Shep Hyken is the bestselling author of seven books about customer service. He’s worked with some of the most recognised brands in the world – including Disney, AmEx and Lexus – and many smaller companies, to advise on creating unbeatable customer experiences.
We caught up with Shep to discuss the future of customer service as he sees it, including the role AI might play, how department heads can get budget for customer service projects, and his new book, The Convenience Revolution.
The Power of Convenience
The idea of convenience as a key component to customer experience first came up when an editor on Shep’s last book (Amaze Every Customer Every Time) asked what it was that made him like the companies he wrote about.
‘I started to think about it,’ Shep says. ‘I thought these companies are just easier to do business with. They’re convenient.’
In the course of research for the book, Shep identified around 300 companies that would make great case studies on convenience. ‘Companies that you’ve heard of, some that are obscure, some that are tiny, some that are business to business, some that are business to consumer, it didn’t matter. If they were easy and were doing something that stood out as convenient, I wanted to figure out what it was.’
Shep identified six principles of convenience.
- Reducing friction – ‘All 6 of the principles have elements of reducing friction for the customer,’ explains Shep, ‘but some companies make it their entire value proposition. Amazon is one of those companies. So are Uber and Lyft. They disrupted the taxicab industry as we know it, because they made it an easier, more convenient experience.’
- Self service – This is all about giving the customer control. ‘Not just in customer service, but control of the entire experience or part of the experience that’s important to them.’
- Technology – Employing technologies like Artificial Intelligence to solve customer queries better and faster.
- Subscription – These days, ‘everything from dog food to automobiles to toothpaste; anything you normally consume on a regular basis,’ is available on subscription.
- Delivery – This is about the means of ‘actually taking [your solution] to the customer’.
- Access – ‘This could be anything from hours of operation, to logistical convenience.’
Adapting to Customer Expectations
As companies experience more great service, their expectations are growing. ‘If companies don’t make it convenient for their customers, there’s going to be a competitor that comes along that does,’ Shep warns.
‘Bigger business have a little bit more at stake, especially B2B, because they’re not as nimble or quick as smaller, entrepreneurial or medium sized business might be.’
These kinds of companies should look to others as an example, Shep says. ‘Look at companies like Amazon, who are not just disrupting their own industry but setting the bar higher for others. Think about what you like about the companies that you enjoy doing business with; what are they doing? List them out and get tangible reasons why you like them. Then look at your own business and ask yourself if you are bringing any of this, or could bring any of this into your own business. Look at others as potential role models; they may have ideas that you can bring into your company.’
But you also need to consider the ways in which your business is unique. ‘Look at every interaction point that your customers have with your company – and there will be quite a few – and consider where you could reduce friction, what you could do to make that experience better. It might just be simple customer service that makes it better, but try to think about ways you can make it easier, going beyond customer service. I believe that service is one thing, and convenience is a layer on top. When you look at things this way, I think you’ll start to find opportunities; even little changes ultimately can make a big difference over time.’
Getting Budget to Create Better Experiences
‘It doesn’t matter whether you want to create a convenience strategy or increase the customer service or get a new piece of machinery, we always have to prove RoI,’ says Shep. ‘If a person or department decides to take something on, and they need funding to make it happen, then they need to show that it’s going to be worth the funding. That’s what a lot of people in the C-Suite want, so go out and look at the numbers. There’s plenty of stats and facts out there that will make the case for spending money on an initiative like this.’
If you’re considering implementing AI in your customer service department, Shep says, ‘you need to find out what’s it’s going to cost to implement that AI strategy and how it’s going to cut down the average handling time.’
But you shouldn’t focus entirely on cutting costs. ‘When you’re looking to create convenience for your customer, don’t do it at the detriment to the person serving the customer,’ says Shep. ‘We want to create systems internally that make it easy for customer service agents to work with.
‘For example, AI can look at a customer, know which channels they’ve come through, and bring all that knowledge into one picture. But the company needs to create a system that allows the agents to have one screen with all of that information rather than having to deal with different customers in different channels. Think about what systems you can decomplicate, that will give your internal people better experiences and, as a result, enhance the experience for the customers as well.’
The Near Future of AI in Customer Service
‘AI is getting better and better,’ says Shep, ‘and there’s a few different ways that AI is being used to create great customer experiences.
‘One of the best functions of AI is looking at data and giving a really clear picture of the answers we want from specific situations. The problem with big data is that it is so big. There’s probably 100 or 1,000 pieces of information you can get from a lot of data; but you might only need five or six key insights, and you need to know what those five or six insights are. AI can run the numbers quicker and look at all the types of different pieces of data to give you a better overall picture.
‘AI can also support the customer directly, although this is typically at lower levels, answering basic questions. One of the biggest possibilities is using AI, not to support the customer but to support the agent who is working with the customer… Not only does the AI give the right answers to the right questions, but it also analyses the customer; it recognises them from past experience and can match their intents to hundreds, if not thousands, of other customers who’ve had the same questions before. It matches the customer’s profile enabling the agent to give good personalised answers and make suggestions.
‘The machine can anticipate customers’ needs before they even know what they want. Maybe the next upgrade they need to make is something that the customer hasn’t thought about, or maybe it’s an upsell opportunity for something that would really benefit the customer. I firmly believe if you don’t push your customers into buying something that’s important to them, something that’s going to enhance their experience, that’s going to be an upgrade, whatever that upsell is; if you don’t do that at the right time, that is bad customer service.’
For Shep, the future of customer service is bright. ‘I love that customers are forcing companies to raise the bar in general. The reason that’s happening is customers are smarter than ever before. They know what good customer service is because great companies are already providing it.
‘Customers aren’t just comparing you to your direct competitors anymore; they’re comparing you to the best service they’ve received from anyone. As a result, service experience is being brought in as a focal point to many different businesses and industries that haven’t really thought about it before. All of that is good for business in general. It allows companies to be more competitive and for customers to be happier with the companies they do business with. That’s what I see happening and that’s what gets me excited.
You can buy Shep’s latest book, The Convenience Revolution, on the Hyken website now.
To learn more about implementing AI in your customer service department, get in touch with PolyAI today.