The way that customers interact with brands is changing fast. In fact, it could be argued that the entire relationship betweens brands and customers has been revolution in the past six or seven years for a couple of important reasons.
First, is because of the mobile Internet. Apple launched their iPhone in 2007 and it catapulted the handset manufacturers into a new world where people could be online all the time, accessing services via the web and apps.
Do you remember using the mobile Internet before Apple really changed the rules of the game? It was clunky, slow, and relied on special mobile versions of web pages being available. It was not a good experience and now there is genuine competition to Apple from Android and Microsoft that experience is getting so good that most people now use a mobile device as their primary route to access the Internet.
Second is the growth in the number of channels that can be used to support customers – particularly via social networks, blogs, and forums or review sites. Customers used to be channelled into a specific place where they could ask for information or register a complaint – a free phone number or specific email address. Now a customer will often talk about a brand without ever directly copying the company in on a conversation – organisations need to monitor the Internet for discussions about their brand, products, or services so they can answer queries.
Both of these major changes have taken place since 2007 – when the iPhone was launched and when the biggest social networks we see now, Facebook and Twitter, really started to grow significantly.
Because of these changes, the way that customers interact with brands has changed. It’s far more usual now to be receiving questions pre-sale, to see customers comparing prices or checking reviews when in the process of making a purchase, and using various channels to ask questions or make complaints post-sale.
This is very different from the days when customer support meant answering the phone to handle queries and complaints after a sale has already been made. Supporting customers now involves looking after the prospective customers as well as those who have made a purchase and this is elevating the status and importance of the customer service function.
The work of customer service agents supporting customers on social media channels is generally transparent – replying to tweets or answering a query on a Facebook wall are actions that can be seen by other customers. When a customer is delighted by the way they have been treated, they often share the interaction with their own friends.
The work of the customer service team has not only become more complex, involving support across dozens of channels, but it now encompasses the work of the marketing and sales teams. In many companies the head of marketing is now taking control of customer service strategies.
This is great news for anyone starting out in a customer service career now because the avenues available for personal development are getting more interesting. There is now a direct connection between starting out as an agent in the contact centre and being the group director of marketing!
Photo by Yeray Hdez Guerra licensed under Creative Commons