Channels and intelligent friendship

Channels and intelligent friendship

We talk a lot about channels in customer service, don’t we? Phone, chat, web, in-store, in-app. Single channel, cross-channel, omni-channel, channel-neutral. Wait, what?


It’s not that new of a concept, really. It’s a phrase that has been increasingly bandied around the CS/CX scene for the last five years or so. But, in fact, it goes as far back as 2003.

Historically, customer relationships were always personal. Seemingly eons ago, although really as recent as even my childhood, your local butcher or baker would come to know you and your needs and your desires through both high-touch and long-lasting relationships. Even in the late ’80s, whenI was a slip of a Saturday girl at Sainsbury’s, I was drilled in how to keeping the relationship with the customer uppermost in mind.

Then, as technology got involved, we started building walls.

We asked people to contact us in ways that suited our organisations. We standardised our replies, and made them both more verbose and increasingly full of legalise and corporate sledgehammering. We gave people and their issues ticket numbers. We deflected our involvement to knowledge bases. Bots started to talk to people more than our people talked to them. 

We seemed to forget that customers don’t consciously do business with, or through, a particular channel. They do business with people. The customer is the “channel”. 

Bouncing people around loses that person-to-person link. It degrades the entire experience. And, the fact is, around 70% of customers switch providers after one bad experience. 

And we all know what good support looks like. We feel it in our bones. 

Relationships win, every time. 

So why are organisations so slow to move again towards this new-old-fangled-ideal? 

It seems we’ve been waiting for the tools and technology to catch up. 

And maybe, we’re just seeing the start of the rise of some potentially big players in the new space now called Conversational Customer Engagement. 

Mads Fosselius and his team over at Dixa are building one such platform to help organisations redefine how they relate to their customers.

At their inaugural “Dixa Connect” event in London last night, we listened to Mads and others from Dixa evangelise about putting the humanity back into customer experience. About how customer engagement needs to move beyond the channel silos into real conversations. Real conversations that are enabled by, and to some degree transcend, the technology that supports them. 

But this isn’t a sales pitch for Dixa. I just like these ideals. And it seems I’m not alone.

We also heard from Rob Pierce, Customer Ops Director at Rapha, who told us of their mission to be there for the customer at the customer’s convenience, and how his team uses processes and technologies that empower his customer service folks to zig-zig across the processes and put the customer relationship front and centre.

Christian Colding (of Dixa) gave his talk on Customer Friendships. It’s the third time I’ve seen this particular presentation, and each time I take something new from it. Catch it if you can.

Nuno Cruz, from G2, told us the value of authenticity in our customer experience methods:

 “Authentic experiences are priceless”

He also reminded us how transparency of your interactions build trust, and how trust and a sense of community are key to gaining new business.

An incredibly thought-provoking talk was given by Stefan van der Fluit of PolyAI, the London-based conversational AI platform. 

At first glance, Artificial Intelligence, and the rise of the chatbots, seems to bring with it some omen of a dystopian future in customer serviceAny day, we might expect Will Smith to appear in a a new blockbuster “I, Chatbot”. 

At the very least, I think we are all a little scared that chatbots will either:

  1. Destroy employment opportunities
  2. Build more walls between organisations and customers

PolyAI certainly aim to remove the need for your front line agents to be constantly answering the mind-numbing but endless password reset help requests (in fact, apparently they want to automate 98% of customer support tickets). But this fast-paced, highly-qualified (just count the PhDs) startup is convinced that AI will create employment opportunities – 200,000 new jobs in the UK, by their estimation. Customer Service will ultimately just be more skilled. 

When you consider that even their AI engine is still only as smart as a child (a ten-year old, apparently, but I think this might be a little overambitious), then that makes sense. They can process the repetitive, tedious 98%, and leave the remaining 2% of interactions to where human-to-human contact is not only necessary, but also truly valuable. These high-empathy and highly nuanced cases are, we can but hope, always going to be beyond the capabilities of bots.

This is, I think, where we see the two apparently conflicting ideas of AI and humanity reconciled. 

Fast, efficient, gets-the-job-done, self service is rising and will continue to rise. 

But, thankfully, humans will always need other humans, too.



This article first appeared on my Linkedin publications in June 2019