Your Website – Your Customer Service Agent

I’m doing some work for a new client, who look at optimizing customer service across multiple channels using, rather interestingly – artificial intelligence. In my research on this I find myself observing an interesting convergence with the Web Engagement / Web Experience mantra that I’ve been peddling here and that there is perhaps something here that we often overlook.

The audience that we are often playing to are the black framed glasses of the digital marketer, but I think when we talk about engagement we should be paying attention to the customer service professionals within organisations and give more consideration to good customer service as a driver for adopting these strategies.

Recently Gerry McGovern wrote for CMSWire  ‘Web Engagement: Web Customers Crave Speed, Not Emotional Experiences’ and he makes a great point, that in a nutshell your site visitor are often here to get something done, not to be entertained and I’ve talked often about how the visitor attention is fragile (hence the rather cumbersome ‘Hovering over the Back Button’ moniker for this blog).

I am not as convinced as McGovern that every visitor wants as efficient an experience as possible all of the time (although they should be when we need them to be). I’ve stood in line in the bank watching a customer ahead of me who clearly enjoys a chat with the teller as part of her engagement experience and I must admit to have passed the time with my dry cleaner talking about past visits to Stamford Bridge (the home of Chelsea). The marvellous thing about the web as a customer service agent is that there is no queue, take as long, or as little time as you like – the experience can be yours.

Our websites are more than just brand beacons; the thing that embodies who we are, what we stand for and what we do to our customers, our citizens or our employees –a shining pretty thing. They are here to do something  –  I often refer to this in my analogy of a man walking into a suit shop – the objective of that story being to buy or sell a suit (depending on who’s perspective we are looking at this from)  and our website strategies should have this same clarity – what does it do for me and for my visitor? The advice is that when you develop your websites, to think about these web engagement objectives.

Of course in the social web fuelled consumer revolution, good customer service takes on an added significance – organizations are looking to not just harvest fresh new customers, but there is a new imperative to create advocacy. Advocates drive positive buzz, write reviews that’ll sway the undecided, to sneeze (in the words of Seth Godin) and take your products and ideas viral. That’s the high of good service, but of course the low of providing bad service and for folks to start tooting on that horn, is a bitter, long remembered hangover.

But, if you read this blog, you know all that, so back to this AI thing that I’m up to my eyes in at the moment. When we discuss web engagement and web experience, we talk about relevancy. In the world of automating customer service they talk about intelligence, of being cognitive. So, aside from both operating in this same social media fuelled world, what inspires this blog post is that I am thinking that these are the same thing. Is it such a leap from the science being applied to predictive modelling to figure out which page, product or service I might be interested in reading or buying next to real artificial intelligence?

I agree for a sports website to learn that I am interested in Chelsea football club takes a low amount of intelligence, but – to me if someone can remember my sports team that might be all I need to have a great conversation. But imagine if I am filling in my tax return – the level of help I’d need would be beyond being relevant.

Equally the challenges that face the digital marketer on the customer acquisition trail are the same as the customer service professional maintaining customer satisfaction levels – these ‘experiences’ happen across multiple communication channels and there are lots of them. Both sets of folks are figuring out ways to triage this deluge – to offer the very best service they can, consistently across these channels, without hiring a cripplingly expensive army of folks to do it.

Perhaps we should consider each digital engagement in terms of a customer service conversation, maybe we should strive to make that web experience cognitive – not just relevant. – and give that website a name badge.

Image of an elevator light by gruntzooki reproduced under creative commons license.

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7 thoughts on “Your Website – Your Customer Service Agent

  1. Excellent post Ian. Your suit shop analogy is spot on, and I think you can take it one step further by layering in context. In brick+mortar interactions, humans are able to quickly process context. I wouldn’t buy a suit from a salesman dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Nor would a salesmen try and sell a pair of brown dress shoes to me if I asked to try on a black pair. Humans instinctively use context to shape our personal interactions.

    I think the opportunity for better engagement on the web is to process context in the same way we do in the physical world. Customers and prospects are constantly providing context on the Web, either explicitly through the preferences they state or implicitly through their behavior and actions. Companies and brands that win will support their customers by combining the three c’s- content, context, and channels, to deliver relevancy.

  2. Ian….
    First and foremost (as usual) great post… And great thinking…

    Context is, no doubt, the key in terms of delivering “intelligence” no matter what the “conversion metric” is in an organization (e.g. sale or well-satisfied customer service issue).

    I was just having a conversation today with some friends that I’d helped a few years ago in the DARPA challenge. We were discussing the Google automated car. We were talking about the fact that whenever the programmer said “I’m ready” with their new visioning system – the response would be – “okay, you get to sit in the car and test it”… It was a rare programmer who didn’t say.. “mmmmm yeah I can use a bit more time”….

    As the car traverses down the road – being able to discern a fire hydrant from a three-year-old isn’t important… Until.. well it is.

    It’s the same with behavioral targeting for content… The important time to have a human interpret context is… when it is…

    1. Robert, you are too kind.

      Love the analogy – exactly the risk organizations have when they start to have the machines step into the front line of customer service and entrust their brand with the resulting experience. But, I think the rewards are there, if organizations can get it right.

      Great comment, thank you.

  3. The key fact with websites is that the customer is in control. Too many sites see the experience as entirely online whereas the customer actually has more clarity, they see the website as just one part of the company experience.

    I, as a consumer, may want to complete my task entirely online without wasting time and in this Gerry McGovern is correct. I equally might be hesitant and want to clarify a point and so I want to connect with a person. To connect with that person, I do not appreciate visiting a ‘contact us’ page whereupon I have lost all context. I want the connection to be there in front of me all the time and while I am moaning I do not want a standard 800 number, I want the person to know exactly what I am doing. Until companies understand, as well as consumers, that the web is part of a multi-channel experience. websites will struggle.

    1. I think you’ve neatly hit the nail on the head Terry, about the customer view of a company and of switching customer service between contact channels and losing context – customer satisfaction studies show this to be a consistent point of pain and it’s something we need to be cognizant of as we develop these engaging web ‘experiences’.

      I appreciate your comment – thank you.

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