The 24-hour customer service culture is alive and well.
Bob Dylan said it best: The times, they are a-changin. And never has that been clearer than when it comes to technology. New innovations are popping up virtually every day, and many of them are significantly reshaping the landscape of customer service before our very eyes.
Just as quickly as these new customer service technologies emerge and evolve, so do customer expectations. According to recent data from Microsoft, 56% of people have higher customer service expectations than they did just a year ago.
With the explosion of mobile in the past seven years, there’s been more of an emphasis on self-service. Customers want information on their terms and their time, and 90% of customers expect businesses to have an online self-service offering. But that’s only one part of a bigger equation. Customers still want to interact with an honest-to-goodness real person. In fact, according to a Consumer Reports survey, 75% said that not being able to get a human on the phone is their No. 1 complaint.
The challenge – in most cases – is that customer service representatives aren’t available 24 hours a day, so businesses that offer 24-hour service have a distinct advantage. Safeco® Gold Service™ is a good example. Approximately one-third of our Gold Service call volume comes in outside of normal business hours – that’s no small number. And because we continue to see growth in the program, it’s clear that independent agents believe 24-hour customer service gives them a distinct advantage as well.
Additionally, more and more businesses are using social media to connect with customers. As a result, social media has grown to be a natural extension of customer service. Airlines have been prime proponents of using social media to serve customers – Southwest Airlines and KLM come to mind. KLM has more than 130 people dedicated to assisting customers through its social media channels. That makes sense when you consider that 66% of customers expect a social media response within 24 hours.
These shifts in the customer service landscape have prompted Safeco to take a different approach, as well. In addition to offering around-the-clock claims service, we monitor our social media channels and address customer service questions and issues that come in via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. We’re also investing in self-service with enhancements to Manage My Account, real-time estimate review for home claims and express estimating for auto.
I recognize that many agents don’t have the means to offer a multi-faceted approach to customer service, but a variety of free or low-cost technology solutions are available today – think of the options you may already use, such as social media, text or Skype.
Also, simple changes like mining your staff to determine the questions your customers ask most frequently can help you update your agency website to offer a more self-service approach.
Looking to the future, we can only expect that technological advances will accelerate, and that means customer needs will change along with it. The times, they are a-changin – are you ready for it?
Kevin Link is the vice president of Agency and Customer Operations for Safeco Insurance.