Are you being served? Big data and the disrupters of customer service

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We often hear the buzzword phrases of customer service, quality of service, customer first and net promoter score, and both the B2C and B2B markets have been constantly changing, driven by more demanding customer expectations with the bar being set ever higher by new disrupters. Take the age-old example of Blockbuster, a model and brand that was globally successful and known, quickly disrupted when newcomers set the de facto bar: download a movie anywhere, anytime to a growing number of devices, cheaper, quicker and easier, with nothing to return to the shop, and the film you want always being available.

Customers are having that bar set by these new unicorn firms, such as Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, JustEat, eBay, Amazon…the list goes on. This means of course that existing legacy firms are now dealing with companies and people that have a natural in-built expectation for things to be easy, clear, customer friendly and ‘of the new world’.

A Titanic moment on the horizon?

This is not easy to achieve for a legacy business. The phrases ‘digital transformation’ and ‘digitally agile’ abound, as if this is just a button you can click to get there. For existing firms, making this leap can be a big one and a complex, costly and painful journey to undertake. New cloud-born firms design around the new world with processes, systems, people and attitudes aligned to efficiency and customer service – very often self-serve.

Take estate agents as an example. Having engaged with Purple Bricks recently and taken benefit of their online model of estate agency, I can personally see why the existing bricks and mortar estate agents should be massively worried. This new model costs the customer roughly a quarter of the commission, and is slick and effective with self-serve portals combining with a human touch for the initial engagement, and a very slick process flow to sell your property in the most effective way for both you as a customer but also them as a cost model. We had eight offers quickly, a good percentage over what traditional estate agents said to sell for, and we had visibility of all that was happening 24x7 – a very slick process.

The only thing holding this back is the nervousness of ‘don’t we need the traditional model to tell us all what to do and handhold us’. This was done as well and there was nothing complicated, as the traditionalists would want you to think. In meeting with several traditional agents, they were fast to bad mouth these new merchants; ‘It won’t work’, ‘they won’t affect us’ and – more ridiculously – ‘but they don’t have a high street window to put the photo of your property in!’

My message to all those traditionalists thinking ‘what iceberg?’ is to open your eyes: you are heading straight for it. As those who use the new offerings prove it and tell all their friends, more and more will try it, questioning why the old model is so expensive. The Blockbuster-Netflix change will set in. It is the customer that decides, and those decisions are being made easier with a wider gap in service quality versus price attracting customers away from traditional form factors, delivery models and brands, to new ways and new brands. Add to this millennials, generation Z, whatever term you wish to coin; they expect online, self-serve, fast, low cost, slick customer experiences.

Disrupting the disrupters

What will let new entrants down of course is the service quality provided. If this is lacking, customers likewise move fast with their feet and also their bad recommendations fire off faster than good. Coming in as a disrupter or an existing provider refreshing its market offering, customer service remains key. In this new world, dynamic customer service is not simply the ‘speaking to the customer’ experience; it is far wider and far more expensive.

Take a bricks and mortar retail store – its opening hours may be six or seven days a week, 9am to 5pm perhaps, and the customer service is the touchpoints of staff, often only at the point of paying. In the new world offerings, we expect 24x7 access, from anywhere, from any device, with multiple interaction points from easy self-service and search of answers, shared service from other customers, such as provided by GiffGaff and Livechat, as well as email and phone support ideally when it is required. On top of this of course is the delivery quality of that service, its availability, is speed of (online) response, underpinned by the SLAs and processes that make the whole experience seamless and enjoyable.

For the providers and businesses providing these services there is a new dynamic, new business metrics, new approaches of development and support required in order to be operationally and cost efficient. Offering one of these new experiences is one thing – doing it at a market competitive price is another. Deliver it at twice the price of a rival and you will find how fickle the new customer breed is, and how fast you can be displaced and made irrelevant.

For the unicorn disrupters, they first need to change the market dynamic and disrupt the status quo, while second is to maintain and retain this differential – change and change again, and be willing and able to do so in technology, process and service. We will see disrupters being disrupted themselves. Take for example JustEat and Hungry House in the UK – did they see UberEats coming? Will they be able to defend against it? Uber is now reshaping not as a taxi firm, but as a logistics firm – one with a technology platform, processes and brand that it can leverage into other markets.

What’s coming next? After food delivery, why not parcel delivery, flower delivery, and so on? Can you see a time when an Uber driver taxis someone from A to B, gets alerted to pick up a parcel near B that needs to go to C and when approaching there gets alerted for a food delivery near C to deliver – thus maximising the earnings and their utilisation of their third party driver community, and giving a single brand experience to customers with the same lead they have on technology utilisation?

For the customer of new services, there are also challenges. Data privacy is a concern – who is tracking what you do, what if that data is leaked, and what if their service is unavailable, or cannot get online – am I able to operate, or have I relied on it to totality? For the business user of new world services, the issues are more complex, from service quality for the business users, security of access and data, data sovereignty and governance, supplier and SLA management, and control and mitigation of shadow IT – an increasing problem with new services being licensed and accessed by employees on work devices on network and when mobile. Of course, it’s worth noting that the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aims to make some of these issues easier from both the consumer and business side.

What this means for IT

In the corporate environment, the service demands are often on IT to fix things when they go wrong, even if the service is externally cloud-provided and often even if the department has procured it directly without IT’s knowledge. When there’s an issue, IT is called upon to resolve and help.

Increasingly, internal IT is going to grow into a service broker, mixing in-house skills with those from external cloud, IoT and mobile providers to enable a cohesive service experience for its business users, and hence onward to the customer. This is important as one service quality often begets the other – how many times have you heard on a phone enquiry that the operator’s system is running slow, or has crashed, or could you be transferred to another advisor?

Corporate IT more than ever is going to need to have the processes and tools to manage not only the traditional environment and user requests, but to encompass those of cloud, IoT and mobile services, as well as smarter, more self-serving users and users with a higher demand expectation on response times and quality of service. Internally facing IT will have to align with external business quality of service delivery onwards to customers, to choose adaptable and empowering ITSM and ITAM tools, and ITIL best practices, to empower their agility and capability to deal with this faster changing IT environment.

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