What is the human element in customer service and where has it gone?

What is the human element in customer service and where has it gone?

We’ve been relying on technology to make customer service more frictionless over the last few decades and, in many ways, that has been achieved. However, as customer service evolves, so do customers’ expectations. Increasingly hard-to-meet expectations are bad news for businesses because, no matter how advanced their technologies and processes become, customers will continue to demand higher quality and more personalised customer service. In fact, 65% of people have higher expectations for customer service now than they did just one year ago. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the latest technologies available on the market but business leaders can’t ignore the value of human-to-human interaction. Connecting emotionally with customers is so important and can’t be achieved through digital channels. In this article, we’ll discuss what exactly the human element is, why we need it and how human-to-human interactions bring better service and customer satisfaction across the board.

What is the human element and why are companies neglecting it?

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the improvements digital tools can bring. In 2021, digital channels were predicted to overtake traditional channels of customer service, steering the industry toward self-service. Mobile customer services, social media hubs and trouble shooting through pre-recorded videos was predicted to become the new norm. Chatbots are now expected to help reduce business costs by up to $8 billion this year, making it very attractive to business leaders. However, a study by Microsoft revealed that over half of consumers say the main reason they cannot solve issues online is due to a lack of relevant or specific information. Using AI chatbots and FAQ sections doesn’t appear to be fulfilling customer expectations after all. Humans connect with other humans, not machines. No matter how frictionless the digital tool is, it will not and cannot engage with a customer in an emotional capacity. Such engagement requires the human touch. Adopting the human element in customer service means focusing on the person and not the process. Instead of focusing too much on efficiency and consistency, service providers should actively listen to their customers and use empathy, creativity, initiative, and individuality to connect with the customer. Although there are certainly many benefits of using digital tools, a well-integrated omnichannel approach will ensure that companies can hit all their targets whilst still keeping their customers happy. The ultimate aim is to move away from the once standardised nature of customer service and into a more holistic approach. An ecosystem built on human participants acting independently of one another will improve customer service and foster healthier working environments, too.

What are customers really looking for in a customer experience?

Whilst 30% of Generation Z (1997-2012) say they’ve increased their usage of digital help centres, just 12% of the Baby Boomer Generation (1946-1964) have embraced them. There has been a distinct and measurable shift where customers are being pushed towards digital services and channels in unprecedented numbers — even amongst consumer groups who would not normally use them. Companies can meet customers’ expectations by:
  • Investing in accessible customer support, as well as training customer support agents to provide more helpful service.
  • Assessing policies, procedures and practices across organisations to ensure customers are being treated fairly.
  • At the heart of this challenge lies the imperative to create a more human-centric approach.
There is no question that the average customer experience today is far superior to the average customer experience of just two or three decades ago. However, in order to deliver value in the post-pandemic era, directors and heads of customer service must continuously re-examine assumptions about customer behaviour. Let’s break this human element into sections. Continue reading to discover 5 key things that people are looking for in customer services today — and what teams can do to ensure they get the service they deserve.
  1. Understand each customer’s needs

Customer service teams are the frontline of a business; talking to customers all day, every day. They’re potentially speaking to hundreds of customers per week, which can make it difficult to get to know every scenario in depth. However, approaching issues with empathy will encourage the customer to open up and provide the information needed to tailor the experience to their needs. A study from the MIT Sloan Review found that customer service expectations had two levels: desire (what the customer hopes to gain) and sufficiency (what the customer finds acceptable). Under these two levels, customer frustration stems from a discontinuity between the expectation of a customer service interaction (what the solutions will look like) and what’s actually delivered. In fact, nearly three-quarters of consumers expect the person on the other end of the phone to make the effort to understand their needs and expectations from the get-go.
  1. Give customers the freedom to choose solutions

Presenting two or three options for solving one issue gives the customer the freedom to choose their own outcome, safe in the knowledge that they have been listened to and understood. So, although digital usage may have appeared to go up in recent years, it’s simply not suitable for all users and isn’t providing them with a flexible and collaborative experience. At the end of the day, every human wants to be acknowledged and respected when faced with problems (from any kind of source).
  1. Create a personalised experience

Personalised service is a simple concept, but incredibly valuable. Why? Because when customers have a personalised experience, they become more loyal and reactive. Studies have shown that the majority of today’s consumers are more likely to engage with brands who personalise their experience. For example, 72% of consumers in 2019 said they only engage with service messages that are customised to their specific interests. On top of that, 36% of those consumers believed that brands should generally offer more personalisation in their marketing and customer communication. Actively engaging with the voice on the other end of the phone fosters trust between client and agent. Creating a connection like this gives phone operators more freedom to ask the right questions — questions that will satisfy the customer now, and nurture a loyal and long-term relationship further down the line. These are 4 simple ways to create a personalised experience for every customer:
  1. Use their names and ask if they’re comfortable using their pronouns.
  2. Offer omnichannel service — customers are looking for a seamless service that tackles their issues head-on.
  3. Make recommendations for solutions based on knowledge, training and basic human empathy.
  4. Find common ground by sharing a personal experience that is similar to the customer’s issue.
Building a rapport with a customer can leave them with a positive impression of the team behind the company brand — the people who helped them in a time of need and did it with empathy.
  1. Actually solve the customer’s problems

“Actually solve their problems” sounds like an obvious statement — isn’t the entire premise of customer service built on solving problems? This is true, but there’s an important difference between providing a short-term solution to end a difficult phone call, and actually supplying a solution that lasts. Traditionally, customer service has been focused on conducting calls as quickly as possible, because at the root of every customer inquiry was a desire for a quick resolution. For example, typically agents can only be on a call for X amount of minutes, they have to follow a script, and so on. This inflexibility isn’t good for agents or the customers. Don’t be afraid to give agents more freedom to vary their communication style and see what delivers the best results. 85% of customers expect conversations with customer service representatives to move seamlessly and in real-time between channels. That means not repeating themselves and their problems. As a result of bad customer service, only 12% of customers believe companies when they say that they put the customer first.
  1. Customers tend to value their time over money

When dealing with customer service, most people tend to value their time more than they do their money. In fact, since 2018, studies have shown that customers believe that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do. A study by American Express further revealed that 78% of customers will give up on a transaction because of a negative customer experience. On top of that, a 2020 report from ZenDesk found that after more than one bad experience, around 80% of customers would rather do business with a competitor. The best way to satisfy a customer’s need for support is by acknowledging the issue clearly, and presenting a concise solution that will save them time and stress.

Why empathy is key to delivering a better service

The 2021 KPMG Customer Experience Excellence report shows that providing a personalised service remains the most important aspect of customer service. Such personalisation is much easier to achieve when customers can talk to an actual person who treats them as a fellow human being, rather than a problem that needs to be solved. Modern technologies can deliver a personalised service to a certain degree, but they are not a human service that can emphasise or connect with the customer. Furthermore, empathy is becoming more important to the overall success of a customer service strategy (especially considering the events of the past two years). The required level of empathy can only be provided by a person — not automated digital channels. Businesses must strive to put people at the heart of their business models to create a human-centric approach. There are many benefits to keeping the human element in the customer service strategy, such as improving loyalty and retention. To learn more, click here.

The best way to deliver a better service

As discussed throughout this article, the human element in customer service should always remain if businesses are to stay ahead of the curve, grow their customer base and impress them simultaneously. Digital solutions can further empower agents when used in harmony with human-to-human interaction. Agents can use technology to provide a more personalised customer experience through automation tools and data insights. Read our whitepaper, Where Did the Human in ‘Human Touch’ Go?, to find out what’s really missing in today’s business models and how to integrate the human touch into customer experiences in 2022.

Add the human element back into your customer experience with Sigma Connected

At Sigma Connected, we prioritise the human element to ensure your customer will always have great interactions when they contact your company. Our skilled advisors are able to provide helpful, empathetic advice, and add a personal touch wherever possible. Sigma Connected can be easily integrated to any channel. Our omnichannel approach lets you pivot between contact channels without losing conversation history, so improving the customer experience. We take pride in treating our clients’ customers fairly and with respect. If you’re interested in any of our services, or have any questions about what we can do for you, click here to get in touch with us.
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