Smart Customers Demand Smart Customer Service

The rise of smart customers has influenced the very nature of the relationship between customers and the companies that wish to serve them. From customer experience and customer service to the products and services companies offer, things have changed. Yes, I’ve been saying this for some time. Just read Smart Customers, Stupid Companies, the book Bruce Kasanoff and I wrote, or much of what I’ve written on CMO.com.

Now there’s even more proof. According to a Motorola Solutions research report (Rise of the Connected Shopper), more than 60 percent of retail managers surveyed believe that their customers were better informed about products than their in-store associates. salesmanBy the way, this number keeps rising, up from about 50 percent in 2010. Unsurprisingly, customers feel the same way. Whether Gen X, Gen Y or Boomers, a significant percentage of each group feels better connected to product information than in-store associates. At this rate, all your customers will feel they know your products and services (and your competition) better than your employees in about 5 years.

Your customers would love it, if only your employees were smarter.

If you aren’t already keenly aware of how many customers are fully armed with knowledge about the products or services they’re looking to purchase before they make purchase decisions of any kind, this should be a wake-up call. The way customers buy is changing. Just a few years ago, in 2010, 21 percent of shoppers named in-store employees as one of their top three choices for information in deciding what to buy. A year later, that number was nearly cut in half, to 13 percent. And almost half of Gen Y shoppers are confident they can more quickly locate information on their smart phones than by asking a store associate for help.

The message is clear: Your customers are less and less likely to see your sales associates as an important part of their decision making process. At the same time, there’s no evidence suggesting they’ve lost interest in dealing with a business that provides that personal touch. On the contrary, nearly half of all customers affirmed their shopping experience was better when sales associates used innovative technologies to help them. So why don’t more companies invest in making their employees more “intelligent”?

Nice. Unhelpful and time-wasting, but nice…

We get that companies recognize the fact that we all live in a digital world. But you can’t simply invest in technology infrastructure and expect your employees to get it. Your staff needs access and training around the tools your customers already have, with product and service knowledge at their fingertips.

Today, too many companies either depend on technology to address all of their customer’s purchase-decision related needs and don’t invest enough in enabling their people, or hey depend almost entirely on their people and don’t invest enough in enabling technologies.

We’ve heard customers say more or less this same thing, hundreds of times, across industries: “I don’t care how nice they are, if the (teller/sales rep/call center agent/retail associate/etc.) isn’t (empowered/enabled/authorized/knowledgeable) enough to actually solve my problem or meet my need, then the entire experience is a waste of my time.”

Do you know if your customers ever say anything like this? You should, if you don’t. And if they do…

Digitize and Personalize Your Customers’ Experiences

The good news is there’s a solution. It’s going to sound ridiculously simple, but it’s not. That’s because digital is a resource – the means, not the ends – to delivering exceptional customer experience at virtually every stage of the relationship lifecycle, through every channel and at every touchpoint.

The secret is this: Focus your customer experience strategy – and the very ways you leverage digital innovation – to ensure that both of these two things occur, wherever you come into contact with your customers:

  1. Every digital experience is as personalized as possible.
  2. Every personal experience is as digitally enabled as possible.

In other words, you need to give your employees the necessary tools to better meet customers’ needs. And you need to give your customers access to those same tools, or others, which can help them be better informed as well. Like it or not, unprecedented levels of information transparency already exist. With or without your help, your customers are getting smarter and smarter about the ways your business does or doesn’t meet their needs.

The fact is it’s unsustainable for your customers to be smarter about your business than your employees. The time to make your customer service smarter? That time is now.

This blog originally ran on CMO.com, where Michael Hinshaw writes the weekly “Get Customer-Centric” blog.

Other posts you might be interested in