of course, and it is reflected in different conversations.  I never asked customer service providers which channels they were using, or how they distribute the incoming slew of interactions anymore because in my almost 30 years of doing customer service I found that it does absolutely nothing to show either customer intent or enterprise direction as much as adoption showcases.  You read this chart and you see that voice and email have been for the longest time the two most adopted channels – and that a couple years ago email finally surpassed voice as the most adopted channel.  That was the first data point talking to enterprises’ uneasy relationships with voice over the last decade or so.  We have been foretelling the death of voice since the 1990s when we first began to use electronic channels, but many came and went (chatbots, for example, are on their third or fourth generation; self-service on its fifth) and didn’t “take”.  The gains we are seeing now, and the stories we hear, are cementing the status of those channels as **complementary** to voice (between us, voice won’t ever be totally gone — well, ever is a big word… for a very, very long time).
  2. We see a steady, but more marked lately, rise in self-service adoption.  We crossed into mainstream adoption (more than 30% adoption in the market) some 3-4 years ago, but we are finally coming to understand and see the real value.  Automation, one of the outcomes of adopting data-driven decision and artificial intelligence adoption in its 8th generation, is quickly spreading across channels and functions and becoming a solid entry point for customer service interactions.  regardless of channel, triage via automated interactions is rising as the most common (over 50%) use of self-service adoption.  keep your eye on this, over the next decade we most likely will see 80-90% of interactions being initially handled via automated entities across all channels (including, well done – finally, voice).  The rise of chatbots, also in this chart, is not a separate story but complementary to this point.
  3. The slow rise of mobile highlights the inane aspect of the “mobile-first” or “mobile-only” movements.  Until now, further data in this study shows that less than 7% organizations have implemented a mobile app and just 2% more than one mobile app, the “rise” of mobile in customer service meant supporting service websites via mobile browsers – hardly a new channel.  There is a three-generation adoption model for customer service that culminates with self-authored, mobile-enhanced, unique service applications that provide value.  The first generation, of course, is mobile browser support of service sites, naturally.  However, that first generation provides no value-add for either customers or companies – so it is just a stepping stone.  The number above, adoption of mobile solutions, shows how many companies think they are doing mobile – but the actual number of organizations that have deployed 2 or more proprietary apps tells a different story.  more in the last question in this post — and more on the drop in social in the next question.

Bottom line: voice is still considered, globally and across all industries, the “gold standard” for customer service.  No channel or solution implemented yet has come close to the efficiency and resolution rates that voice carries.  This one is not going anywhere for a while, but there are other trends (rise of automation, use of AI and advanced analytics, the discovery of better use for different tools) that will change the adoption rate and the customer service solution in the coming decade.  While any channel can be used to be the main channel you use  (I wrote about single-channel excellence and still believe in it) – an outcome-sought strategy for customer service channel adoption is still your best strategy.

Why has Social usage dropped?

Oooooh!!! love this question. Love it.  I can finally unleash all my biases against the social experiments ran at organizations — or, better yet, I can share the data.

Back in the original days of this study, some 6-7 years ago, we were also mired in the crazy days of social.  The (flawed) premise that you have to be where customers are – and the fact that they were all there on Twitter and Facebook led to massive hysteria and unbridled adoption of social channels.  Add a few success stories (mostly PR, not really solving problems but — seemingly “listening”) and the world goes gaga and all-in on social channels.

Fast forward 2-3 years and we find that social really is not easy to manage: lack of integration with existing tools means different interfaces (and we all know how much agents love that), lack of automation means ever-growing teams that become simple-taskers with limited ability to effect customer satisfaction at scale (when each interaction is 1:1, your results will vary based on whom you get – on both ends), low expectations from customers (mostly due to results on previous interactions) that resulted in a few “elite” being tended to, but overall poor quality of service (vendors using stupid things like Klout or number of followers to make decisions on whom to serve), and many technical barriers (limits on twitter, lack of access in Facebook, etc.) that made organizations questions the value).

Today, Social is a — a pipe dream.  Most companies figure they can do better in other channels and there are case studies (KLM is the most notorious one, travel industry are overall better than anyone else) of successful companies that still spur adoption – but virtually 3/4 of companies I talk to about this already dumped social and are not going back since the results did not work.

There is potential, but to be honest – it does not lend itself to doing more than targeting few people with an immense investment in resources that does not deliver results for the effort.  And organizations figure this out, and they are moving away from it.

What do you mean by “cloud migration”?

This is a simple one.  I talked several times throughout the webinar about customer service needing to align with IT and corporate goals and adopt cloud-based solutions.  I also mentioned and showed the data, my concern that most organizations are not taking on that.

What did I mean by cloud migration? adoption of distributed cloud computing architectures for customer service — as the rest of the organization is doing.  Customer service practitioners told me that less than 30% of them were planning, doing, or thinking about cloud migration – shocking for a world that assumes cloud adoption to be a commodity.

Thoughts on mobile apps for support/customer service?

Considering I did a 1.5 hours presentation on this topic four and five years ago, and continue to update and work on this topic, it will be hard to summarize that in this post – but let me share the top three things you need to know (btw, adoption data and some other tidbits are above – but you know that because you waddled through that to get here – duh!):

1. Mobile for customer service is about delivering value.  If you want customers to adopt mobile as a channel you need to make it about value delivery – and to do that, you need to understand what customers consider value.  There are many models that would be worth pursuing: from delivering self-service and knowledge situations within the application or situation to bringing a heretofore unknown or impossible business model – customers expect the use of mobile technologies to broaden what they can do and achieve their outcomes.  It is hard for companies to think that mobile is not simply about making sure their website works on a mobile browser (the first generation, see below) but rather to do something that a) does not make customers change channels, b) is context-sensitive using information that is not available otherwise, and c) make sure customers get a proper response faster, easier, cheaper, better.  This is what customers (as a general rule) use to value the contribution from the mobile app.

2. You need to do a generational approach to value generation via mobile. There are three generations I recommend

  1. Mobile Replication.  This is where you start, and the idea is not just to do something but to learn – what resources are necessary? what technologies do you need? what are the issues you see arising? what changes you need to make to your support team, if any, to be able to support the new channel? This is about making sure that the existing support sites and tools are supported in mobile environments.  Whereas this could apply to either what the customer sees or what the employees use – we usually see a mobile browser support to existing tools as the only representation of this step.
  2. Mobile Awareness.  This is where, following a better understanding of mobile, organizations become aware of what the t0ol can do and begin to replace other existing tools with mobile.  One of the best examples of this step is the use of loyalty and payment cards by coffee houses – pick your favorite – where you can both check-in, accumulate points, and pay via your phone.  While this is not innovative, rather a replacement of an existing solution, the value-add from moving to use a mobile device (with a screen and interface) is certainly a way to show the awareness companies go through as they learn a little bit more about mobile,
  3. Mobile Uniqueness.  By this generation, only reachable as an evolution of the previous two, organizations begin to realize the value that mobile can offer to build new solutions and models that were not available before.  The easiest, and one of the very first, example to share is filing a claim for a car insurance when an accident happened.  In the old days, there was no easy way to do this and it required many, many back-and-forths between customers, authorities, claim-adjusters, repair shops, and more.  Today, using the ge0-location features that are unique to mobile devices, the camera tool that is available with most devices, and other tools that we did not have available before – a new service model to file a claim and resolve it is possible – one that cuts down time-to-process from weeks to sometimes less than an hour.  The use of exclusive mobile features is what makes this a service solution that was not possible before, and that is focused on customer satisfaction and effective service delivery.


3. Mobile first or mobile only never works.We have had many people who tried to move to a mobile-first, or mobile-only solution for service and the only thing we learned is that, as with any other channel, it is almost impossible these days to focus on one just channel and nothing else – and the fact that mobile is an emerging channel makes it every more troublesome to rely on it exclusively – or even as the first-contact channel.  Remember what you learned doing all other channels: this is one more channel, with an exclusive and unique value proposition – but it needs to be part of an ecosystem.  While there may be some, very few, situations where mobile first or mobile only works (and they tend to be centered in special populations or regions), for the most part – not the way to go for complex service solutions.

Questions? Something left unsaid?  Let me know below.

And, of course, and as always — check out the webinar (you may need to register if you have not already done so) – but it is so worth it… just to listen to me wax poetic on all things digital transformation and customer service.

disclaimer: once again, thanks, Jon Reed for letting me borrow style with crossed-out font usage.  much appreciated.  even though sameer patel won’t have much to be happy about – parenthetical are back baby! anyways, servicenow is a client, they paid me to be in a webinar and use my data – but as you know if you read my disclaimers — that means not much in sense of who owns the content, the ideas, or the direction in which i take them.  i am my own deep thinker (better than deep learning – its not a marketing thing… it’s real dude…. real) and i make my own mistakes (i counted 4 total in my life – not counting two divorces).  my clients are very nice people who let me and my kids eat most days, and i love them for that, but they also know that the value of using me is the ideas and data i collect doing my research – and i totally appreciate the fact they leave me alone to do my thing most of the time.

Read the original post here.