The way in which consumers interact with businesses and search for information from them is rapidly changing. While many people still rely on ‘traditional’ search engines to provide answers to their queries, the first port of call for today’s younger generations is often through social media platforms. According to recent research, when looking for recommendations on where to eat, 40% of Generation Z will use TikTok or Instagram, rather than Google Maps or Search, says Gary Bennett, VP UKI/MEA/Northern Europe at Enghouse Interactive.
That should be food for thought for every customer-facing business operating today. With self-service an increasingly important part of the customer interaction mix, organisations must be flexible and able to evolve their strategies to ensure they can interact with customers via their preferred media and deliver a consistent experience:- whether that’s over the telephone or via TikTok.
Customer service, after all, should always aim to empower the consumer. That means finding ways to understand what they are looking for and to deliver the answers they need, in the way that they want. But it also means continuously honing the capability to meet their ever-changing needs.
The evolution of service delivery
Many businesses now operate with a diverse, multi-faceted approach to self-service, provided as part of a sophisticated omnichannel strategy. Chatbots are often a key element of this. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is at the heart of the chatbot essentially intelligent machines which can perform various automated customer service tasks. This relies on deciphering a query and then fetching the appropriate information to complete a basic task.
Interactive voice and visual response is another self-service option that continues to be highly popular across many organisations today. Intelligent IVR systems are easy to build, deploy and iterate. Businesses need to make these IVRs as straightforward to use and to be effective, IVRs should guide customers along the fastest route to find what they need.
It is critical that all this capability is underpinned by a robust knowledge management tool, which can be used to power AI-driven chatbots, or for customers to access directly to find answers for themselves. Effective knowledge management supports faster, more accurate and efficient service that drives increased loyalty and revenues.
The social media dimension
All the above are internally-developed self-service channels but we are increasingly seeing an alternative approach making use of external stakeholders taking centre stage here. Online community forums and social media groups are on one level a way of directly reaching out to businesses to vent frustrations and connect with brands when problems occur. But they can also enable customers to tap into the wisdom of the crowd to resolve their queries. It is an approach that often falls under the umbrella term: social service.
Ultimately, from the perspective of the business, it is important that all this interaction is properly harnessed. Smart organisations are becoming increasingly ‘savvy’ around social service. The concept is about having outsourced customer service people in place that are focused on screening, aggregating, filtering, reposting and sharing great ideas and content from existing customers that help other customers.
The content of social service interaction could be used to drive the development of FAQs and knowledge bases. It could be about sharing content developed on Google and social media platforms through the business’s own website. It could also involve incentivising or rewarding customers who post in forums to help out other customers. On the back of this the content can be shared and used on other mediums so other customers benefit when the run into the same problem.
The TikTok generation
Social media forums and tools like these are on the rise as a means of customer self-service among users of all ages. They are however, most enthusiastically embraced by the younger generations including Millennials and Gen Z.
Sites like Twitter and Facebook may have historically dominated in terms of offering discussion groups for customers to find instant answers to their queries but these channels are increasingly under threat in popularity terms by the latest social media phenomenon, TikTok.
While the platform does not include customer service solutions built-in, its native features make it suitable as a means for customers to access customer service. The specific business feature, TikTok Q&A, enables users to ask questions in the comment section of videos posted by the business on the site. Questions can be submitted and stored in the Q&A inbox and the business can create videos itself which effectively provide answers to the queries that have been posted.
Just as with conventional knowledge management stores, businesses can learn from the customer interactions on the site to hone their videos and the answers they provide on the site. This in turn, helps further enhance the customer experience while reducing the need for customers to call into the contact centre.
Finding ways to reap the rewards
Self-service and social service offer extremely powerful ways for the business to improve the overall customer experience while also boosting operational efficiency. In an increasingly digital, connected world, these approaches help customers to save time and find the information they need, freeing up resources for more complex queries. However, to implement self-service successfully, organisations need to adopt a customer-centric approach which helps to engage consumers and deliver an experience that customers expect.
Businesses should put in place clear plans, built on a strong ROI business case, and then continually monitor and improve their service offering to drive effectiveness. This last-named capability is, as we have seen, absolutely key. To be successful in delivering self-service, organisations must always be flexible, open-minded and prepared to meet the evolving needs and preferences of every new emerging generation.
Increasingly, that means using AI and other advanced tools to understand what information customers are looking and through which media they would like to receive this information and interact with the business more generally.
By following this strategy and evolving their approach all the time as they learn more, they and their customers will get maximum value from self and social service, strengthening the customer experience and improving their bottom line.
The author is Gary Bennett, VP UKI/MEA/Northern Europe at Enghouse Interactive.
Follow us and Comment on Twitter @TheEE_io