Today I want to make a claim that may seem countercultural or extemporaneous in the midst of all modernizing and futuristic opinions about Customer Service and its future. In a world that is moving towards digitalization and less and less direct relationships, I like to stand up for personal and “human” care. And going even to “infinity and beyond” I would like to speak in favour of the “old” face-to-face care.
At first it was the relationship between two people with a counter or table in between. Clients went to their usual provider of products or services to resolve any questions that arose. This type of relationship provided a very close link in which the client “put a face” to the Company that served him and was able to establish a connection and even a very relevant “dependence” between client and employee.
This situation had good and not as good things: Among the positives were the ease of relationship, the humanization of the contacts and the personal commitment of both parties to resolve the “incidence” in a quick and effective way. Among the negatives, it was a relevant cost for the company and created an “excessive” dependence on the clientele with the employee representing the Company, as well as an important drawback for the customer sometimes due to having to go to Companies’ premises.
Then the Call Center was created. The interactions became much more efficient on the construction of true “contact’s factories”. And customers enjoyed the convenience of being able to access Companies to meet their needs from their own home (or wherever they wanted) without having to go anywhere. The attention became more impersonal, but more efficient. The problem is that “bad” companies saw the opportunity to hide behind their call centers. They had invented the perfect formula for moving the open-field conflict to a private area where two strangers talked without seeing each other through a telephone line. Moreover, every time a client wanted to contact, he spoke with a different person, being extremely difficult to engage the interlocutor in a specific solution.
This is not a post to talk badly about Call Centers (all my life I have been dedicated to them :-)), but to value a type of attention that I think it is (and will continue to be) fundamental in certain situations and for certain needs or types of clients. Face-to-face attention will not die despite what many “experts” predict ;-). A client must have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with someone from the Company that provides their services. Even though he has to go somewhere … (if he wants).
And I believe that customers value the companies that allow them to do so.
Face-to-face relationship is more expensive, and sometimes more uncomfortable, but it allows you to solve things that are much more complex on the phone and, above all, it provides the opportunity to humanize the Company. In addition, it provides greater security to the client and requires a greater personal commitment from the person delivering service.
All channels must be at client’s disponsal. He does not understand that there are channels to sell, channels to install, channels to transport, channels to repair, channels to attend, channels to teach … for the customer the Company with which he relates is unique, and any relationship channel established between the two parties must be able to solve or process whichever customer need. Meeting a Company employee, asking something, and being referred to a Call Center is the beginning of an improvable Customer experience.
It is not that I’ve received a hit on my head, or that I does not recognize the possibilities of other channels, nor that I think that all that “fashion” of AI and Digital Channels has no future (quite the opposite!), but I do not think it is right the “air of superiority” with which lots of people looks to a channel that has been and will continue to be there forever because it still has a relevant role to play. Moreover, large and modern digital companies such as Samsung or Huawei (which have after-sales spaces for their handsets), Apple, (with its famous “Genius Bar”) Aliexpress, (opening its first European retail space in Madrid ), Orange (with its specialized Customer Service in more than 120 stores in Spain), Amazon (with its desire to grow in its access to the “mainstreet” in different countries and its “countercultural” tendency for the “brick & mortar “) … they are making an express commitment to keep face to face as a relevant contact channel with their customers, and not only to sell, but to manage all post-sale processes.
Do you prefer to buy at a store where they tell you that if you have any later problems you go and see them again, or at one where they tell you to call a customer service number? Studies say that 45% of customers prefer to deal with a complicated matter over the phone rather than in digital channels (argument used when you want to claim the importance that the phone has and will continue to have). Well, there are many complex issues that I would prefer to deal with face to face. Maybe I am a weird person, but I doubt it (at least not for this reason ;-)). I want to always have a phone number to call (for convenience), but on many occasions I prefer to buy from retailers that commit themselves to solve the problems or doubts I may have. Retailers that are there in the “good times” of the sale but also in the “tough ones” of the after sales issues. At least it gives me peace of mind, security and confidence. Three characteristics that should make the clients think when deciding. And they do it.