I read a funny story recently about Amazon customer service. Customers using the Amazon Prime service were complaining on Twitter that the customer service agents were flirting with them.
It sounds bizarre, but several customers started sharing screen shots. Agents were saying things like ‘the good news is that your package is on the way, but the bad news is that after this chat we are going to part…’ Another agent informed the (female) customer that her profile photo is ‘breath-taking.’
This is amusing, but clearly it’s not professional. Nobody will contact Amazon for help and then be pleased to find that the agent wants to go on a date. However it does point to an important change in the way that we interact with brands today.
Since the first contact center was designed there has always been a focus on helping the customer quickly and trying to help the customer on the first interaction - not bouncing them around to different agents or requiring them to call back again because the problem was not resolved.
Most contact center metrics are designed around these expectations. We measure the Average Handle Time (AHT) and First Call Resolution (FCR) rates and use these as a measure of performance. But the reason for customers getting in touch with a brand has evolved over time and is now closer to a genuine relationship. Often, the customer is engaging because they feel like they are in a relationship with the brand - it’s an integral part of their lifestyle - not because they have a problem.
Google is a good example. Their customer service philosophy is focused on the total lifetime value of the customer. They ask agents to focus on building relationships with the customer that may last for 40 or 50 years. Each individual call or chat is important, but the emphasis is much more on making the customer feel good, rather than giving them the required information and then getting them off the call as fast as possible.
Nike is another brand that understands this. On the surface you might think that Nike sells shoes and athletic clothes, but really they are creating a health-focused lifestyle. Look at the Nike Running Club app and how it builds a community of people engaged in exercise as well as creating various challenges and targets. People engaged in the Nike Run Club can buy any shoes they want and can still participate, but I am sure that once they are in the club they will associate the purchase of Nike products as a deeper involvement. It demonstrates their commitment.
Brands like Google and Nike are no longer thinking of customer service as a post-purchase necessity - complaint phone calls. They are building a relationship with customers that will last many years, even decades. Customer engagement is not measured with AHT because it focuses on emotional connection.
Companies like Facebook are even more tightly integrated into the life of the customer. Even if a customer does not use the Facebook platform then they may well be using Instagram for photos or WhatsApp for messaging. These tools are the channels we use to reach many other brands and so customers of Facebook feel a strong attachment to the platform they are using to reach their own customers.
We need to start designing customer interactions that reflect how they are just one point of engagement in a long and enduring relationship. Think about the decades, not the seconds required to finish a call. Amazon is certainly improving, but asking the customer on a date might not be the optimal approach to increasing customer satisfaction.
Photo by Sören Benter licensed under Creative Commons.