Customer Service - really?

By Abbie Stewart, 12 October 2016 – 0 comment

The other evening I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation from Tom Cheesewright, founder of the Applied Futurism Practice. He was both entertaining and informative, setting out some clear ideas of the future, including the imminent demise of people led call centres and delivery logistics as we know it. The future, where talking computer avatars answer all of our customer queries and driverless drones deliver our goods, is just around the corner apparently. For some council’s call centres it’s already happening, and if you happen to live in Greenwich a drone may already be delivering your goods.

Now this puts into question what customer service is going to mean in the near future. A new phone charger may be just minutes away from you, delivered by a drone from the local, fully automated, Amazon distribution centre … and yes, the drone will be able to find you wherever you are. Now that’s true customer service. But what about service that is going to involve real flesh and blood people for many years to come? When something requiring a human hand with experience, skill, knowledge and a drill needs to be done. Moving a telephone socket for example.

"Our engineer will be with you between 8 and 1" was what I was told by a perfectly pleasant customer service person over two weeks ago when requesting that a phone socket be moved from an inconvenient place to a more convenient one. And, as predicted, an extremely pleasant and helpful engineer duly arrived at around 10.

So, all good you might think. Well, within the existing parameters, yes. But will those parameters be considered reasonable in the near future … a future which allows me to receive goods I only ordered a few minutes ago directly into my hand via a driverless drone?

The existing service puts all of the time pressure and inconvenience onto me. And let's face it, it isn't always terribly convenient for working people to hang around at home all morning waiting for someone to arrive. And having talked to George the engineer about the rest of his day, he confirmed that sometimes jobs took much longer than expected so all the jobs on his list weren't always completed on the day, meaning some customers may wait in vain.

Of course I understand that giving an exact time is not possible for exactly the reason outlined above by George. However, there must be a better way. Is it not possible, for example, to guarantee a two hour time-slot like Tesco for their on-line deliveries … or, even better, a one hour time-slot as offered by Waitrose or by AO (if you pay).

Customer service can be defined as … “The assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services”. Is a ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’ time-slot really providing the required degree of assistance? I don’t think so and I’ll be very interested to hear from companies who consistently manage to provide better service for their customers … and finding out from them how they manage it when others can’t.

I wonder what our futurist Tom would say?

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