Providing exceptional customer service is an age-old challenge faced by organisations within the hospitality industry. Consistently delivering on expectations is made difficult by varied and ever-changing needs of the customer and the reliance on the standards and attitudes of employees. As we move ever deeper into a world dominated by technology, and interactions become more limited, the challenge remains the same but the way it’s achieved must change. “By 2020, customers will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise, without interacting with a human.” (Gartner).
Whether it’s hotel check-ins and room keys, food ordering in restaurants, customer service phone lines, virtual online assistants or cashless payments, we’ve all become very familiar with faceless, nameless customer service. And for the most part, we’re fine with this. More than fine in many cases as it can often be easier not having to interact with anyone. But there are times when we appreciate that bit of extra attention that only a human being can provide, and occasionally we need something out of the ordinary that’s easier to explain to a real person.
An American Express Customer Service Barometer showed that 68% of people surveyed said that a pleasant representative was key to their recent positive service experiences, and 62% said that a representative’s knowledge or resourcefulness was key. The consumers surveyed also said they were willing to spend 17% more to do business with companies that deliver excellent service. Perhaps surprisingly, millennials were willing to spend the most for great customer care (21% additional). Organisations cannot afford to put customers into boxes, they need to personalise every single customer experience. To facilitate this, an omnichannel strategy is imperative. “Companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers, as compared to 33% for companies with weak omnichannel strategies.” (Aberdeen Group Inc.).
Technological service platforms are essential and many customers have come to expect them, however many still prefer good old-fashioned face-to-face human interaction. Moreover, even the ‘techiest’ among us expect to be able to speak to someone when the primary digital approach doesn’t meet our needs. Even in a time where automated telephone systems have become fully accepted, “75% of customers still believe it takes too long to reach a live agent” (Harris Interactive).
There is currently a genuine opportunity to stand out from the crowd. “In an era when companies see online support as a way to shield themselves from ‘costly’ interactions with their customers, it’s time to consider an entirely different approach: building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology” (Kristin Smaby). But employees are also becoming less comfortable speaking to customers as social media and other technological ways of life threaten to make human interaction a rare event. It’s crucial that organisations’ leaders lead by example. ‘Shadow of a leader’ might be an old saying, but there’s a reason they stick around so long – because they work!
And with that in mind, I also offer this old boy scout cliché – be prepared! Technology is great when it works, but do your employees know how to respond when it goes wrong? If not, you’re risking serious reputational damage with your existing customers, and that could prove expensive. “It’s anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.” (Harvard Business Review)
Without doubt, technology is a game-changer in terms of the experience customers can expect, and it opens doors to new possibilities not yet thought of. Organisations do however, need to ensure that technological enhancements are used to complement a customer service offered by real people – the one element that can never be fully replaced. Investment in the development of people is still as essential as it always has been. Without them, it really would be lights out.